A CHRISTMAS RIDE

It was 1933, and Christmas was almost here. The girl stood on the rough porch attached to the small, unpainted house and stared out at the pouring rain. It had been raining for days. The muddy yard was awash with water trying to run off into the nearest low spot, but the rain was coming down to fast and furious for it to drain. It stood deep enough to top the toes of your shoes. The creeks that ran between the house and the little brown church a couple of miles down the road were full to overflowing. They were cut off from everywhere.

The girl stood passively, staring at a the watery world before her. Tonight was the church play and she had a part in it. Her heart was downcast. She had so looked forward to this night and now…well, how was she to get to the church? Her mother was busy getting ready for dinner. Her little sisters and brother were chasing each other around the battered table and she heard her mother’s irritated voice snapping at them. “Go sit down before I take a switch to you!” The sound of pounding footsteps stopped, replaced by the rattle of dishes being placed on the table.

Her father was coming up from the rickety barn at the back of the house. He stepped up on the porch and stopped beside her. “You had your heart set on going, didn’t you?” His voice was soft and low. She nodded, but didn’t speak. “Don’t worry,” he told her. “I’ll get you there.” Her chin came up and she gaped at him. “How will you do that, Daddy?” “Brownie will get us there,” he replied. “Don’t say anything to your mother just yet.” Her head bobbed up and down as she acknowledged the warning.

After dinner she glanced over at her father and he gave a gentle nod. Quickly, she gathered up the dishes and rushed them to the sink where she made short work of washing them. When she was through and the dishes were dried and put away, she went to the little bedroom she shared with her siblings and pulled a box from the top shelf. It was the dress her mother had made for her to wear tonight. She took it into the main room of the little house and handed it to her father. He was waiting with her coat and a piece of oilskin to wrap her in. “Where are you going?” her mother demanded to know.

“The play is tonight,” he answered simply. She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “You can’t go in this weather. How are you going to cross the creek?” He wrapped the box in a piece of oilskin and slid it into his saddlebag. “Brownie can cross the creek.” He didn’t look at her as he wrapped a larger piece of oilskin around his daughter’s shoulders. “I promised her I would take her and that’s the end of it.” He turned the child toward the door and faced his wife. She crossed her arms in front of her and compressed her lips together in a scowl, but she made no further objections.

The man left the girl standing at the end of the porch and went into the gathering darkness toward the barn and returned a few moments later with his horse ready and saddled. He mounted, then reached for the girl and drew into the saddle in front of him, tucking the oilskin tighter around her. Then he turned the horse’s head toward the muddy road that ran in front of the house and they left the yard at a quick walk. The rain soon found its way down the back of his neck as it ran off his hat. The girl was wrapped well but the rain found its way in trickles beneath the oilskin and onto her coat which was old and well worn. Neither of them complained.

The first creek was the worst barrier to their journey. The water was well above its banks but even at that it wasn’t very wide. The brown gelding didn’t hesitate. He was a well trained cow pony and had crossed many difficult barriers in his life. He was strong and sure. The man had great trust in his horse for he had trained him himself and had ridden him many years on the range. There was no lack of confidence in either man or horse. When the horse’s hooves lost ground he struck out and swam across the strong current, coming out on the opposite side only a few feet to the side of the road as he mounted the bank. He stomped once and resumed his quick pace. The second and third creeks were not so large and his hooves never left solid ground crossing either of them although the water did reach up to his belly.

There were wagons and horses standing out in the rain all across the churchyard when they rode in, but he passed by them by and rode Brownie into the open stable at the back. He dismounted then slid his daughter off the saddle and cradled her in his arms as he crossed the yard to the back step of the church. His father, the lay preacher of this little country church was waiting under the overhang at the back door. “You made it,” the older man remarked. “Yep,” the son replied. “Any problems?” The younger man set his daughter on the bottom step and she bounded up the steps into her grandfather’s arms. “Grandpa!” she exclaimed. “Brownie swam Thompson Creek!” The old man laughed. “He did?” She nodded vigorously. He was small in stature, just topping 5ft.2in., but to the the little girl he stood 6ft. tall on the inside. He brushed her coarse, black hair back from her forehead and kissed her softly. “Hurry now. They’re waiting for you.”

She took the box from her father and hurried in to change into her new dress. She was so excited that her hands shook. It was an exciting night. The church was all alit with lanterns everywhere. As she rushed to join the other children her grandfather stopped her to place a silver halo on her head. She was an angel in the play but there weren’t any wings, just the halo which she thought beautiful. Everything went well. The church was packed with friends and family. Her lines were the last and her heart soared with happiness as her cue came. Her eyes were bright and her face all aglow with the force of her joy. “Fear not!” her voice rang out. “For I bring you glad tidings of great joy. For unto to you is born this day in the city of Bethlehem, a savior which is Christ the Lord!” There was a moment of silence, then the pianist played a soft chord on the old, upright piano and all the children sang out with, “Joy to the World!” It was the most wonderful moment of her life; magical and she felt like she truly could soar above the earth.

Afterwards there were cookies and cakes, and a peppermint stick, wondrous treats which she did not often get. The rain was still coming down, but softer as her father rode out of the church yard. Her shoes were wet from earlier, but she hardly noticed. She snuggled down deeper into the oilskin and relaxed against her father’s strong chest; contentment filled her entire being. “It was wonderful, wasn’t it, Daddy?” she whispered. “Yes, it was,” he agreed. “Thank you,” she sighed. “For bringing me…thank you.” He pressed his chin against the back of her head. “You’re welcome.” “I love you, Daddy.” His arms tightened about her as she drifted off to sleep, safe and secure in his love.

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