The Golden One
A Michigan Folktale
S. E. Schlosser
He was a bright, sunny child from birth, with blond curls and a sweet smile and fabulous, shining blue eyes. Everyone who met him loved him. The whole church and farming community watch with joy as he took his first steps, said his first words, became a mischievous toddler and then a bright and lovable schoolboy.
The summer he turned seven, he grew pale and thin. When he developed a cough, his mother called in the doctor. The doctor looked grave, and took the parents aside to give them the diagnosis. It was tuberculosis, and there was no cure. Worse, it was very contagious, and he had to be kept from the other children and the community. His parents were crushed. Their sunshine boy took the news stoically. He would miss his friends, but he did not want anyone else to catch his illness.
He was no longer strong enough to run and play, and had no one to fill his lonely hours except his parents. His father went out a few days after the doctor's visit and bought a beautiful golden pony and a little cart that he could drive around the community roads whenever his health permitted. Thereafter, the little boy with the sweet smile and shining blue eyes would often be seen driving his little golden pony down the roads. He would grin and wave to the other little chaps as he passed them, and they would stop their games long enough to call greetings or impart the latest gossip from the classroom, though they were forbidden to draw too close to the cart for fear of catching his disease. The farmers in the fields would wave to him and he would smile shyly in return.
The golden pony was his best friend, that long, weary summer as he slowly lost his strength. The disease was progressing rapidly, but each day he pushed passed the weariness and went to the barn to brush and curry his pony. He would spend hours in the little horse's stall, and would sit on the fence as the little pony grazed in the field. On the good days, he would hitch the pony to the cart and drive around. But the good days grew few, and one day he was too weak to walk out to the barn. The little pony fretted and looked for him all day. Inside the house, the little boy fretted and asked about his pony. When his father came in that night, he picked up his small son and carried him out to the barn to pet the little golden horse before he put him to bed for the very last time.
The little boy died in the night, and his grieved parents clung together and cried when they found him the next day. The whole farm community was stricken with the tragedy. Food and gifts filled the house. Out in the field, the little golden pony looked and looked for his little friend, but the boy never came. The father stood beside him for an hour the night before the funeral, brushing and combing him and trying to explain to the little animal why his son could not come to see him.
The parents tenderly dressed their little son in his best suit, and the whole community came to their house for the funeral. After the final words were spoken, the father hitched up the wagon, and the pall bearers carried the small coffin out and laid it in the back. The father solemnly drove the wagon, with his wife beside him, out onto the road. The preacher walked directly behind the wagon, followed by the aunts and uncles and cousins and all the members of the tight community. Everyone was solemn, and there was not a dry eye among them.
As they passed the field next to the house, the little golden pony looked up from his listless grazing. He watched the wagon go by, sniffing the air as he caught a familiar scent. He gave a funny whinny of recognition, and then galloped with all his small strength toward the fence. He gave a mighty leap, and love must have helped that little animal, because he soared over the top of that tall fence and landed safely on the other side. The father stopped the wagon and everyone watched as the little horse trotted up to the rear and nosed the simple wooden coffin inside the wagon. The boy's mother broke down completely then. The preacher motioned the crowd away from the little, grieving animal and nodded to the father. The father signaled to the horses and the wagon set off for the cemetery, followed by the little horse, and then by the members of the community.
The parents stood beside the little pony at the gravesite, and the three beings who loved the boy best of all watched as he was tenderly laid in the ground. The preacher said a few last words, and slowly the crowd disbursed. After thanking the preacher, the father got into the wagon and drove it home. His wife declined the ride. Instead, she stayed beside the grave for awhile longer, stroking the little gold horse. Finally, she grasped her son's best friend by the halter, and together, they walked down the dusty road towards home.
You can read more Michigan folklore and ghost stories in Spooky Michigan by S.E. Schlosser.