Today, I took a rather difficult step in my life. I removed the Grand Champions from my closet, and listed them on eBay.
As I looked down the row of solemn plastic faces, I was suddenly seven years old again, standing in the aisle of Toys R Us. The legions of toy horses before me represented the fantasies that occupied my every hour. Blacks and bays, dapples and grays – all such stuff as my dreams were made of. Horses cantered through my stories and poems, ran wild in my artwork, decorated the walls of my room. At night I would visit my dream horse, a spirited bay mare with winged hooves, to awake knowing that the only horse I was likely to own in the near future would be made of plastic.
There I stood on that fateful day, twenty precious dollars clutched in my hand, the product of months of housework and saving. I was there with a purpose – to bring home my Holy Grail, a model of Man O’War that I had been lusting after for a long time. But it was not to be. Man O’War was nowhere to be found. Determined to buy a horse of some description, I formed an attachment to a black stallion with a combable mane and tail. He wasn’t terribly elegant, but he came complete with rider, saddle and bridle, jump, brush, and trophy. “Nightshadow” came home with me that afternoon, and unknowingly began a great adventure.
I soon realized the benefits of Nightshadow and his fellow Grand Champions. The horses in this line retailed for around $8, which was accessible for my small income. The Grand Champions also came with tack, and proved to be quite capable of withstanding hard play. My consumer catalog became creased and grubby with ink; Bayleaf soon joined the herd, followed by Starfinder and Spice.
My family and friends delighted. Birthday and Christmas became easy and predictable. My collection grew quickly, expanding to include talking stallions, flocked horses, and foals. I suddenly enjoyed trips to Wal-Mart and the mall. My friends and I assigned each horse a name and personality, and engaged in elaborate role-playing games. Today, I look down on the black flocked mare, and smile, remembering Wild Diamond’s saga. Our imagination knew no limits.
As I grew older, however, my allegiance gradually shifted to the higher quality Breyer models. Although I still collected Grand Champions at a time when most of my friends, grown into more sophisticated tastes, disdained them, the passion was waning. I gave up on them altogether at the age of eleven. A year later, I bought one last Grand Champion, for old time’s sake, but this cheerful gray mare marked the end of an era. She still has the braids in her mane I gave her six summers ago.
Six years! How much has changed in six years. Throughout, my battered playmates have remained on the shelves, suspended in my sentimentality. But I realized recently that I hadn’t touched them in about a year. All they were doing was collecting dust and taking up space... and that hardly seemed a dignified end for such faithful old friends.
So I began taking them down, one at a time. I called each by name and remembered the good times we had shared. I saw my life in a collage of memories, borne on the backs of plastic horses. Santo Domingo brought back the great blizzard that hit Richmond in 1996, for I bought him on the day the snows began. Pepper I remembered pursuing for months before finally finding her in a thrift shop in Alabama. Sunspire had been a gift from my mother, as a reward for waiting patiently through a lengthy court procedure. I had once covered Irish Cream in green chalk to costume her as the Wicked Witch of the West...
Hardest to remove were the families, once the pride of my collection. There were the black and chestnut Arabians, the roan warmbloods, the grey Thoroughbreds, the light chestnut Saddlebreds. Three foals and one mare I kept, unable to part with their rich assortment of memories. Some day, I told myself, I’ll pass them on to my children, who might give them a second life of adventure.
The rest were photographed and boxed up, to sell in lots to the highest bidder. It is my hope that they will end up in a child’s hand. Perhaps the child will name them and give them colorful characters as I once did. Perhaps when they are older they will look at the scuffs and scratches on the horses’ bodies and realize that behind each break or blemish is a smile.
It is with no deep regret that I let them go. But I could not help but feel, as I placed the last little foal in the box, that I was closing the lid on my childhood.