The Curious Christmas Deer


Christmas was just three days away, and there were huge piles of snow by the barn and corrals. Grandpa had pushed them there with his tractor so that Mom and Grandma could go to the store when they needed to. The windows in the house were covered with frost, and my brothers, Alma, Aaron, and Jared, and I knelt on the sofa and pressed our hands against the glass to melt little peepholes so that we could look out into the night.

Grandpa’s haystacks looked like huge cupcakes topped with white sugar frosting. His cows, huddled under the sheds, were blowing big puffs of steam from their noses and bunting each other to find a warm place on the straw.

“Well, have you seen any deer?” Grandpa asked, coming up behind us.

“Deer?”

“Sure,” Grandpa said, winking. “I’ve never seen as many deer as I have this year. There’s so much snow in the mountains that the deer can’t find enough to eat, and they come down and dig in the fields and meadows for grass. Sometimes they even nibble at my haystacks.”

“Really?” I asked.

Grandpa nodded his head. “That’s a fact, Jarom. About this time every evening they start coming down the mountain.”

We pressed our faces against the icy glass until our noses and cheeks were numb with cold.

“It’s too dark to see much,” Aaron said, still squinting through his peephole.

“Do you really think there might be some deer now?” Alma asked.

Grandpa laughed. “Why don’t you boys get your boots and coats on. We’ll go out and turn on the Christmas lights. Maybe we’ll see something.”

Before Grandpa could say another word, all four of us were racing for the kitchen closet. We pulled on our boots, squeezed into our sweaters, tugged on our coats, and jerked our knit caps down over our ears. Finally we were ready to go.

Grandpa carried Jared, who is only two, and took me by the hand, while Alma and Aaron led the way outside. The cold burned our cheeks and made our eyes water. As we clumped across the snow, it crunched and chittered under our boots and made us laugh and want to stomp on it some more.

We tromped around to the back porch, and Grandpa flipped a switch. Suddenly there were twinkling yellow, red, blue, and green Christmas lights everywhere! Grandpa had tiny lights around his windows, along his roof, on the shrubs, and in the trees. He had a big fat Santa on an old poplar stump. And out in the middle of the lawn, under the apple tree, was a lighted manger scene.

For a while we just stood on the back porch and admired Grandpa’s lights. Then Grandpa motioned for us to be quiet and to follow him. We crossed the lawn and came to the alfalfa field fence. Grandpa slowly pulled a big flashlight from his coat pocket.

“Watch,” he whispered. He turned on the flashlight, and a skinny finger of yellow light jabbed into the night, cutting across the field. At first we couldn’t see anything but a few fuzzy shadows. Then we saw some orange sparkles out in the field.

“What’s that sparkling in your field, Grandpa?” Aaron asked, pushing against the fence so he could see better.

“They look like eyes,” I said.

“They are eyes, Jarom.” Grandpa chuckled and squeezed my hand.

“They are?” I asked. “Whose eyes are they?”

“They’re deer eyes. My alfalfa field is their favorite spot.”

“Do you think they belong to Santa?” Alma asked with a grin. “Maybe he lost them.”

Grandpa laughed. “Well, if Santa needs any deer, there are plenty of them here. There are probably twenty or thirty in the field right now.”

That night when my brothers and I went to bed, we couldn’t sleep. We each wrapped up in a blanket and crept to the bedroom window. Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa were still talking in the kitchen.

None of us said anything for a while. We just stared out the window at Grandpa’s lights and squinted to see if we could spot any deer. Soon Jared fell asleep, and Alma and Aaron carried him to his bed. Just as they were covering him up, I whispered, “Look! A deer!”

Alma and Aaron hurried back to my side. “Where?”

“Out by the old poplar tree stump, where Santa Claus is standing. It’s just a shadow now, but it was moving.”

“I can’t see anything,” Aaron grumped. “That’s just—”

“It moved!” Alma cut in. “It is a deer!”

“He must have come to see Grandpa’s lights,” I joked.

“It doesn’t look very big,” Alma said.

For a long time we watched the deer wander around the bushes and trees, sniffing and nibbling. It even stopped by the manger scene and looked in at Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus. In fact, it ambled up to the house and stopped right by our window.

“He sure is a curious fellow,” Alma murmured.

For the longest time we watched the curious deer tiptoe around Grandpa’s yard. Suddenly it pricked up its ears, held its head high, and looked toward the highway, where the yellow lights of a car peeked over a hill and moved toward us. The deer bounded into the shadows and disappeared.

“I guess the car scared him,” Aaron said. “Looks like he’s headed across the road for the mountain.”

We thought our deer was gone forever. Then, when the car lights were right in front of Grandpa’s house, we heard the screech of brakes and a terrible thump.

“The deer!” Alma shouted, jumping up and starting down the hall.

Aaron ran after him, but for a moment I just stared out the window, trying to see the deer. The car had stopped, and Grandpa and Dad were running up the driveway to the road.

I pulled on my pants and shirt over my pajamas, stomped my feet into my shoes, and hurried down the hall. Mom and Grandma and Alma and Aaron were all looking out the kitchen window. I put on my coat and slipped outside before anyone saw me. I raced up the driveway to the road where the car was.

“Well, Brother Rawls,” Grandpa was saying, “I really can’t tell how badly he’s hurt; he just looks stunned.”

I saw our curious deer lying by the side of the road. He tried to get up but fell back down with his head lying on the snow. He looked sad and cold. Before Grandpa and Dad knew I was there, I ran over and knelt be side the deer. At first he jerked back, so I whispered, “I won’t hurt you,” and I touched one of his big ears.

“What are you doing out here, Jarom?” Dad asked. “I thought you were in bed.”

“We were watching out the window. We saw everything. Is our deer going to die?” I asked, looking around at Grandpa.

Grandpa tugged on his ear and came over to me and the deer. “I don’t know, Jarom. If he doesn’t have any broken bones and if he’s just bruised and shaken up, he might be all right.”

“Can we put him in your barn until he’s well?” I asked. “We can’t just leave him here.”

Grandpa looked back at Dad and Brother Rawls. “Well, maybe. But you can’t keep him, you know. You can’t keep wild animals. We’ll have to let him go if he gets better.”

“Let’s try,” I pleaded. “We have to try!”

Dad carefully picked up the little deer. The animal shivered just a little and shook his head and tried to kick his long, skinny legs. But Dad held him tightly.

“I don’t think he’s hurt much,” Dad said. “I think he’s just in a daze. Maybe a night in the barn will do him good.”

I ran ahead of Grandpa and Dad and opened the barn door and turned on the light. The barn was full of hay and straw, and I could smell the rolled oats in the grain bin.

“Let’s put him in the old horse stall,” Grandpa said. “We can shut him in there, and he won’t be able to run around and hurt himself.”

I scattered some straw around and got a pan of oats and an armful of hay. Then Dad laid the deer down. For a moment it lay real quiet on the straw with its eyes dark and wide and its nose quivering and its ears pricked up. Then it kicked its legs and pushed itself to its feet. For a moment it wobbled on its shaky legs and hung its head down, but after a while it limped around in the stall, sniffing the corners and smelling the straw.

“He might need some water,” Grandpa said. “Maybe Jarom—”

Before Grandpa could finish, I was out of the barn and halfway to the house. I burst into the kitchen and shouted, “Grandma, do you have a pan? Grandpa sent me for some water for the deer.”

Grandma got one of her old plastic buckets and filled it half-full of water, and I ran back to the barn with it. Grandpa and Dad and I stayed out there for a while, making sure everything was all right. Then we went back to the house, and Alma, Aaron, and I crawled back into bed.

“What’s the deer like?” Alma asked.

“Does he have horns?” Aaron wanted to know.

I laughed. “No, he’s just little, probably not even a year old.”

“Can we keep him and take him back to Arizona with us?” Aaron asked.

“No,” I explained, “Grandpa said you can’t keep wild animals. We’ll just make sure he gets well.”

“Maybe he’s one of Santa’s reindeer,” Alma said excitedly.

I smiled. “I think he’s too little to pull anybody’s sleigh.”

“We ought to give him a name,” Aaron said.

“Let’s call him Rudolph,” Alma suggested.

“That’s too much name for such a little deer,” I pointed out. “Why don’t we call him Rudy? That’s a good little-deer name.”

For a long time we lay in bed whispering about Rudy. Finally Alma asked, “Do you think Rudy will get better?”

“He just has to!” I said.

“Maybe we should pray for him,” Aaron whispered. “Then he’ll get better for sure.”

Quietly the three of us crawled out of bed and knelt down. Each of us said a little prayer for Rudy, our curious Christmas deer.

The next morning, before it was even light, we were all up and dressed and out in the barn, peeking into the stall at Rudy. He still limped a little, but I could tell that he was much better. He had nibbled at the hay and had eaten half the oats I’d given him the night before.

All that day we took care of Rudy. Grandma gave us some carrot sticks to feed him, and we changed his water every hour or so and made sure his grain box was always full. We kept throwing straw into the stall until Grandpa said that there wasn’t any room for Rudy. But we made the floor nice and soft for him to lie on.

That night we wanted to sleep in the barn with Rudy and make sure that he was all right and didn’t get scared, but Mom wouldn’t let us. Before crawling under the covers, we each said another little prayer for Rudy.

Rudy stayed in Grandpa’s barn two days. Then on Christmas Eve Dad and Grandpa said that we should let him go.

“Oh, but it’s Christmas, and it’s cold outside,” I said.

“And he’ll get hungry,” Alma added.

“And he might get run over again,” Aaron put in.

Grandpa shook his head. “Rudy’s a wild deer. He belongs outside so that he can run with the other deer. He wasn’t ever meant for a pet.”

We didn’t want to, but just before supper we opened the doors of the stall and the barn. At first Rudy seemed almost afraid to leave the barn. But as soon as he crept to the open door, he poked his nose out, looked around, and bounded up the driveway, across the road, and into the sagebrush on the mountainside.

That night after we had sung some carols, listened to the Christmas story, hung our stockings, and crawled into bed, Alma whispered, “I wish we had been the shepherds or the Wise Men and had taken gifts to the Baby Jesus. My Primary teacher said that at Christmastime you’re supposed to help people, and we haven’t helped anyone. I sure wish we had made someone’s Christmas special.”

“We helped Grandma make popcorn balls for the Bensons,” Aaron said.

“And we helped wrap presents for the Wilsons,” I pointed out.

“But I wish we could have done something for someone all by ourselves,” Alma sighed.

I rolled quietly out of bed and tiptoed to the window. Grandpa’s lights were twinkling in the night. The big Santa was glowing brightly on the old poplar tree stump. The manger scene was lighted up under the barren apple tree. Then I saw a shadow moving out by the bushes.

“It’s Rudy,” I whispered loudly.

Soon Alma, Aaron, and Jared were pushing their faces against the icy glass. Sure enough, Rudy was down on the lawn again, sniffing and creeping around, just as curious as ever. We all held our breath as we looked out the window. Rudy came closer and closer until he was right by the window. We tapped lightly on the windowpane, and Rudy looked toward us. For a long time he just stood there staring. Then he flipped his short, stubby tail once, turned, and bounded into the night.

“We did help someone this Christmas,” Alma said quietly.

“We did?” I asked, rubbing my cold, wet nose.

Alma nodded. “We helped Rudy. We helped him get well.”

“But is that anything?” Aaron asked.

“Of course,” I said. “All the animals belong to Heavenly Father. He cares about them too. Rudy needed help, and we took care of him. Helping Rudy was our special Christmas gift.”

All four of us nodded our heads, took one last look out the window, and crawled back into bed.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer