From the Heart
Take a sleigh ride through a snowy Christmas past.
“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.