(Photo is from the archive of the Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington, West Virginia)
The iconic retail giant, Sears, has filed for bankruptcy and will be closing 142 stores. This doesn't mean the end of the vast historic marketplace... yet... but this could be the beginning of the end... which I will mark with great sadness. After all, Sears did give us a pony.
Back in the early 1960's, our local Sears used to sponsor a contest in which children were invited to write, in "fifty words or less," (exactly the number of words in my first paragraph) why they wanted a pony. My sister entered the contest in 1963, but didn't win (despite my fervent prayers). That same year, our father died. So when she entered again the following year, she included this in her plea:
All my life my father promised me he would buy me a pony. He died before he could fulfill that promise.
And she won. Pictured below is my sister, Peggy, and the representative from Sears who presented her with a bridle, a saddle, and a pony—actually two, because the little mare we were given was in foal and would later give birth to a fine young colt.
Peg is in the saddle, and I'm the smiling geek in the blue shorts. That's Mom, of course, looking fashionable as always, and our next-door-neighbor (looking jealous). I apologize for the quality of this photo; we had it stuck on the wall in the tack room for years.
Our pony, a purebred Shetland, was named Silver Lady Sensation on her registration papers. We called her Silver. I say "we" because the colt she gave birth to was later traded for a full size horse for my sister, so the pony was passed down to me. Like a big dog, she was my boon companion from the time I was ten until I was twenty-six.
Me, a tiny ten-year-old, with one of the best friends a girl could have, in our back yard.
The truth is, having her changed all our lives.
We probably would have continued to live on Eberle Street in our little Lakewood housing tract if Peg hadn't won the contest. But clearly you can't keep a pony in your back yard, so she had to be boarded at the nearby stable... which was a financial burden to our mother, who had become the sole breadwinner even before my father's death from a rare disease. Mom decided to put our childhood home up for sale, and she found an affordable house a few miles away in a residential area that was zoned for agriculture, so we had a barn and corral in the back yard. Right next door lived the man who would later become my wicked step-father....
In the meantime, Peg and I grew up immersed in the horsey life, getting up early to feed before we went to school, coming home to ride the horses, brush them, feed them, clean stalls and all the other work required in caring for them. On the weekends, we participated in horseshows, winning our share of trophies and ribbons over the years. While other teenagers we knew were off getting into mischief after school, we were horseback riding or grooming or getting ready for the next show, which didn't leave much time to be naughty.
Later, when I married, I told my husband our first home would have to be one with horse property as I would be bringing Silver along with me. He consented—because he had no choice, keeping Silver being a deal breaker and all—and we bought a little three-bedroom home in Mira Loma (now Jurupa Valley) where Silver became companion to my children as they grew, or at least three of them; she died before my youngest was born.
Nowadays I doubt that Sears or any other big chain has an annual contest, and if they do, I'm sure they're not giving away ponies. But that era, in the late 1950's and early 1960's, was a different time altogether. You could buy just about anything at Sears, from clothing and housewares to tools and building supplies, including a house, if you were willing to assemble it after you ordered it. We loved getting the Sears catalog in the mail, that huge tome of slick paper with color pictures of all the toys and bikes and games a kid could ever dream of—including, of course, BB guns and, for the older kid, hunting rifles and other sporting goods.
I imagine in the days to come we'll be hearing a lot of stories about what Sears meant to folks of a certain age. Don't know if anyone else can top our pony story, though.