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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Carols/Carolling (10/02/08)

TITLE: Whistle in the Valley
By Joy Faire Stewart


I nestled deeper into my too-thin denim jacket and turned up the collar as the sun sank behind the mountain range bordering our ranch. Once again, fall had crept into our valley and changed the deep green grass to a soft caramel brown.

Sam and I left the city life shortly after we’d married–22 years ago, come December. We intentionally kept the herd of white-faced Herefords small so we could work them without hiring wranglers. Our income was modest, but God had been good; we’d been able to make the mortgage each year.

As I nudged my boot heels against Thunder’s sides, the old quarter horse mare cut the last calf from the herd and, in one fluid motion, Sam wrestled the beast to the ground.

The stench of burning hide penetrated my dust-encrusted nostrils as the branding iron once again left its indelible mark. Finished with the last of the animals, Sam released the calf and we watched him race back to his momma’s side.

It had been a long, satisfying day as we turned our horses toward home. Following the familiar trail, the only sounds in the valley were the creaking of our leather saddles and the soft rustling of the horses’ footfalls in the deep pasture grass.

I chuckled as Sam began to whistle.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, pausing a moment. His melody of Infant Holy, Infant Lowly still lingered in the cool mountain air.

“You’ve been whistling carols all day!” I laughed. “We haven’t had Thanksgiving yet!”

A grin danced around the corners of his eyes. He pursed his lips once more and continued his concert.

The swaying of Thunder’s gait and the beautiful, haunting carol from Sam’s lips gently transported me back to another time . . .

Surfacing from a deep, drug-induced unconsciousness, I found myself wrapped in a cocoon of warmth, but afraid to move. As the veil lifted from my mind, I heard the soothing words of a long-forgotten carol:

Infant holy, Infant lowly,
For His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing,
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging, angels singing,
Noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping,
Vigil till the morning new;
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.

The heavenly music engulfed my being. Was I in the percentage of patients the doctors said wouldn’t survive the surgery? Was this Heaven? Not possible. Pain. Had the brain tumor been removed? Fear. Tears.

Once again, I embraced the cloud of unknown that covered my consciousness.

Time escaped from reality as I woke from the fog to the comforting sounds of Christmas carols coming from depths within the intensive-care unit. The lyrics of Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Jingle Bells were a few of the holiday melodies coming from a radio that played day and night.

The unit’s personnel wore festive pins of Christmas trees, jewel-encrusted wreaths, and candy canes as they scurried between curtain-shrouded beds dispensing medications and words of encouragement.

What would Christmas be like for Sam and me this year? More treatments for me? Would I see Christmas?

The core of tangled nerves pulsating in the pit of my stomach matched the throbbing emanating from my bandaged head. Dr. Richardson approached my bedside with the medical chart in hand.

I studied the surgeon’s strong hands gripping the chart, the perfectly manicured nails, and the gold band on his left hand. Those hands held my earthly destiny.

Thumbing through my thick chart, he rubbed his chin.

“I have good news and bad news. The good news is the tumor was benign and we removed all of it. The bad news is we have to keep you another week. But I promise you’ll be back on the ranch before Christmas.”

I lapsed into sobs of joy and relief. He patted my hand, turned, and moved to the next patient.

The quickened pace of the horses’ stride and the chilly mountain air brought me back to our valley. I was once again on the trail with Sam, and our old barn was in sight.

How long had Sam been watching me as he reined his horse next to mine? I didn’t know, but he was still whistling.

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly is based on a traditional Polish
Christmas carol, translated to English by Edith Reed.

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This article has been read 828 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Rick Higginson 10/09/08
I've been in the hospital at Christmas before, and it was the music that brought the holiday into that place. You've captured that emotion well.
Fiona Dorothy Stevenson10/09/08
Very well told. A poignant story. God bless you.
CJ Raney10/09/08
Beautiful story! I was on a horse beside them.
Jan Ackerson 10/10/08
I love that carol--it's not heard often, and it's so pretty! Thanks for combining it with a unique cowboy tale--nice combination in a week when there are a lot of stories that are quite similar to each other.
Chely Roach10/10/08
I really enjoyed this. Emotional without being too sappy. Well done.
Marlene Austin10/14/08
Great entry all around - right on topic, good descriptions, strong MCs and plot. Excellent. :)
Karlene Jacobsen10/14/08
I don't remember ever hearing that carol before. I'll have to look it up.

Wonderful story. God bless!
Leah Nichols 10/15/08
Excellent writing! I'd be surprised if you didn't place. Very nice job drawing the reader in and giving us just what we need to know. A very strong entry - great job!
Yvonne Blake 10/15/08
I've never been on a western ranch, but your descriptions made me feel like I was there. Also, the hospital scene is very realistic. Well done!
Patrick Whalen10/15/08
I enjoyed the contrast of a rustic ranch and a modern medical facility, and the ability of God to be present in both. :)
Marijo Phelps10/15/08
Whistle in the valley (of the shadow of....) whistle in the dark - only it isn't dark with the Lord! Enjoyed this - well done!
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/15/08
I enjoyed your story very much. You made the ranch come alive with your vivid description, and the emotions in the hospital were excellently done as well.
Norma-Anne Hough10/15/08
Lovely story. The words of that carol are beautiful. First time I have read them.
Your descriptions are vivid, I felt I was with you in all your circumstances. Well done.
Valarie Sullivan10/15/08
Good detail and great descriptions. Wonderful!
Joshua Janoski10/15/08
The transition from the ranch to the hospital was seamless, and your writing superb. I sense a top three placer in advanced here.
Pamela Kliewer10/15/08
Excellent writing! I was right there... vivid descriptions and strong emotions kept me engaged throughout.
Beth LaBuff 10/15/08
Excellent work! Your "western" descriptions in this heart-warming story, are so authentic.
Lisa Graham10/15/08
Beautifully written and very engaging. The reader immediately feels drawn into the story with your vivid descriptions and well-drawn narration. Great use of the Christmas carol. Very compelling story. I sense a winner here!
Lyn Churchyard10/15/08
Well written, great descriptions. The transitions between the different times was very well done. I could feel the waking up in hospital and then the return to the present. Great writing.
Joy Faire Stewart10/28/08
Author's Note: Placed 8th in Advanced and 27th in top 40.
Yvette Roelofse11/21/08
Very poignant. I particularly enjoyed your vivid descriptions of ranch life.