Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Story

I started asking for a horse when I was about four. It was on my wish list for my birthday, Christmas and every first star I saw of every night I looked. I don't believe I have ever wished so passionately or so consistently for anything else, except my son.

When I was eight I was given a pony for my birthday. He was a Shitland and mean as shit. What makes this part of the story so tragic is that we bought him from family and they told my parents he was a wonderful, willing pony I could use for 4H. They lied. He was hard mouthed, mean spirited and hated people. I was double-barreled in the chest more times then I can remember, and bore the hoof-shaped bruises to prove it. I knew though, that my wish had been granted and he was the answer. I stopped asking for a horse and tried to figure out how to make the shitland into more of what I had envisioned when I first started asking.

See, from as young as I could remember, I knew we didn't have a lot of money. It didn't seem like a great thing to ask for something more, when I knew how hard it was for my parents already. I was thankful that I had my pony and we could keep him; asking for more or better wasn't going to happen. (As an adult, I'm not sure how we managed to keep the horses. I have to believe it was because my mom knew how incredibly important it was to me and did what she had to in order for it to happen.) When I was six my father went deer hunting and brought back six (he, my mom and a friend each had two tags) which he butchered in the boxcar. We ate that deer until I was fourteen. Every January we purchased 150 pullet chicks and housed them in the chicken coop. Every August, we would spend three awful days killing the damn things and freezing them in our freezer. Every spring we would plant our garden with lettuce, beets, carrots, peas, beans, strawberries, squash, cucumbers, and corn (I'm sure there were others, but I don't remember what they were.) My mother would can food for three weeks during the late summer, putting up food to get us through the winter. We raised a calf for slaughter and raised pigs that we sold, after slaughtering the sows for food. My mom made most of our clothes. We were always clothed, fed and had shelter, but I knew we were tight for money. We did, also, always have pretty spectacular Christmases.

When I was twelve, I asked for a pad saddle for Christmas. I knew it wasn't real expensive and that my mom knew my current pad saddle was trashed. I had great hopes that it would happen. Then, about September, my brother found the Christmas list my mom had made for each of us kids and showed it to me. Right there at the top of the list was the pad saddle. I was beside myself. I skimmed the rest of the list, noting a pair of pj's, some slippers, a horse, some books and a halter and lead rope. The horse registered, since I had a fairly substantial collection of Breyer horses on the shelf in my room. I made a note in my mind to decide which Breyer I wanted to add to the collection and point it out to my mom. I was thinking I would like to add the San Domingo Stallion, which Breyer had just released in conjunction with the Marguerite Henry book by the same name. My brother was pretty excited about his list as well.

(We were shitheads when we were kids. Christmas was no exception. Mom used to have to hide our gifts at the High School where my father worked to keep us kids from finding them. I have been known to open gifts that were under the tree and then rewrapping them in a way that no one could tell they had been opened. It is not a surprise that my brother found the notebook. I'm just really happy that it didn't ruin my mom's pleasure at the gift they had planned for me.)

By the time Christmas came around we were absolutely nuts with the suspense. My grandparents were visiting and we were told we had to wait until they were awake before we could open presents. All four of us kids were jammed into my brothers' room, sleeping on the floor. At ten we were in bed, but not asleep, when I heard my father and grandfather leave the house. I suspected they were going to get presents from where ever they had been hidden. I finally fell sleep before they came home. Unfortunately, something woke me up at about 3:30 am. My brother and I made so much noise that my mother finally brought in our stockings and told us to be quiet while we opened them. We had to do it in the dark, which made our guesses about what was in the stockings pretty amusing. Fifteen minutes later, we were back to making noise and being disruptive as a way to wake everyone up. Six in morning has never taken so long to come.

Finally, we were let into the living room. My brother got a set of drums. And the chair next to it was piled high with gifts. My other brother got a huge pile of gifts and my sister had her own pile. They each got an end of the couch. I had the second chair. It was empty. There was a halter and lead rope hooked over the edge and that was it. No pad saddle. No huge pile of gifts. No Breyer horse, even though I had made a point of pointing out which one I wanted. Nothing. I was shocked and stunned when I picked up the halter. I couldn't believe it was all I was going to get. The tears were beginning to fall and I really struggled to try and hide my disappointment. I just couldn't make it make sense. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I turned my back to my parents, trying to hide how I was feeling.

Mom: "Honey, did you see the note?"

Me: "What note?" the tears beginning to trickle down my cheeks despite my attempt at hiding what I was feeling. Christmas had just gone from my favorite day of the year, to the worse moment of my life.

Mom: sounding strangled, "There was a note attached to the halter."

Me: I looked. No note. I searched the chair and found it hidden between the cushion and the side of the chair. The scotch tape hadn't held it on. I turned it over and it said:

Merry Christmas, Karen!

Santa couldn't bring the rest of 
your gift inside the house so it is
waiting for you outside.
Love, Mom and Dad

I looked up at my mom and asked in a voice beyond disbelief, "What is outside?"

Mom: approaching exasperation (here they had done something spectacular for me and I just wasn't getting it at all.) "A horse."

My eyes flew wide and I gasped, "which horse?"

Mom smiled and answered "Queenie."

I knew Queenie. They had brought her by in late August. My mom had ridden her and they had told me they were trying her as a mount for my mom. She was three and a half year old, three-quarters Appaloosa and one quarter Arabian. A horse. A HORSE!!!

Despite reading the list, I had never even suspected.

I bolted for the door in my slippers and pjs, stopping only long enough to grab my coat. I plowed my way through two feet of snow to the small barn out behind our pasture. Sure enough, inside was my shaggy haired, appy mare, frost hanging from the whiskers on her muzzle, her soft eyes gazing at me.

It was hands-down, the best Christmas I ever had as a kid.


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