George Black turned up the volume of the wireless in order to drown the noisy chimes emanating from the grandfather clock and added more coal to the range.
A train driver by profession, he was a gifted craftsman and loved working with wood in his spare time. During the course of his life he’d made many useful and decorative objects. His hobby had begun out of necessity making useful items for his wife and family – doorstops, ironing boards, stools and simple pieces of furniture. With experience he progressed to toys – carts, trucks, boats, whips and tops, kites, puzzles and dolls houses. He also created other objects such as trinket boxes and decorative picture frames.
He refused to accept money for his work; the pleasure in making the objects was payment enough, but people found ways to show their gratitude. George and his wife had eaten countless home-made pies, cakes, biscuits, jams, chutneys and pickles donated by the delighted recipients.
George had given up his hobby several years ago when his hands became crippled with arthritis. He was prepared to endure the discomfort in order to create a final and very special gift.
Methodically, he examined the wood on his bench, searching for knots and flaws. He’d selected each piece with care and had reserved them for this particular project.
During the months that followed, the old man laboured for several hours each day. His progress was hampered by the increasing pain in his hands and there were days when he could barely hold his tools. He forced himself to continue. Eventually the day arrived when he stood back and proudly admired his handiwork. It was by far the finest object he had ever made and finished just in time.
His son and grandson visited the following day. George could hardly contain his excitement and after exchanging a few pleasantries, he took his grandson by the hand and led him into the front room.
The boy’s eyes opened wide with amazement. “Is that for me?”
The old man nodded.
With a cry of delight, the child clambered onto the back of the splendid rocking horse. He put his arms around the horse’s neck and laid his cheek on its mane.
George breathed a sigh of relief. It had been worth every moment of the pain; he could almost see the bond forming between them.
“She’s just perfect. The bestest birthday present I ever had. What’s she called, granddad?”
George wasn’t surprised by his grandson’s choice of gender; he felt too that the rocking horse had a definite female quality. “Why don’t you decide?” he smiled.
The boy thought for some time. “Velvet. Her mane feels like velvet, so that’s what I’ll call her.”
The weary old man nodded his agreement; it was a perfect choice.
Sadly, George never knew of the immense pleasure Velvet gave to his grandson. He died a few days later.
The old man carefully examined the dusty old rocking horse. The passage of time and several boisterous children had taken their toll.
The formerly glorious velvet mane was in tatters and the paintwork was cracked and peeling. The saddle and bridle were damaged beyond repair and would need replacing. The tail had been pulled off, two of the leg joints were badly damaged and the red bow base was spilt.
He’d inherited his grandfather’s love of wood and his skill for woodwork. Following several unrewarding jobs he’d launched a business selling his creations. He hadn’t made a fortune but had earned enough money to marry, bring up five children and live comfortably from his profits.
He lost himself in thought as he remembered the day so long ago when his grandfather had given Velvet to him. He was well into adulthood before he understood that the old man had borrowed time in order to make the rocking horse for him. He stroked Velvet’s shabby mane and deeply regretted his neglect, which had led her to this sorry state.
As he painstakingly restored Velvet to her former glory, his strong feelings of love for the rocking horse were re-awakened. As a child he was painfully shy and had few friends. It was natural that Velvet had become his confidante. He recalled the many one sided conversations with Velvet about his problems and fears, and his hopes and dreams. He talked to her as he worked, although his words were now concerned with getting old, pain and fear of death.
Exactly like George, his grandfather, he was planning to give Velvet to his grandson for his fifth birthday. No one could understand better than he how thrilled his grandson would be with the gift.
A few days later he led his grandson into the spare room and presented Velvet to him.
“Wow! Thanks, gramps!”
“Her name is Velvet.”
“Cool.” His grandson leaped up and began rocking. “This is great fun,” he said as he kicked his heels savagely into her flanks. A flake of red paint drifted onto the carpet.
The old man turned and gazed vacantly out of the window.
“Her name is Velvet,” he repeated quietly, his voice thick.
At the end of the visit when he saw Velvet being loaded onto the trailer the old man couldn’t bear to watch. He busied himself with some small task until the sound of the engine starting made him look up.
As the vehicle moved forward, the horse rocked backwards in response to the momentum and then slowly arched forward in a silent parody of a farewell gesture.
The old man who had endured more than his share of sorrow hadn’t given way to emotion since he was twelve, not even when his wife had died. He raised a hand in silent acknowledgement unable to control the tears rolling slowly down his cheeks.
“Bye, Velvet,” he whispered.