My dad is on my mind today, March 7. He would be turning 85 if he were here.
I was his baby of six girls and two boys. Little Marge is what he called me. To him, Little Marge is who I always was.
Some of my earliest memories are of getting up with him at sunrise and feeding the horses; dragging bales of hay that were bigger than I was across the yard; seeing mares give birth or watching in horror as my dad untangled a horse from the barbed wire.
When Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, I was eight years old, and my dad tore a picture of him out of a magazine to put up on my wall. While other little girls wanted dolls and dresses for Christmas, I wanted boots and a cowboy hat or some new piece of tack for my horse.
Daddy loved every aspect of horses: caring for them, owning them, riding them, betting on them. I remember once when he was riding our mare, Dolly, she fell and rolled on him, breaking his ribs. It didn't stop him though. He eventually got back on.
Dolly's foal, Princess, was my horse. A princess in name only, she repeatedly tried to throw me. The boy next door would laugh at me, but Daddy would always tell me to climb back into the saddle. One day, though, I guess he had had enough of her antics, as I came home from school and learned that Princess had been sold. That's just the way Daddy did things.
By the time I was in 5th grade, we had ten horses that grazed right in our yard. Every day when I got off the school bus, the horses would start towards me. Thoroughbreds are known to be spirited and they scared me to death, but I knew my friends were watching from the bus and I would resist the urge to run. The young race horses are etched in my memory: Whiskey Harry, named after my great grandfather; Green Eyed Primp, named after my mother, and Charming Margie, named after-- well, let's just say she gave my siblings more proof that I was the spoiled baby.
It was Daddy's dream to win the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont, the Preakness, even the Triple Crown. Since horse racing was illegal in Tennessee, we moved to race our horses and I became familiar with words like trifecta and handicapping. On the evenings we didn't go to the track, we would sit on our back porch and listen to the races. I became very familiar with the announcer's call, "And they're off!" No matter the odds, my mother always bet her lucky numbers, 2-5-8. Daddy would tease her, saying the horses didn't know what number they were wearing.
Green Eyed Primp got us into the Winner's Circle once. But once was not enough in such a costly business, and we returned to Memphis where Daddy sold cars for a living. I have never forgotten, though, how he had the courage to pursue his dream.
Alzheimers took my dad in 2007, but it cannot take what I learned from him. He was not a perfect man, but whether I failed a math test--and I failed many--or was thrown from a horse, his message was the same: get back up, he would say, reminding me that if it weren't for failure, success wouldn't mean anything.
I am grateful today to have memories that most little girls only dream of. I will always cherish the memories of Daddy, the horses and me.