What do you get a 92-year-old woman who has everything?
If you're the Simpson family, you get a Griffith Park carrousel horse restored and named in her honor.
Why? Because the carrousel holds special memories for Jessie Gates Simpson, who has lived in Glendale and Los Feliz most of her life and used to take her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for frequent rides on the nearby Griffith Park carrousel.
Frail and wheelchair-bound but still the matriarch, she now lives at a Tujunga nursing home.
"She has 19,000 nighties and bathrobes and pairs of slippers. She shouldn't eat sweets, and flowers die. We wanted to give her something to look forward to," said one of her grandsons, Chuck Simpson, 44, of Lodi, in Northern California.
Article Inspired Idea
He hit upon the idea of the horse after reading a newspaper article about Rosemary and Warren Deasy, who recently bought the 60-year-old merry-go-round and are in the early stages of restoring it to its original sparkle. The carrousel is open for business during the restoration.
Simpson contacted the Deasys, who embraced the unusual suggestion, quickly choosing a horse from their 68 wooden equines.
"It's one of my favorites," Rosemary Deasy said of the horse she calls Jessie. "It's a very gentle, loving horse. I always recommend Jessie to a child who may be afraid to ride."
The red-brown horse has a big red bow on its shoulder and, with its head bowed and a forelock covering one eye, shyly looks up at the world. In contrast, other horses seem ferocious to some children because their heads are raised.
Jessie will be the first of her herd to be restored. She will be taken off the carrousel, stripped of old paint, sanded, patched and repainted; her glass jewels and black horsehair tail will be replaced. The price tag for all that work is $750.
Project Took Longer
Chuck Simpson, a pharmacist, had wanted to give his grandmother a certificate about the horse's renaming as a Christmas gift. But it took a few extra months and a series of letters to the extended clan to raise the $750.
Jessie Simpson, a widow for 20 years, has five children and 17 grandchildren. Because of divorces and remarriages, neither she nor Chuck Simpson knows for sure how many great-grandchildren she has. "A lot," she said. Almost everyone in the family chipped in for the horse, Chuck Simpson said.
So now the restoration is a slightly belated present for Valentine's Day, celebrated last Sunday by 14 family members from around California in a 45-minute ceremony at the carrousel.
The guest of honor, of course, was the woman everyone calls "Grandma." She said she had been looking forward to the outing from the nursing home, especially since she hadn't been to her beloved carrousel for years. She used to ride the merry-go-round often, she said, but couldn't do that now "because I might get dizzy or something."
But ride she did. She was lifted from her wheelchair into a seat on the carrousel and flanked by two of her grandchildren. The calliope started up, and the merry-go-round circled slowly several times with its venerable passenger.
Earlier, she offered this comment on how she felt about having a horse named for her:
"I don't know if other people like it, but I like it," she said. "It's a great honor."
On Sunday, as family members snapped pictures, Grandma Simpson got her first look at Jessie.
'Looking Right at Me'
"It looks like she's looking right at me," said Jessie Simpson, adding that "the best part of this whole thing is seeing all of my family members."
The horse's restoration is expected to take several months. When finished, Jessie the wooden horse may be kept on the sidelines, the Deasys said, as a showpiece and encouragement to other families to follow the Simpson family's example.
Any such donations are not tax-deductible because the carrousel, at least on paper, is a profit-making operation. But the Deasys--both in their early 40s, she a commercial artist, he a television commercial producer--say it will be many years, if ever, before they make a profit on the merry-go-round.
So, they say, they especially appreciated Chuck Simpson's idea. Said Rosemary Deasy: "It's a sweet, wonderful Valentine's present."
Times staff writer John C. Brazington contributed to this story.