Once upon a time there was a pony and an old man in my neighborhood who used to make a living by going around sharpening housewives’ kitchen knives and the family lawnmowers. He was known around the block as old Harold, and old Harold owned the pony.

Now, in the summertime, Harold took the pony, all dressed up with a fancy saddle, around the different neighborhoods; and for a dollar, he would take children’s pictures sitting on the pony. True story. I still have my picture on that pony, framed and hanging on the wall. I loved that pony.

This was in the middle of the Great Depression, and a buck was a lot of money; but you were nobody if you didn’t have your picture taken on Harold’s pony.

One day Harold died and the pony went away. Nobody knew what happened to it. My mother said it went to pony heaven. You know why? Because when my mother was a little girl, she had her own pony; and when it got too expensive to feed, my grandfather sold it. He said, “It’s gone to pony heaven.” 

Years later, one Christmas Eve, my mother’s sister, Mamie, told my mother that it didn’t go to pony heaven, that there was no pony heaven, and that the pony had been sold for meat. Horse meat — or in this case, pony meat.

It now turns out that during those years, people ate horse meat without knowing it was horse meat, unless you were really poor, and you ate whatever was put on the plate. My mother got hysterical and never forgave Mamie. Today, the heartbreak of my pony, and Mamma’s, is all being unpacked again. Voilà! The horse meat panic.

Europe is shocked, shocked, do you hear? It seems that horse meat is the new Communist party, the new ghost under the bed. It trumps the pope story.

The food police have uncovered horse meat in Burger King, Taco Bell, and Nestlé pasta meals from stores in Italy and Spain. Say what? The steed steaks showed up first in a Burger King in Ireland.

They’re just finding that out? Why do you think my grandparents got out? My grandmother knew the difference between a palomino and a pork chop.

The good news is that the horse meat suspected in Burger King burgers in the United Kingdom may actually be — wait a minute, here it comes — donkey meat. Whew, that’s a relief.

For those of you in parts of Europe who have been dining at Ikea, the fast furniture mart that serves lunch, it’s been revealed that there was horse meat in their meatballs. That’s what you get for eating at a furniture store.

This is nothing new. In the Great Depression, people in the hardest-hit parts of the country, surely in Missouri, and down in the Bible belt, not only knew they were eating Ol’ Bess, but were grateful for it.

In my youth, farmers would come down the alley in horse-drawn wagons, hawking vegetables. One day, they started coming in old trucks. I asked my mother what happened to the horses. She said, “Go wash up for supper.” 

We had meatloaf that night. Now I’m worried.

What sickens me is the thought that when times got tough, they may have sold Liz Taylor’s horse in “National Velvet.” Nobody ever saw it again after that race. Did you?

It’s frightening to think that my generation grew up thinking that General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller, wasn’t so much as put out to pasture, as it was put out for dinner in the Lee house when retirement got leaner.

And what about Marshall Dillon’s horse, Buck, and Roy Rogers’, Trigger? They say it’s been stuffed and stands in Roy’s museum. Yeah, right.

What about Dale Evans’ Buttercup? I don’t want to even think that the Lone Ranger’s Silver wound up in those burgers I had in high school.

Try to erase from your mind the thought of Seabiscuit or Man O’ War winding up on the menu at your grandfather’s favorite steak house.

We’re eating veggies and fish this month at my house, and I’m taking down that picture of Harold’s pony and me. It’s just too sad.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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