A Plainview Christmas Story
During the ‘30s, my Dad worked out an arrangement with a Mr. Riley, of Pierce, who had quite a large herd of Shetland ponies, and found them expensive to feed year around. Dad agreed to take one of the ponies, keep him through the winter, and in lieu of cash, trade a certain amount of baked goods for a pony.
Nicky was a jewel. He was dark brown in color, with a darker mane. He was sleek and slender and ran like the wind. His crowning feature was that he had a good disposition, and seemed to love 10 year old boys and girls as much as we all loved him.
One of the girls in the neighborhood was Joanna, a dark-haired, dark eyed, beauty, one or two years younger than I. She was very pale and quiet, but she loved horses, and when we were out riding, she would always be close by, watching. Often, we would see her go to the park across the street from our house, where Nicky was picketed, with a lump of sugar or an apple for treats. She loved to pet him, and nuzzle his ears, and talked softly to him while she straightened out his mane and tail. Since she did not run and play much, and was rarely out of sight of her mother, she was not really a part of the gang, but we all recognized her as being someone who found horses special.
That summer, Joanna got terribly sick. We never knew just what her illness was, but on at least two occasions her mother called us into the house to visit Joanna and to try to cheer her up. This proved to be quite an ordeal because Joanna was confined to her bed, in a cast to her hips, which caused her to be immobile. Her disease must have been of the bone because there was a hole in the cast that allowed for drainage, and the discharge caused a terrible stench that almost gagged you as you stepped into the room. After the first visit to Joanna’s I announced to my mother that I would never go back. Mom vowed that I not only would go back on a regular basis, but I would take Joanna little gifts, and I would smile and cheer her as best I could. I can’t say that I ever got so I enjoyed the visits, but I did go from time to time, and Joanna and I got to be friends.
Her parents did their best to be cheerful and encouraged us to come back often. Joanna’s dad was always making jokes when he was around, and he did his best to include us and Joanna, whom he called “Princess”, into his stories, trying to make her smile. However, that summer there were few smiles from Joanna, and even when she was well enough to be carried to the front porch it was only when I stopped by on Nicky that she would manage a little grin. At these times she would call to her mother to bring a little treat for Nicky, then smile broadly as he accepted it with enthusiasm.
One day Dad called me outside to see his latest acquisition. He had picked up a one- horse cutter (sleigh) from Charlie Seabury, one that the Seabury family had brought from Canada years before. It was not in very good shape, but Dad assured me that by the time the snow flew we would have a one-horse sleigh that we would be proud of, and gliding over the snow in that cutter would be the most fun of all.
I’m sure if he would have known (or more to the point, if my mother would have known) the trouble and expense that restoring that cutter brought he would have thanked Mr. Seabury very much for the kind thought and left the cutter on Mr. Seabury’s farm. But no one knew, and things just got out of hand gradually.
Restoring that cutter really became sort of community project. Mr. Hoffart and the boys at the lumberyard repaired a broken shaft. Karl Malstrom, the blacksmith, manufactured a new runner which had to curve back upon itself in the front. The new runner turned out so well that he decided to put a new one on the other side as well. The boys in the body shop at Saathoff’s Chevrolet garage painted the cutter a bright cherry red, and trimmed it in black. The upholsterer at Boyens’ furniture store put a new leatherette covering on the seat. And finally, Bob Johnson, at the harness shop, restrung the sleigh bells on a new flexible piece of harness that was custom fit just for Nicky. All of these people were as proud of the new cutter as we were and insisted that we must come around for an inspection the first time that we were out for a ride.
That year, it seemed as if it would never snow, and it was near Christmas before enough snow had accumulated so that we could take a ride in the new cutter. Nicky was hitched to the sleigh, and the sleigh bells were in place. I really believe that Nicky thought we had brought this present just for him. He seemed to grow taller when he pulled that sleigh and held his head high and pranced to the sound of the bells. It was as if he were a one-entry parade.
After a few preliminary passes around the block my mother called me over and suggested that Joanna might enjoy seeing the new cutter and Nicky in his finery, and just maybe, she might be able to take a little ride. I’m sure that she must have been on the telephone to Joanna’s mother, because when we got to Joanna’s place a few minutes later she was already in her snow suit and sitting on the porch waiting. Her father carried her to the curb, and after she had whispered a few words of endearment to Nicky, he lifted her into the sleigh. She still had a cast on, so that she could not bend her leg, but we managed to place her so that her leg could be inside the sleigh and covered with the warm comforter we were using.
By this time it was near 5 o’clock in the evening and at that time of the year it was almost dark. But we proceeded with our ride none-the-less. To say that Joanna was thrilled is a understatement. I had never seen her so animated, and she almost sang with delight. Each house that we passed, which was decorated with holiday lights, brought squeals of appreciation. I began to get into the spirit as well, and told her about one house or another that had really outstanding lights or decorations, and we would ride by to see. Before we knew it we were at the highway, the business district, with its colored lights, decorations, and Christmas music, on the other side. I knew my mother, and certainly Joanna’s mother, would not want us to go into the business district with the sleigh and pony, fearing the automobile traffic. But by this time we were having so much fun, and no one was coming, so across the highway we went, into the heart of Plainview, to make a complete circuit of the two blocks of main street.
You would have thought that Santa himself had come to call. Cars pulled to the side of the street for us to pass, and everyone called out “Merry Christmas” and waved. Clerks and customers came to the front of the stores to see what sort of parade was going by. Many people recognized Joanna and called to her by name and said how good it was to see her. She beamed at everyone, and as she called my attention to yet another wonderful decoration in one of the stores, she turned to me and said with a lilt in her voice and a tear in her eye,
“Today, I truly do feel like a Princess, and this is my fairy kingdom. And this is my magic sleigh. Thank you very, very much. This is going to be my best Christmas ever.”
— From: “Growing Up In Plain View” by Walt Sehnert