The Museum Piece

Posted by on Jul 25, 2012 | No Comments

The clerk at Massey’s Grocery Store looked down on my curly haired head. Like most five year old boys, I wasn’t tall enough to see anything but the front of the counter, but I could see the shiny dime he was holding out to me. I took it, and knew exactly what to do. When I went shopping with my mother and baby brother I had often seen adults go to a mysterious machine on the wall and put coins into it. From a slot in the bottom they retrieved some unknown prize and went on their way.

I rushed over and pushed a chair up to the wall. I climbed up and put my dime into a slot—on a stamp machine.

Fortunately my mother retrieved the gift by hitting the coin return button and guided me to the front of the store. There she put me on Sandy, a coin operated rocking horse. She placed my dime in the slot and I took my first of many rides on the fiberglass steed.

Even when I outgrew kid rides there was something special about seeing that weathered horse and remembering my first ride, a gift from a kindly checkout clerk. When Massey’s closed their doors and Sandy disappeared it was as if one small anchor of my childhood broke its chain and vanished into the depths.

Decades later the Massey’s Grocery building passed through a life as a local family fun center and was finally remodeled into the Auburn Justice Center. Even though it was no longer the grocery store of my childhood it was good to see the structure and its distinctive fin-like marquee still in use. It was an Auburn icon and a reminder of my childhood.

But decades after Massey’s and Sandy vanished I was visiting the White River Valley Museum with my wife. As I was browsing the exhibits I pointed out pictures of Northern Pacific railroad workers from the first half of the twentieth century. Although I couldn’t spot my Great-Grandfather, who was an engineer in that era, I did locate the bag of one conductor whom I knew had worked with him.

Then in a nearby exhibit I spotted a familiar fiberglass shape. It was a battered, dime operated, electric horse, much like my favorite steed that stood in front of Massey’s Grocery for so many years. When I looked at the plaque I was shocked to see that it was Sandy—the very same Sandy that I had first ridden as a five year old boy.

A lasting memory of my childhood still lives, but now as a silent museum piece.

This story was an entry in a contest about my hometown of Auburn, Washington.


  1. Jo
    October 18, 2012

    My experience was similar–penny-operated Sandy horse located outside of a local grocery store. Man, I spent hours on that horse as a child! All my life, that horse has been a bittersweet corner of my memory–a little horse-crazy girl and her first horse!

    I’m now 47 years old and pass by a local antique store twice daily. For the past couple of months, something inside that store has been calling to me. Finally, last Wednesday, I stopped by and what was sitting by the front door but SANDY, battered and bruised but still working. I bought it on the spot. Contact with the previous owner confirmed that it IS the same horse, which she purchased directly from the store when it closed. It’s MINE!!! I cannot stop smiling!!!

    • Dennis Brooke
      October 18, 2012

      Jo–the VERY SAME Sandy? How cool is that! Reliable steeds deserve a good retirement home.

      • Jo
        October 18, 2012

        According to the lady who put the horse on consignment at the antique shop, she bought it from the Food Lion (formerly Food Town) grocery store in Jonesville–EXACTLY where I used to ride it! I cannot fully describe the feeling of recognition I had when I laid eyes on it last week… And just today, I got the confirmation that it was MY Sandy…and now to stumble across your blog! The Universe is singing to me!