Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Carols/Carolling (10/02/08)
TITLE: Whistle in the Valley
By Joy Faire Stewart
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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:
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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