A Christmas Horse

By Jeanne W. Pittman

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    Nancy was excited just thinking about a horse. My very own horse for Christmas! She could almost feel its velvety-soft flanks and see its thick mane and tail streaming in the wind. And the rhythmic pounding of hoofbeats along the dusty trails near her home were just as real in her ears. “Oh, this is going to be the most wonderful Christmas in the whole world!” she murmured.

    Quietly, Nancy opened the door to her father’s study and tiptoed over to his desk. She clutched the huge pickle jar, stuffed full of dollar bills and jingling with quarters, nickels, and dimes. It was a whole year’s allowance and money from babysitting and doing special chores—half the cost of a horse, as Mom and Dad had agreed. Now when they contributed their half, she could buy her horse.

    “Dad?” she queried. She knew he heard her come in. But he just sat with his elbows on the desk and his forehead resting on his hands. Nancy put the pickle jar down in front of him. “Dad?” she called again.

    Her father turned the jar slowly with his hand and looked up. Nancy was alarmed to see his eyes glistening with tears.

    She wrapped her arms comfortingly around his neck. “What’s wrong, Dad? What’s happened?” she asked anxiously.

    “Nancy,” Dad began, but his voice choked. “Sweetheart,” he started once more, “I know we made a promise to you about your horse, but …”

    But what? she worried. They wouldn’t break their promise. I’ve worked so hard.

    “Darling,” Dad continued, “we never dreamed they’d close the plant where I work. I have found another job, but it’s on the coast, and we have to move. I’m so sorry, Nancy.”

    “That’s all right, Dad.” Nancy planted a big kiss on her father’s cheek. “I can wait for my horse until we move. There’s still time before Christmas.”

    “Nancy, there isn’t room in the city for a horse.”

    Nancy was beginning to feel desperate. She just had to have a horse. It was about the most important thing in her life. She had saved so long for one. “We could board it at a stable,” she persisted.

    “No, dear, that’s not possible. There probably aren’t any stables near where we’ll be living. Even if there were, it would be too expensive. As it is, moving is going to cost so much I’m afraid we won’t be having much Christmas this year. I’m sorry.”

    Hot tears squeezed from Nancy’s eyes. She grabbed the pickle jar and ran from the room.

    Her sister Emmie was waiting outside the door, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “When do you get your horse?” she asked.

    “Oh, be quiet,” snapped Nancy as she dashed past Emmie.

    This is turning into the worst Christmas of my life! she fumed. It just isn’t fair!

    In the days that followed, Nancy felt so upset that she could hardly talk to her parents. “They just don’t understand how much this means to me,” she complained to Emmie.

    However, as the family started moving into their new house in the city, Nancy began to feel guilty. She realized that it really wasn’t her parents’ fault that they had to leave their old home.

    “But a promise is a promise!” she wailed to Emmie.

    Emmie didn’t pay much attention to Nancy’s feeling sorry for herself. She and Bobby and Ted were too busy thinking about Christmas, which was almost here. The boys made long lists of toys they hoped to get. One day when her parents didn’t know anyone was looking, Nancy saw tears glistening in the corners of their red-rimmed eyes.

    “We won’t be having much Christmas this year,” she remembered Father had said.

    Nancy suddenly felt very ashamed. There was still Christmas baking and carol singing. And they spent days making gifts for each other. Their traditional nativity scene was already in its place on the mantel. And every night when Mom and Dad tucked them into bed, they were reminded of the special feeling of love for Jesus and their family, and not just the anticipation of presents under the tree.

    Nancy and Emmie were old enough to understand, but Bobby and Ted kept expecting a Christmas with lots of presents.

    It wasn’t until the afternoon before Christmas that Nancy thought of an exciting plan. As she shared it with Emmie, the excitement bubbled out into loud giggles.

    Nancy emptied the pickle jar into her purse, and she and Emmie took the bus to the shopping center. All afternoon they trudged in and out of stores buying Christmas gifts.

    “We needed a horse to haul all this stuff home,” groaned Emmie later as they wrapped the last of the packages and hid them in the back of their closet.

    “Mom and Dad are sure going to be surprised when they discover I got my horse after all,” Nancy said with a grin. Then the girls collapsed, exhausted, on the bed.

    Christmas morning, Mom and Dad woke everyone with an extra hug and kiss.

    “Nancy,” Father said as he put his arm around her shoulder, “Merry Christmas, honey. And thanks for being pleasant and understanding.”

    Down the stairs Nancy and Emmie followed their brothers. They looked at each other and covered their mouths to keep from laughing.

    “Oh, wow!” said Ted as he saw the pile of presents beneath the tree.

    “Whoopee!” shrieked Bobby as he ripped the ribbons and paper off a big red fire engine.

    “Oh, my gracious!” cried Mom and Dad together, their eyes bright with surprise.

    Nancy and Emmie grinned and plopped down beside the tree to hand out presents.

    “I don’t understand,” said Dad.

    There were shiny new trucks for the boys, a doll with lots of clothes and a buggy for Emmie, puzzles and games for the whole family, perfume and slippers for Mom, and spicy shaving lotion and a bathrobe for Dad.

    Nancy could feel her heart warming with happiness. Christmas has never made me feel this good before, she thought. She stroked the cool, smooth flanks of a little china horse bank that Emmie had given her. Inside clinked two quarters and a nickel, all that was left of the pickle jar money.

    “See,” cried Nancy, holding up the bank, “I got my horse after all!”

    “I just can’t believe it,” said Dad, shaking his head.

    “I think I can,” said Mom, her eyes misty with tears. She pulled Nancy into her arms and held her so tightly that Nancy’s ribs felt as though they would snap. Her heart felt so full that it was about to burst, and she couldn’t speak if she had wanted to.

    Illustrated by Scott Greer