I will never forget the look on my Uncle Frank’s face as he tossed the small piece of paper in the air and walked away in disgust.
In fact, as I stood there looking at the faces of the others in the pool, I didn’t understand why they were looking at me so strangely.
There were even a couple who looked angry.
The date was June 9, 1973, and I was four months shy of my thirteenth birthday.
There was a cookout at my father’s house and I, along with a few of my brothers and sisters were there.
It’s rare to be able to recall your exact whereabouts on a specific day forty-two years ago, unless that day was historically significant. John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded on take-off and the day the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years are some examples (that last one probably more so for me than most of you).
So what was so special about June 9, 1973 that allows me to remember a Saturday afternoon cookout at my father’s house?
It was the day of the 105th running of the Belmont Stakes.
It would be an understatement to say my father had an affinity for gambling. For those of you who have read my novels, the character of Ralph Donabedian is loosely based on my dad.
So with a big horse race happening, it goes without saying that there were some wagers being placed at the gathering.
There was also a pool—the gambling kind, not the swimming kind.
The entry fee for the pool was $10 per couple.
When it came time for the entrants to draw their horse from the torn pieces of paper in the “hat”, my father noted that they were one couple short. There were six horses and only five couples, so my Uncle Eddy pulled my cousin Debbie and me from the sidelines and told us he would pay our entry fee so we could round out the pack.
I think I was the third one to pull a name from the hat.
I had no idea what was going on, I was just following instructions.
I reached in and removed a slip of paper and tried to pronounce the weird name written on it…the best I could do was “Secretary”.
That’s when Uncle Frank tossed his slip of paper in the air and walked away in (mock) disgust.
I asked my father what was going on. He laughed and said “You just won the pool!”
Secretariat made it look easy.
Even after he won by thirty-one lengths, Debbie and I weren’t 100% sure what all the fuss was about, but we accepted the payout with huge smiles.
Only five horses ran in the race.
One of the six was scratched just before post-time, so we had to refund that couple’s money, and naturally we had to refund Uncle Eddy for staking us…
So we ended up splitting a forty-dollar pot.
A day of fun in the sun was great, but leaving with a twenty-dollar bill in my pocket made it a very memorable cookout indeed.