From the Heart

Take a sleigh ride through a snowy Christ­mas past.

Country Woman - - CONTENTS - BY JEWELL JOHNSON

“Time to get your coats on,” Mom called. “Dad’s got the car warmed up.” It was Christ­mas Day 1941, and steam bil­lowed from the tailpipe as I tum­bled into the back­seat with my brothers, Deisel and Gary. We were go­ing to cel­e­brate Christ­mas at Un­cle Os­car’s farm.

Soon the prairie gave way to skinny po­plar trees, and scrubby bushes dot­ted the land. “We’re in brush coun­try now,” Dad said. For the next half-hour we trav­eled on a bumpy gravel road.

Sud­denly, Mom pointed to a fig­ure in the dis­tance. “There’s Os­car, wait­ing for us!” she said. I craned my neck to see my un­cle. He wore a fur cap, the col­lar of his thick coat but­toned up to his chin. He was stand­ing be­side a large horse-drawn sleigh.

High snow­drifts blocked the road to the farm, so we left our car on the high­way and rode in the sleigh. The snow­drifts were part of the magic. With­out them we may not have got­ten a sleigh ride.

“Duck your heads,” Un­cle said, spread­ing a buf­falo robe over my mom, brothers and me. “This will keep out the wind.” He mo­tioned to my dad to ride up front.

When Un­cle yelled “gid up,” the horses’ har­nesses jin­gled, the sleigh jerked and we glided over the snow. My mind raced ahead to the house, and my heart sang in rhythm with the horses’ hooves.

I felt the sleigh stop, and when Dad pulled off the buf­falo robe, my brothers and I popped up like go­phers. Mom laughed at our faces—pink from the warmth of the robe.

“Come in!” our cousin He­len called from the porch, prac­ti­cally jig­ging in an­tic­i­pa­tion as she wiped her hands on her apron. The smell of tur­key and sage wafted through the door as we hur­ried in­side.

“Get close to the stove to warm up,” He­len ad­vised. We stretched out our cold hands over the range.

Un­cle Os­car hung up his hat and turned to Dad. “It must have been 20 below zero this morn­ing.” Dad nod­ded, and we kids shared a look and a quiet gig­gle. The men were so pre­dictable. They al­ways talked about the weather.

Later, af­ter din­ner, Un­cle set up a game of chess, and he and Dad sat by the pot­bel­lied stove for the rest of the day, chal­leng­ing each other.

We kids raced to the kitchen to play games as soon as the ta­ble was cleared. At dusk, Florence took the chim­ney off the kerosene lamp and lit the wick. A soft glow filled the kitchen as we snacked on ap­ple salad, tur­key and rolls.

When it was time to leave, we re­luc­tantly bun­dled up and went out­side. I didn’t want to go, but one more bit of magic awaited.

Be­cause the wind had died down, we no longer needed the robe. I gazed into the sky. Some of the stars seemed near enough to touch. Oth­ers were mere dots. I counted. “One, two, three...” “You can’t count them all,” Deisel said.

“I can, too,” I said. “Five, six, seven...” But he was right. There were too many to count. At the main road, the horses stopped.

“Thank you for the ride, Un­cle,” I said, reach­ing to shake his hand. “Thanks a mil­lion,” Dad said. My brothers and I snug­gled in the back­seat, and as I thought of Dad’s words, I whis­pered: “I like ev­ery­thing about Christ­mas at Un­cle Os­car’s. Best of all, I like the sleigh ride in the night, when a mil­lion stars look down.” And then I fell asleep.

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