A “Labor” of Love

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 9, 2015 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

 

The tree provided shade for the entire family. It was always hot no matter the forecast, and the two large picnic baskets were filled to the brim. Mom used to get up early in the morning frying chicken, and making a myriad of summer salads to complete the picnic lunch. This was my wake up call to hit the floor, grab my shower and get ready for a day at the races. The smell of fried chicken, the drive to the track, and the drifting thoughts of a young man starring out the window thinking of winning his $2 place bet. – That was our Labor day tradition for many years. It started long before I was born, and I wish I could remember our last. The family all gathered together as the kids were playing while mom and grandma served the men before they ventured off to do battle with cheap claimers.

Summer always started on Memorial Day no matter what the calendar read. It didn’t matter, as the same tradition was in place to start the season. Family together, picnic baskets filled, and the hustle to grab the prime spot under the oak tree. As a kid I thought the entire world did these things, and it felt like a normal way of life. When most kids started thinking about the end of the school year, I started counting the days until I would go to the track and watch the ponies. – Summer was sweet as the sweat would roll down your cheeks, and your glistening face would darken with each and every trip. By the end of the summer, my golden brown cheeks and blonde hair would follow my dad and grandpa around waiting with anticipation to make that $2 place wager.

Over time, traditions and gatherings turn to sweet memories. People leave us, and others go their own ways. But the cohesive glue that kept us together for a handful of marked days were centered around the old oak tree. There were good days and bad, and big winners and close calls. The horses that thundered in the background could be the soundtrack of the time, and the passing of each summer would find the kids go from playing to hanging around with family to wager. – It was the passing of time with the best people in the world. – What I wouldn’t give to be riding in the back of the old station wagon, starring out the window thinking of winners that lay ahead.

Time flies by quicker as the years add up. I made my way into the game I fondly loved. – You could say it was my first love. The first sweet kiss you received was getting to cash your ticket at the windows with your dad over your shoulder. He would smile and give a gentle nod as the teller would gladly congratulate you and fork over the money that seemed to solve all the worlds needs. As Fast Eddie Felson said; “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” – This was where it all began. The crowds would be thick, and the lines to bet were 50 deep. An energy seemed to drift around the room like the aroma of a cheap cigar. It was everywhere. If I live to be a 100, I don’t think I’ll ever see a place as eclectic as the race track on a busy holiday. – It still exists today, but you’ll have to make it down for a Triple Crown event, or the Breeders’ Cup. Other than that, times have changed and the only exceptions are a handful of throwbacks to old days. They’ve aged as we all have, and the tales that would be told could fill an old phonebook. – I can feel the cool autumn winds beginning to blow across my cheeks replacing the mid-day summer heat. Racing fans keep track of time by what season is next, and which tracks are getting ready to open.

It was Labor Day 2015, and I was preparing to start my day. I had all of my handicapping information, scratches, changes, daily announcements, and a program colored with the jockey silks in every race. – I always try to make it to the track early; I’m preparing for a day of calling the races. I think back to the old sputtering station wagon that always arrived early and set up camp. – I arrived earlier than usual on this day, probably from old habits or a love for something majestic. My materials all ready, my binoculars cleaned and wiped. The events of the day would only begin once the crowd would honor America with the playing of the National Anthem. – I’m not one to ever blow my horn. If there is a luckiest guy at the track award, hands down it would be the man who is writing these words. Right before I make my first announcement, I think back to days long past. – My dad and mom still together, both grand parents still alive and well, and my little brother and cousin playing on the jungle gym. The smell of fresh fried chicken under the oak tree, and my grandmother’s silky soft hands giving me a plate of home made goodness. – Thoughts ran through my head making me smile as I relish this golden opportunity to be a part of the day. – ” Ladies and gentleman, would you please honor America with the playing of our National Anthem.”

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