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The Sleigh

The four young people were making quite a lot of noise as they trooped through the neighborhood, but nobody really cared.

Everybody knew the Loring kids. Everybody knew they were usually up to something—but it was always something good.

Today they were chattering about some friends, a very old couple who lived down the road. The kids had promised to clean out their barn. Kelly and Brent always liked helping people. Matt was usually too busy. Being older than the rest, he had tons of extra schoolwork. Doug was pretty grumpy these days, and not always fun to have around.

But they all liked Mr. and Mrs. Carter—and someone needed to clear out the old barn in a hurry—because men were coming in a week or two to demolish it. What with Mr. Carter laid up, having to sit in the chair all day with an aching shoulder and a sprained ankle, Mrs. Carter had hoped the old barn could be removed.

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“We’ve been wanting to do it for years, but never got around to it. But he loves the horses. The view would be so perfect if that old ramshackle barn were gone.”

Of course Kelly, the moment she heard, wanted to do it for them. But this job was a little too much for her to tackle alone. She’d recruited Brent, who was always willing. Still, she figured it’d take them until— summer! So she’d enlisted Doug and Matt.

“We need to do this. He had such a bad accident. He needs all the cheering up he can get,” said Kelly.

It was unusual to be doing such a huge project for free—at this time of year, with Christmas presents to buy. But they were getting a little something out of it. They could take anything they wanted.  Mr. Carter had said there were some old cameras that Doug could have for his collection. There were piles of newspapers and a scrapbook or two that had information on life during the mid 1900’s. Matt needed info for his report and thought it’d be interesting to go through real newspapers and get an interview with people who had lived during that time. And there were old canning jars and other things that Mrs. Loring could use for crafts.

Brent and Doug were pulling empty wagons from home and Kelly carried the plate of Christmas cookies. They waved at neighbors putting up Christmas lights as they went by.

“Here we are!” said Kelly, excitedly. “I’ll take the cookies in.”

“We’ll go on and get started,” said Matt. He never liked to waste time.

Kelly hurried up the front walk to the farmhouse. When Mrs. Carter let her in and they walked through, she saw the old man in his comfortable chair on the sun porch. The porch was glassed in and heated, very cozy on a December day. She could see the boys heading toward the barn with their wagons.

Over in the distance, she could also see the new riding school. Scott, the owner, was out there giving a riding lesson.

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Kelly knew that on the other side was a field where the horses always grazed.  At least six were out there right now, probably. But the big barn was blocking the view.

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“Kelly, what have you got? Your mom’s good cookies!”  The man took the plate and lifted the plastic off right away. He reached for a sugar cookie that was shaped like a bell and covered with red sprinkles.

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“Oh, my! This is wonderful,” said Mrs. Carter. “The people at your church are being so good to us—we don’t even go there and they’ve brought us a nice chicken casserole for dinner and somebody else brought a cake. I told them they don’t have to bring anymore for a while. We’re all set.”

“But you can always bring your mom’s cookies,” put in her husband, reaching for a gingerbread man.

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“I’d better get out there before Matt comes in after me,” said Kelly. “I don’t know if this was such a good idea—he’s going to be the boss of this job, that’s for sure.”

“That’s Matt,” laughed Mr. Carter.  “But he may get so involved in those old scrapbooks that he might forget about bossing you all.”

“Thank you, Kelly, for doing this. And remember you can have anything you want. Though I think it’s all just junk,” Mrs. Carter told her.

“Now dear, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I think she’d going to find lots of things that her mother can use for crafts.”

Kelly went out and crossed the backyard. The boys had the big double doors open and she found them looking around, a bit dazed. Even with the four of them, this job might take forever.

“This place is chockablock full, as Mrs. MacGregor would say,” said Kelly, quoting another elderly friend.

“Let’s get started. Each one of you take a section,” ordered Matt. “And I wonder what’s in the haymow, if anything.”

Doug climbed up to see.

“There’s stuff up here, too—but not as much. An old trunk and some boxes.”

Kelly didn’t care that Matt took charge. She was too excited. She loved going through old stuff and finding treasures. Matt had already discovered the newspapers and loaded up one of the wagons with two cardboard boxes full and a bin of scrapbooks.

Kelly got busy stacking the old canning jars in a large box. There were tons of old plastic  butter containers and coffee cans, too. They could make Christmas decorations with the lids.

Two hours later, Mrs. Carter came to the door. “You must be freezing. Come in and have some cocoa—and you can have some cake or cookies. My, you’ve really made a dent.”

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“I was just going to say, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Matt.

But Kelly thought they were doing pretty well. They had pushed and pulled and moved things into one corner, just inside the barn door to be hauled away. Numerous bags of trash had been taken to the front yard and put in the trash bins.

Inside they found that Mr. Carter already had his hot chocolate. He was in his chair, his walker nearby.bbbbbbbbbbb.jpg

“Come in and warm up,” he invited.

The young people chose cake, since they had lots of cookies at home. Mrs. Carter cut large slices for them.

“We want to get a lot more done before dark,” Matt told them.

“We don’t really expect you kids to do it all. It’s a huge job,” said Mrs. Carter. “Whatever you can get done is fine.”

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“No, we said we would—and we will,” Matt assured her. “We’ll come over every afternoon after school for a while. Except Kelly. She has to work at the riding school sometimes.”

“Did you find the cameras yet, Doug?” asked Mr. Carter.

He shook his head, since he had a mouthful of cake.

“Well, I think they’re in a trunk somewhere.”

“I found lots of stuff for crafts,” said Kelly. “And Mrs. Carter, we found some Christmas decorations—do you want them?”

“Oh no—they’re ancient. They were really my parents and grandparent’s things. Ours are upstairs. That’s another thing your church is doing. The ladies are coming over to decorate for us.”

Kelly looked around the room. It would look so pretty once the women came and decorated. “It looks like you do have one Christmas thing up already.”  She gazed at a photograph on the shelf—a very young Mr. and Mrs. Carter, in a sleigh being pulled by a horse, The sleigh was decorated with Christmas flowers.

“Oh, we have that up all year ‘round. It was taken on our wedding day. Why, perhaps you didn’t know that we were married on Christmas Eve.”

“Christmas Eve is your anniversary?” asked Brent.

“Wow. Christmas is so busy,” Kelly couldn’t imagine anyone getting married so close to Christmas.

Mrs. Carter smiled. “Weddings weren’t so expensive or so elaborate back them—most of them, anyway. We had a nice little service at the church and then just came back for a wonderful dinner here. Papa arranged for the sleigh—it was so much fun.”

“Is that all there was then—sleighs—and wagons,” asked Doug.

Kelly gave him a poke. “It wasn’t that far back.”

“Yes,” said Matt, frowning, “They’re not that—uh—”

Mr. Carter chuckled. “It’s okay, Doug. And no, we’re not quite that old. There were cars—We’re talking about the 1950’s, remember?”

“But our grandparents,” said Mrs. Carter, “they grew up right in the middle of it all—the transition from horse and buggy to ‘horseless carriages’. People certainly didn’t trust them. And 25 miles an hour was considered very fast. My grandpa was thought to be quite a hot rodder with his Model T Ford. Grandma wasn’t allowed to go riding with him when they were dating.”

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The kids laughed. Kelly loved talking history. And she knew that Matt was taking mental notes like crazy, even though this wasn’t information that he needed for his report. It was the era of the first planes, though–and he loved airplanes.

Mrs. Carter was continuing, “but as for the sleigh—I don’t even know where it is. I guess we got rid of it.”

They worked until dark and finally headed home with their loaded wagons. They got home just in time for dinner. Kelly smelled the good aroma of beef stew and biscuits as she came in the back door. Their little sisters were watching a  Christmas cartoon and the baby was already in her high chair.

They chattered about their big project  all during dinner. Dad promised to bring his own pick up truck over the next afternoon to take a load to the landfill.

“Most of it really is junk—it shouldn’t take us all that long to go through it, after all.” Matt told him.

But the next afternoon brought a discovery that made the kids forget everything else.

cameras.jpgDoug had just found the cameras in the trunk in the hayloft, and Matt was looking through a box of very old National Geographic and Time magazines, when they heard their sister’s voice.

“Guys! Come’re, quick! Look!”

Brent put aside the trash bag he was filling. When she used that tone, it was usually something interesting.

They headed down to the last stall—and beyond. There was another  large room, filled with broken down farm machinery that would be hauled away eventually. Kelly was in the far corner, struggling with a huge sheet of canvas. She’d managed to lift one end.

“Come help me! Wait’ll you see what this is!”

“What? Tell us!” demanded Doug, impatiently.

The boys hurried over. It was so dark that they could hardly see, but she lifted her electric lantern from a shelf and swung it closer.

“It’s the—”

“Sleigh!” All three boys shouted at once.

“It’s so dirty and grimy. Look, the paint’s all coming off—” She suddenly stopped, eyes wide. “I have an idea!”

The boys looked at each other, grinning. They had a hunch what her idea was.

“There’s paint over there—a whole bunch of old cans, half full—and we have some at home! What do you think?”

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“Well, let’s at least get the thing uncovered,” said Matt, as he grabbed a corner of the heavy canvas.

“Wouldn’t that be so cool?” asked Brent. “They could put it outside in the yard with lights on it.”

“Or….”

“What.” They all stared at their sister. Her and her ideas!

“What if they could—ride in it—on their anniversary! Christmas Eve! We could borrow one of the horses from the riding school. Scott would let us!”

“Whoa! Whoa!” Matt commanded.  “Let’s just see what kind of shape it’s in first.”

“Hey,” said Doug, a few minutes later. “It’s not that bad.”

All four were examining it carefully, strolling around the large two-seater sleigh.

“Let’s do it!” exclaimed Kelly.

Brent laughed. “Let’s. They’d love it.”

“Do you think Mr. Carter could get into it?”

“Mom could ask his doctor.”

“If it didn’t work out, it still would be great for the front lawn,” said Brent.

“And lets keep it a secret!” Kelly said, excitedly.

They all agreed on that.

Nobody but Kelly was really sure this would all work out. But they headed home, eagerly discussing it anyway.

“I have to go work for a couple of hours,” said Kelly. “But see what we have for paint. Do you think we can do those designs without messing them up?”

“Sure! Well, we can try, anyway. How hard can it be?” said Doug.

The sleigh had been painted red, with green holly and curly-cues, and yellow bells along the top ridge. But, of course, the paint was very faded and old.

“The runners looked okay.  We need to find someone who knows about sleighs. Just to make sure,” said Brent.

“First things first. Let’s just wash it down and paint it , and then see what happens from there,” insisted Matt.

“And I’ll talk to Scott about a horse,”

“Kelly….”

“Well, there’s no harm in asking.”

Her brothers rolled their eyes. “All right, all right.”

“And Jack! Yes!” Another idea was coming, apparently.

“What now?” asked Doug, laughing.

“He can do the detail work. He paints!”

“That’s right! I forgot. Yes!” Doug punched the air.

“I gotta go!” She ran off toward the riding school gate.

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When Kelly arrived home, she found her brothers still eagerly discussing all the paint they’d found. Red—it would be perfect. And they knew there was green in the Carter’s barn.

Kelly had plenty to report, too. “Scott was laughing his head off at me because I was so excited, but he’s going to come over and check it tomorrow. And get this! His parents had a sleigh—they used to take the kids out every Christmas. He knows all about them! And we can use Max! He’ll look beautiful—coal black, harness all decorated! Bells!”

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Dad grinned from his chair ,where he was eating Christmas cookies from a jar nearby.  “Kel, chill. Have a cookie and sit down and relax.”

“Her supper first. I’ve got it in the microwave,” said Mom. “But we think this is just a wonderful idea.”

“You can’t get through Christmas without finding something to do for somebody, can you, honey?” Her father put his arm around Kelly and hugged her.

“I guess not. But it’s never my fault. I didn’t intend to find an antique sleigh that was used by them on their wedding day.”

Mom and Dad shook their heads, laughing. Then Mom said, “well we’re glad that you listen to God when He gives you these opportunities.”

“And,” said Dad, “that the rest of you don’t mind getting roped into them, too.”

They got a lot done the next afternoon, since Kelly didn’t have to work at the riding school. They finished the barn first, getting the debris and junk to the front door for Dad’s next trip to the landfill.

They filled their buckets with water that they’d brought over in gallon jugs and started washing down the sleigh with rags. Scott snuck over—after dark so he wouldn’t be noticed.

“Don’t want the Carters to ask what I’m doing here. Oh! Wow! This is great.”

“It’s a lot better than it was,” said Kelly, pleased as they stood off and looked at it in the light of the electric lanterns.

He examined the sleigh closely. “Runners look okay to me. Everything seems to work.”

“Tomorrow we’ll start painting.  Then Jack will come and help us. I’m going to introduce him so they won’t wonder what he’s doing here. He and Mr. Carter will have a lot to talk about. It’s funny, a few years ago, Jack could hardly go out and be with people because of his social anxiety. Now he’s always helping people with anything they need. He’s still kind of shy, but as long as he’s working on something, it doesn’t bother him so much to talk to people.”

“In this case, he’ll be fine. He’ll have fun talking with Mr. Carter about those old cameras. They’re one of his hobbies, ” Brent said.

“But listen, don’t forget it’s only a week ‘til Christmas,” Scott reminded them.

“We can do it,” said Kelly. “And Mom talked to the doctor. It’s all right—just for a short ride.”

“Umm,” Scott looked at her. “If you’re going to do this—and not just set it up in the yard, you do need some snow.”

“Oh.” All four faces looked blank.

“We have snow,” said Kelly.

“Not enough for a sleigh. But we are supposed to get some next week, so maybe  we’ll be all right. I have to get back.” He grinned at them, and teased, “don’t forget to come to work, Kelly. You’re so excited, you might forget.”

“I won’t,” she said, “I need the money for a couple more presents. Plus we don’t have any yellow paint for the bells.”

The work went on.  A couple of hours here, an afternoon there. Their friend, Jack came over and was introduced. After that, he spent a good deal of time keeping Mr. Carter company.  In between he went out to “help” the kids. With what he didn’t say, for they hadn’t let on that they had finished cleaning out the barn—and fortunately, the Carters hadn’t asked.

By December 23rd, they had the sleigh sanded and painted red, and were working on the inside.

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In no time Jack had the trim done. Kelly gave him a big hug as he finished the last bell.

“It’s so beautiful. And it’s done!”

“And just in time, too,” Jack said, as they headed out. “And you’re going to get your wish—or I should say answer to prayer. I know you’ve been praying for snow. You’d better get home, it’s going to start any minute. I can feel it in the air—and look at how grey that sky is.”

Kelly opened the porch door and poked her head in. “We’re going! It’s starting to snow!”

“And we’re done with the barn!” exclaimed Doug, with relief.  “It’s ready to get knocked down. I want to come back and see that!”

“Okay. Bye, kids!  And thank you. Bye Jack!”

The two old people waved from their chairs, where they were watching a Christmas show, and eating a wonderful dinner. Jack had cooked it earlier; it was another of his hobbies.

“As snug as a bug in a rug, Mrs. MacGregor would say.” This from Kelly. “Brrr. It’s cold.”

Jack headed off down his own road, walking along with his long stride, in the old flappy raincoat that Kelly had first saw him in a few years before. He’d been a bit scary then—no one understood why he wouldn’t look at them, or why he never wanted to go out of his house. But as usual, that was before they’d gotten to know him. Now everyone in town liked Jack.

“Come on, let’s go home!” she ran to catch up with the boys who were throwing snowballs at each other.  ggggggg.jpg

And new snow was coming down. It was supposed to be eight inches or more—that should be plenty!

“You’re going for a ride!” exclaimed Doug, as they swarmed in the front door the next afternoon.

“A ride! Oh, I don’t think so,” said Mrs. Carter, with a look toward her husband.

Mom followed them in. “It’s all right. Just a short one. The doctor said he could. Come on and get some warm clothes on.”

“What are you kids up to?” Mrs. Carter asked, as they stood around beaming.

Jack was there to help. Soon the couple had on their sweaters and coats and scarves….

“Not that way—we’re going out the back.”

“The back?”  The boys had already shoveled for them earlier that day. Now Jack and Mom helped them down the back steps, then gave Mr. Carter his walker. Brent carried a low stool.

They both were too busy getting down the steps to notice what was going on until—

They stared, and stared some more at the beautiful sleigh and the sleek black horse harnessed to it. Half the neighborhood was there.

“Happy Anniversary! Merry Christmas!” everyone shouted. Someone was taking pictures with a camera. It was a photographer from the local newspaper. Others had their phones out.

“Oh, my! Oh my!  It’s wonderful. You kids did this?”

“Jack helped!” said Kelly.

Brent placed the stool down. The adults helped the elderly couple climb in, then tucked in lap robes and afghans.

“Are you warm enough?” asked Scott. “Here we go!”

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Max moved into action, bells jingling. Off across the meadow and through the gate to the riding school, around the snowy slopes, and back around. The sky was streaks of red and purple as the sun set. Then, on they went through the neighborhood so Mrs. MacGregor and others could see them from their windows. The Carters waved, and the bells jingled, and what a happy time they were having.

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Scott finally guided Max to just the right spot in the front yard. They helped the couple down.

“Oh, my goodness. That was wonderful!” exclaimed Mrs. Carter, cheeks glowing and laughing happily.

They were ushered back in, where Mr. Carver was helped into his chair. Kelly and her mother had hot chocolate all ready. The couple were soon warm and cozy again.

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By then, the neighbors were busy, stringing lights on the sleigh, then they disappeared back to their own homes.

The Loring kids didn’t stay long. “We have to get home to dinner. Then it’s the Christmas Eve service.”

“Thank you. This was wonderful!”

“You’re going to have a new photo to put up with your old one,” said Mom. “And I’m sure it’s all over Facebook by now. And you’ll probably be on the eleven o’clock news.”

Mrs. Carter hugged them all. “Thank you, we’ll never forget this. Why, where’s Jack?”

“He disappeared soon after you left. He’s not great with crowds. I’m sure he went on home.”

“Well,”  Mrs. Carter sighed happily. “I think he will be back often. Thank you for the new friend, as well.”

As the Lorings left, they hurried to the car, since it really was getting colder by the minute.

“Wait!” called Mom. “Everybody in the sleigh.”

The four of them piled in, grinning widely as she snapped a picture with her phone.

“Now I’ll have one to put on Facebook. And I’m definitely going to print a copy and frame it.”

A few minutes later they were running into the house, ready for Mom’s good lasagna, that was sending forth a wonderful aroma from the oven. Dad and the girls were waiting.

Another Christmas Eve that they’d never forget.

The End

by

Carol Bennett

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