Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)
TITLE: Sleigh Ride
By Jim McWhinnie
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Our breath would always frost in the December night air, brightened this particular night by the presence of a frozen, full moon. The horses in their stalls, four Clydesdales, a legacy from a slower time, would paw at the boards. Tonight, Belle, Ben, and Big Mike would be left behind to eat their oats and shake their mighty manes. Christmas Eve belonged to Maurice, the old man of the four horse team and the best friend of this old Quebec farmer, a grandfather who once a year brought a little magic into a young boy’s life.
As Granddad would lead the chestnut brown, gentle giant out of his stall, I would be sent scrambling up the wooden ladder, into the loft, to retrieve the bells. It was only a length of well-oiled leather but that strip of harness jingling a thousand jingles in a little boy’s hands felt like almost a living thing. The weight of those bells were quite a heft for my little hands, but I was sure that on the back of old Maurice they must have felt like feathers.
By the time I would make my way down the ladder, Granddad was well at work fixing all the buckles and straps that go into hitching a horse to a sleigh. My daring chore would be to attach those bells under the horse’s head. Maurice knew the routine. He’d lower that majestic head of his until I was staring into those black-brown eyes. And the look in those caramel eyes would say to a scrawny, somewhat scared little boy, “Hurry up, young feller, we’ve got some traveling to do.”
When all was ready and hitched, Grandma would come out and fill the sleigh with her famous mincemeat pies, each pie in its box, each box sweatered in an embroidered kitchen towel. She would bundle me just a little bit more and give Granddad one final warning. “Be careful, Old Man.” And then we would be off. Down the maple lined drive, across the moonlit snow of Hunter’s Meadow, then along the frozen Chatequay River.. In house after house, folks would be listening for those sleigh bells jingling. When we neared the porch lights would go on and out would come the old friends and young cousins. Granddad would wave and shout from the sleigh as I dashed with a delivery of one more mincemeat pie. House after house, mile after mile, pie after pie, hug after hug.
Ah, it was magic. Then one day I grew up and to the life of me, I don’t know why.
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