• Mike Matson

You do you, Bucky

This column was published August 6, 2022 in the Manhattan Mercury.


Like so many of my generation in Kansas, I have one foot on the farm and another in the city.

Armed with an undergraduate degree in agronomy from the land grant university in Manhattan, my father moved his young family back to Rooks County, where he and mom connected over chemistry and algebra in study hall at Plainville High. Mom’s father set them up on the farm where his daughter had grown up.

Calves in the early spring; wheat harvest in the summer; milo in the fall; fixing fence and equipment in the winter. Debt, year-round.

Two horses, Both bays, Ginger and Comanche. My father and his hired man would mount up and work the cattle on horseback, moving them from pasture to pasture. Today, the cattle producers call it low-stress livestock handling.

My siblings and I, just little kids, looked at Ginger and Comanche and saw My Friend Flicka. Dad saw the Clydesdales. Mom, who had grown up riding horses across the Rooks County prairie to school, landed on the solution.

Bucky, a kid-sized, pre-owned, “gently used” pony. Black, white, and shaggy. The name alone should have been a clue.

Caveat emptor.

While the pony, my older sister and younger brother took to each other immediately, me and Bucky went ‘round and ‘round.

No sooner than I would climb aboard, Bucky would unceremoniously deposit me on my backside in the pasture grass. Patience, Mom would counsel. If you’re tense, Bucky will be tense. I would take a few deep breaths, unblock my farm boy chakras, practice all the mindfulness an 8-year-old could muster and climb back on.

This is not Bucky, just a pony who looks like him. I don't like him either.

Boom. Same thing. On my back, looking up at the clear blue. In between what I was convinced were audible pony guffaws, Bucky led with the attitude. “I own you, kid.”

Get back on the horse, my parents would urge, seeking to impart lessons of perseverance and overcoming failure.

Save your rah-rah. We now have sufficient data to be able to predict the outcome if I were to try, try again. What’s the definition of insanity? Keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. No, thank you very much.

Ponies have feelings too, apparently, and me and Bucky eventually developed an equine/kid rapprochement, based on keeping our distance. The Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. I won’t put a saddle on you, and you won’t toss me on to the musk thistle.

The city kid in me began to emerge and I spent more time on my bicycle. Pedaling past Bucky grazing in the pasture, I would stick out my tongue in his general direction and we would each move on with our separate existences. You do you, Bucky.

When the folks sold the farm and we moved to the city, I was ready. My new urban chums would gather ‘round and quiz me about life in the country. Did you ride horses? Did you have a pony?

“Well, it’s like this…”

I have fond memories of that life. I miss my grandfather and his aircraft carrier-sized Chryslers, my grandmother’s butter-and-finely-chopped onion-infused mashed potatoes. I miss western Kansas sunsets and my father singing, “Oh bury me not… on the lone prairie…” while he shaved. The nobility of Mom wanting her children to learn what she learned, to instill the values instilled in her, growing up on the farm.

I do not miss Bucky.