Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stuck in the Snow

published in Pockets on-line, December 2008

“I’m sure glad the barn’s heated,” I muttered as I pulled the heavy door shut against the snowy blast. I like snow on Christmas Eve, but this was more than I wanted. In the corner, I pulled out two “flakes” of hay from the top bale. After feeding all four quarter horses, I turned on the hose to fill their water pails.

I love living on a ranch–most of the time. I love our horses and the wide open feel of the land. I love gazing at the night sky and hunting with Dad–even though some people think it’s strange for a girl to enjoy hunting so much. But sometimes it gets lonely. I’m an only child, and my school friends live too far away to get together much.

At least my cousins were coming for Christmas. Becca is a year older than me, and Morgan is a year younger, and we like a lot of the same things. I even like playing hide and seek with little Briana, although her sisters call her a pest. I couldn’t wait to see them again.

I finished feeding the horses, wrapped my wool scarf a bit tighter and braced myself for the cold walk back to the house. When I opened the door, Mom was standing in the kitchen, talking on the phone.

“I’m glad you’re safe. You take care in the snow, okay? And Merry Christmas.”

I hung up my coat and headed for the counter. Mmmm. Freshly baked snickerdoodles. I loved the little round cookies covered with cinnamon-sugar.

“I’m sorry, Emma.” Mom said, the cordless phone still in her hand. “That was Aunt Karen. They aren’t coming.”


“The interstate is closed because of the snow. There’s nothing they can do.”

I put down the warm snickerdoodle. I didn’t feel like eating anymore. Without saying anything, I turned and ran to the family room.

The cozy room had become by favorite place ever since we had it built last summer. It was even more special this time of the year. Dad and I had brought in a sweet smelling cedar tree we’d found by the creek. I ‘d decorated it with ornaments Becca and Morgan and I had made. Every Christmas Eve we would each make a couple of new ornaments together. Last summer I had found some ceramic ornaments and special paints at a garage sale in town, and I’d saved them for tonight for us to paint together. But it wouldn’t be any fun to paint them by myself.

Under the tree were piled tons of presents. I picked up the little packages I had wrapped yesterday. I’d made bead necklaces for Becca and Morgan, and I’d even bought a little doll for Briana. It was going to be so much fun to give them their special presents. Now what would I do with the gifts? It was going to be a lousy Christmas.

I sat there for a long time, ignoring the smells coming from the kitchen and the Christmas music playing on the CD player. I even ignored Dad when I heard him come in from outside.

Was that the doorbell? Maybe the cousins were coming after all. Or maybe it was one of our friends paying a surprise visit.

I ran to the door and opened it wide. Two strangers stood there–a young woman and a small girl about Briana’s age. The woman’s jacket was covered with snow, and her hair was damp. Why wasn’t she wearing a cap? And the little girl’s coat was a couple of sizes too big and way out of style. Who were these people?

“I’m sorry to bother you,” the young woman said. “My name is Missy and this is my daughter, Chloe. My car got stuck in the snow, and it’s too snowy to go any farther.”

Mom sprang into action. “Let me take your coats and things,” she insisted. “You must be freezing.”

“Oh, thank you.” The young woman sighed as she dropped a duffle bag and snowy backpack on our freshly mopped entryway floor and took off her coat.

“Please sit down in the living room. I’ve got coffee ready, and I can start some hot chocolate for Chloe.” Mom said, then turned to me. “Emma, hang up their coats and bring their bags to the guest room.”

But I followed Mom to the kitchen instead. “What are you doing?” I demanded in a hoarse whisper. “We don’t even know these people.”

Mom gave me a sharp look as she poured milk into a mug. “I believe I asked you to put their things away.”

“But Mom, are we going to let them stay in the guest room? Why can’t they just stay in the barn?”

“Emma! That’s not why we had the barn heated.”

I stomped to the closet with the coats, hung them up, then picked up the backpack and duffle bag – which I noticed was held together with two big safety pins – and headed upstairs to the guest room.

The room still smelled of furniture polish and air freshener. I’d helped Mom clean it that morning. Aunt Karen and Uncle Ray were going to stay there with little Briana. Morgan and Becca were going to stay in my room. Now these strangers would be here instead. I threw the bags on the floor and pounded down the stairs in my stocking feet. Maybe I could talk to Dad about letting the visitors stay in the barn.

But Dad was sitting in the living room with Mom and Missy, talking like they were old friends.

“We were on our way to my mother’s house, “ Missy was saying. “Chloe will be upset that she can’t see her grandma on Christmas. I couldn’t afford to buy her any gifts this year, but I think

Mom has something for her.”

Mom looked up. “Oh, Emma, the hot chocolate is probably ready. Could you take it to Chloe? She’s in the family room.”

I shuffled to the kitchen, opened the microwave and picked up the mug. I knew I shut the microwave door a bit too hard, but I didn’t care. In the family room, I half-expected to find Chloe tearing through the gifts under the tree.

But she wasn’t. She was standing in front of the coffee table, staring at the nativity set. Quickly I set the mug down next to one of the angels and turned to go, but Chloe tugged on my arm and looked at me with wide, brown eyes.

“Why is that baby there in the hay place? Why are there animals around him?” she asked.

“Oh, you don’t know about Baby Jesus?” She looked even more confused.

“Baby Jesus is the reason we even have Christmas,” I explained. “He is God’s Son, and He came to the world on the first Christmas. But there was no room at the inn.”

“What’s an inn?”

“Kind of like a hotel. So the innkeeper–the owner of the hotel--let them stay in the barn out back.”

“Hmmm,” Chloe, then carefully picked up the baby figure. “If I was that guy, I’d let them stay in my house, not the barn. Just like you.” She turned to me with a big smile.

“Just like us. . . Yeah.” But I’d wanted them to stay in the barn. Would I have done the same with Jesus if He had needed a place to stay? I swallowed hard and looked at the floor. Didn’t Jesus say that when we did something for the “least of these” that we did it for Him?

“Um . . . I have an idea,” I said, finally smiling at Chloe. “Would you like to help me paint some ornaments for the tree? We even have one of Baby Jesus.”

“Okay,” she said, placing the baby back in the manger. Then she turned to look at the presents under the tree. I thought of the gifts I’d wrapped for my cousins. Chloe’s mom said she couldn’t afford to buy her anything this year. It would be pretty easy to make new gift tags that said, “To Chloe.” She would like that doll and the bead necklaces.

“You know what?” I told her. “I think tomorrow there might be some surprises for you
under the tree.”

It looked like it would be a good Christmas after all.

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