I never was much of a betting man…
I was at the gas station recently and noted the number plate on the car in front of me was 429. Aha, three digits! That was a legacy number, surely with a story behind it, as only a Rhode Islander would know. 429 is an important number for me. Dad said often, “My number came out today. 429. That’s the time you were born, Ed, 429 AM, and I have hit it at least six times over the years.”
I remember many a late summer evening when Dad took me to downtown Providence to “Go get “The Record.” “The Record” was a Boston newspaper that was delivered to Rhode Island late in the evening. We drove to the corner of Washington and Aborn Streets in downtown Providence, where there was a White Tower Diner and a man standing in front selling the paper. Dad gave me the money (I’m guessing a nickel) and I handed it to the guy who efficiently snap-folded the paper and gave it to me with a “Thanks, Kid.” Every older friend of my Dad’s called me Kid, as did this paper man.
Dad scooted away from the car behind to pull over as soon as he could, opened the paper to the rear section and looked for “the number.” “What’s the number, Dad?”
“It has to do with the horse races, the first three horses in the last column …” and then he lost me. Most of the time, he said “Dammit.” I knew that meant he lost. I was never with him on the rare occasion when he won.
Dad’s other favorite number, now mine, was four. One year, Diane and I were invited to The Kentucky Derby; a marvelous experience and spectacle. When I told Dad we were going, his eyes widened and he said, “Put twenty on the four horse.”
I had played the number four horse in a previous race. Knowing nothing about racing, I figured I had as good a chance as any of the other one hundred thousand people there. I won! Three hundred dollars!
Well, after a long day of many races and lots of waiting, The Derby was off. Dad’s horse struggled. When I returned home, Dad, who watched the race on TV, said, “I saw my horse get nuzzled and jammed, into the starting gate with a big push by the handlers, but I never saw him again after that. What the heck happened?”
The horses had started together indeed, but it didn’t take long for a separation. The other horses seemed not to like the four horse, so they by some means found a way to box him out and keep him in last place for the entire race. That’s where he finished. Dead last.
“Dad, he started last and stayed that way all the way around. The other horses almost lapped him.”
“The Bum,” Dad’s common refrain when he was unhappy with the performance of an athlete. “No wonder they had to push him in.”