THE ROCKING HORSE
Life was so much simpler in 1953. For example the way you met and dated a girl, which usually starting with a crush at school, and then finding enough courage to ask her out. My school was a co-ed one so there were plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to girls. Dating could be a simple walk in the park, De Marco’s coffee shop, or maybe if you had enough pocket money, to a cinema; and boy if you took her in the 3 and sixes you were made. How I remember those times spent in the back row; phew!
But in the end I only had eyes for one girl, Judy; no others matched her beauty and the effect she had on me. The first time I took any notice of her was when she passed me, sitting on the back of a red 250cc Beezer motor cycle; her hair was long and flowing out behind her. You couldn’t miss her. The next day at school, I managed to talk to her in between classes.
‘I saw you on the back of a Beezer motor cycle yesterday Judy; was it your Dad’s?’ an obvious question I know but it worked and she immediately gushed forth about it.
‘I do love to go out with my dad on it; it’s his pride and joy.’ Her voice and everything else about her clinched it. I was going to make a date with her.
‘Would your Dad give me a ride? I asked nervously.
‘Maybe; it’s his baby and I was lucky to get him in a good mood yesterday. Tell you what though Johnny why don’t you come round and see me and I will try and twist his arm? You never know you might be lucky.’
Wow I was already lucky; I had got a date with her.
Judy lived in a large house with an imposing drive and entrance. As I knocked at the front door I was nervous and wondered who would answer, to my relief it was Judy, she had seen me coming;
‘Hello Johnny thanks for coming. Unfortunately my dad’s had to go away on business and won’t be home for a couple of days. Would you like to see my room, we can play some records if you like?’
‘Won’t your mother mind?’ I didn’t know quite what to say and it was the best I could think of.
‘Oh Mothers with some friends, their all having a meeting about something so she won’t mind.
.My mind was in overdrive, alone with Judy in her room; it was more than I had hoped for. My mother would have been overseeing me if I had brought a girl into our house, which actually was a two bedroom flat. Noisy records would be a no no. To be invited into Judy’s room was infinitely better than a ride on a Beezer motorcycle.
Judy took me upstairs to her room and as I entered it I was amazed at how large it was. Her bed was covered in a pink bedspread and every other thing was either pink
or white. You could have held a party in it. But then I saw it, a large rocking horse.
‘Wow Judy I’ve never seen such a nice room as yours. And that rocking horse is amazing.’
‘Oh yes my favourite rocking horse. Daddy made it. Isn’t he clever?’
‘Is that his trade, making rocking horses?’
She laughed, ‘Oh no Johnny, he is some sort of executive, he says he loves to do carpentry as a form of relaxation, he made it for me and my twin sister when we were eight years old.’
‘I didn’t know you had a twin sister. She doesn’t go to our school does she?’
‘No unfortunately, it’s a bit complicated, she lives with my mother somewhere else.’
I must have look mystified, or something because she said;
‘It’s just that I live with my real dad and step mother, and my sister lives with my real mother and her step dad.’
‘Do you ever see your real mother?’
‘Not very often, as she lives over in the south of France, near Carcassonne. I go over once a year and my sister comes here once a year. Anyway let’s not talk about that, lets play some records. Do you like Frank Sinatra or Doris Day?’
‘I don’t mind. I do like Frankie Lane though. But can I have a go on your rocking horse or is out of bounds?’
‘Of course you can, it won’t break, it’s ever so strong and me and my sister spent hours on it before she went to France.’
Judy looked very sad when she said this, so I didn’t ask any more questions. I went over to the rocking horse, it was dapple grey mounted on a wooden safety stand. It was large enough to take my weight without straining it. While I had a ride, Judy put on a Frank Sinatra record. Apparently girls were going mad on him at the time.
We kissed before I left her room to go home, and from then on we were inseparable. We always rode the rocking horse and had many laughs together when w met in her room. We even carved our names under the wooden safety stand so that her Dad didn’t see it. We went out together frequently; and then we were devastated when after two years her parents had to move to France. Judy’s Father’s company said that they wanted him to oversee the restructuring of their Narbonne factory. Her parents said she had to go with them a she was too young at 17 to stay by herself in England.
When we met for the last time before she went to France we were intimate, and after as we went our separate ways we made a pact that we would write to each other always. But after eighteen months her letters stopped, and when I tried to contact her by letter or telegram I never got a reply.
I trained as a carpenter and set up my own business, and although I dated a few girls, I didn’t form any permanent relationship with any of them. Four years after Judy and I parted I had a phone call from Brenda Parker who had been her best friend at school, it was a complete surprise.
‘Johnny, do you know where Judy lives? I think she’s in trouble’
I was surprised at Brenda’s call, but what prompted it?
‘No, I haven’t heard from her for several years. I have tried to contact her several times but got no reply so I gave up. How do you know she’s in trouble then?’
‘Her step Mother contacted me, and asked if I had seen her as she had disappeared.’
Memories of our time together came flooding back. If she was in trouble I needed to find her.
‘Brenda, do you know where her parents live now?’
‘The message came in a telegram. It appears to have been sent from a place called Villerouge which is somewhere in the Languedoc.’
As soon as I had finished my conversation with Brenda I packed my bag and made arrangements to fly out to Toulouse where I found a friendly Taxi driver to take me to Villerouge. It was a rambling medieval village with a history of the horrors experienced by the villagers who worshipped as Cathars in the 13th century. I went to the Mairie i.e. Town Hall, which was a small building, and soon found where Judy’s parents lived. When I knocked on their door her Mother answered;
‘Johnny! How did you find us?’
‘I had a call from Brenda and she told me of your telegram. What’s happened to Judy, where is she?’ I found it hard not to shout and tried to stay calm.
‘We don’t know, we thought her best friend Brenda might know.’
‘Have you informed the police? Has she been seeing anyone you know of?’
‘We told the police, but everything goes at snail pace around here. There was a family dispute and Judy left with the boy. We haven’t been able to find her which is why I phoned Brenda.’
‘The boy, what boy?’
‘Never mind I shouldn’t have said anything. I have to go now Johnny I have an appointment.’ And she opened the door for me to go.
I stood looking at the house for sometime wondering what was going on. I had to try and find her and no idea how. I managed to hire a car from a local garage and drove around hoping I might see her out and about but it was futile. After two hours I parked up and went to find something to eat. As I walked along a street I was drawn to a shop selling bric a brac, and what they called antiques. I looked through the murky window and saw what looked like a rocking horse in a corner. Could it be? I went in and examined the rocking horse. Looking under the safety platform I saw Judy and my carved names.
‘Where did you get this?’ I asked an old man dressed in a. frayed ill fitting cardigan who fortunately was able to speak a little English.
‘A man sold it to me last week. Are you interested?’
‘Yes. Have you an address for this man?’
‘I don’t know if I should tell. It may be confidential’ he said.
After I had greased his hand with French francs I had no trouble finding where the man lived. Looking up at the run down apartments where I had been directed I heard shouting coming from a second floor window. I pushed my way past some men lounging in the doorway smoking something that smelt like horse manure I reached the apartment door and banged on it. The shouting stopped and a man in a vest and baggy trousers opened it.
‘Oui, Qu’est-ce que vous voulez ?’ I guessed he said what do you want.
He sneered looking me up and down.
‘Is Judy here?’
His face darkened and he went to close the door. I put my foot in it and pushed hard making him stumble back and fall to the floor.
‘Judy. I shouted are you there?’ I was shocked when I saw her. She had bruises all over and was crying.
I turned to the man who had regained standing;
‘Did you do this?’ I was furious and I had to control myself from hitting him.
He sneered again then tried to hit me. I dodged his attack and laid him flat on his back with a very hard punch.
Judy stopped crying and looked at me’
‘Johnny? Is that you?’ she said and walked towards me.
‘Yes it’s me love come on we’re leaving.’
We left the man semi-conscious on the floor.
‘Who was he Judy?’
‘I got into debt and he made me move in with him. The bruises are because I refused any physical contact with him. But how did you find me?’
‘You sold your rocking horse didn’t you? Well I accidentally discovered it. The rest of the story I will tell you later.’ We hugged each other and we kissed, her eyes welled up with tears as I said:
‘Let’s go home Judy, and I went to go back to the car.
We pushed past the rough looking men in the apartment’s doorway, still smoking what smelled like horse manure, then Judy held me back.
‘Wait Johnny I have to get Peter first.’
‘Just wait here a minute.’ and she knocked on a door of a house on the opposite side of the street. She went in and a short time later she came out holding the hand of a small boy about five years old.
‘This is Peter Johnny, he’s your son.’
‘What!’ I was gob smacked. But being concerned about the Frenchman in the apartment coming out I hurried them to the car.
It turned out that Judy had moved from her parents’ house because of arguments over the boy and then got into deep debt with the man.
We went back to her parent’s house, got some of her and Peter’s things and packed a case. Told her Mother we were going back to England and would be in touch.
A month later we were married, and our new home had the rocking horse in pride of place. That was forty years ago and we are still as happy and devoted as ever. Peter now runs the family carpentry business. He married his girlfriend from his school and we now have two grandchildren. We have a lot to thank the dapple grey rocking horse which stands proud in our home to this day.