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Janet K Brennan

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Margaret's Painted Horse, a Christmas Story
By Janet K Brennan
Sunday, November 30, 2008

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In a beautiful New England Village, life at Christmas can be glorious. This story about a mysterious horse and a miracle on Christmas Eve will warm your heart

This is a Christmas story. I can not call it anything other than that, but you may beg to differ. It happened during one of the Christmases that Grace O’Donnell and her husband, Matthew and daughter, Margaret experienced a happenstance quite odd in the small village of Deer’s Ridge, New Hampshire. Grace O’Donnell had recently lost a baby in the autumn before that Yule Tide and had fallen into the darkest depression of her life Although Christmas was fast approaching, she could not bring herself to shop or wrap gifts. Simply leaving the house was extremely difficult. And so, she limited her trips to her neighbors or quick walks down the paths that surrounded her farm.

Now let me tell you, Deer’s Ridge, a beautiful, rural New England village is nestled in the hills just north of Concord. One might expect to see it on the front of a Hallmark Greeting card with its tiny Main Street, quaint little shops and a small church with a picket fence surrounding the cemetery just across the street. For the most part, Deer’s Ridge was a farming community where the same families had lived for generations, passing their acreages down from child to child. At Christmas time it was especially beautiful with each home lighting white candles and carefully placing them in the shuttered windows for all to see.

During that Christmas which I am writing about, the weather was abominable. The Farmer’s Almanac had predicted a particularly nasty and snowy winter and it had proven to be accurate. A week before Christmas, it began to snow and except for a few spits of icy rain and pearl gray skies, it seldom let up.

“Mum, c’mon,” begged Margaret, “Let’s go in to town and buy some Christmas presents....please, please!”

Although she dreaded it, off they went down the five mile road that led to the small village of Deer’s Ridge “I want to get back before it gets dark, Margaret. I don’t want to be on the road in this weather any longer than necessary.”

This day would be Grace’s first outing since the death of her babe, and the closer they got to town, the faster her heart beat. Now, in the center of the village is a great, old time restaurant by the name of The Rusty Scupper, and though they specialized in the best chowder north of Concord, both Grace and her daughter, Margaret enjoyed huge plates stacked with griddle cakes smothered in fresh Maple Syrup. Then, as the story goes, they walked up Main Street, wandering in and out of the shops, purchasing gifts for Matthew as well as trinkets for each other to put under the tree on Christmas morning. I might add that Grace O’Donnell was known for her Sweet Mince Pies which she generously baked for all of her neighbors for their Christmas table and therefore, a stop at the market was necessary for some last minute spices and raisins. Just as they were ready to turn back to their four wheel, they passed a small shop. In the window was a beautiful brown painted horse.

“Oh, mum, look! Isn’t it gorgeous! Now, that is what I want for Christmas.”

“Margaret, dear...that is for a small child, see it has rockers on the bottom. Now what would you do with such a thing?”

“Why, I would keep it in my room and then, someday when I have children, say in about ten years, it would belong to them.”

Grace could feel the laughter bubbling from someplace deep inside of her and it was a sound that she had not heard for a very long time. “You had better make that twenty years, little girl. I will not be ready to be a grandmother in ten years and you, sweetie, will not be ready to be a mother!”

“Can we go in, please, just to look at it? Not to buy...just to touch it. See how beautiful that mane of yarn is, and those black button eyes look so real.”

Before she knew it, Grace was following Margaret into the store. Margaret shook the little jingle bell that hung around its neck.

“She’s lovely, aint she, Gracie?” came the deep vibrato of Tim Walton from behind his counter. “She was dropped off by a little indigent girl. I am selling her on consignment. Poor thing carved the horse herself. Needs money pretty bad, being with child and all. She can’t be more than sixteen years old. Strange, though. I have not seen her around for several days. Every day she came in to see if the horse had sold, but lately, nothing.

“Well, we are not interested; Tim, Margaret admires the horse, but is just a bit too old for it. I was thinking along the lines of faded jeans and perhaps a few Pink Floyd recordings.”

Margaret rolled her eyes.

“Too bad, Grace, I may have to put her up in storage until next year if that girl doesn’t come back to claim her.

That night, Grace O’Donnell patted herself on her back for having successfully maneuvered a day in town with very few problems and resolved to do it far more often. She busied herself with baking mince pies to take up the road to Sam Johnson who lived on a lovely working farm. He always hinted round about Thanksgiving time that he hoped she would be doing her usual fine baking of pies at Christmas.

After sinking into a steamy tub and inhaling the wet, warm mist, there was a gentle rap on the bathroom door.

“Mum, did you know that there is a loose horse in our yard?”

”A loose horse. Are you certain?”

“Yes, it was right outside my bedroom window. I am afraid it may be lost. The snow is coming down very hard:.”

“Well, there is little that we can do about it tonight but tomorrow, when I take the pies up to the Johnson farm, I will see if he is missing one of his geldings.,”

That coincidentally, was the same night that Grace was able to go into the prepared baby nursery that now lay empty. It was also the first night that she did not fall to her knees in tears. The following day, a determined Grace O’Donnell trudged through the snow up to the Johnson farm. Johnson assured her that all of his horses were in the barn for the winter and that none had gone missing. “Perhaps you were dreaming, Margaret. You know how carried away you have been about that painted horse at Tim Walton’s toy store.”

The week leading up to Christmas was a busy one. Grace baked and prepared sumptuous goodies for their Christmas dinner. Before they knew it, Christmas Eve arrived. Although every Christmas Eve seems a special, holy night, this particular Christmas Eve seemed even more sacred.. The falling of the snow had made everything appear as a winter wonderland and a hush fell over the village of Deer’s Ridge. Even the church bells calling everyone to service seemed to ring in a blessed, hushed reverence.

Just as Matt O’Donnell was preparing to hop into bed they suddenly heard the banging of the barn door in the wind.

“Dang, Matt...I will go and secure it, I am still dressed. Donning her heaviest wool coat, boots and warm fur hat that Margaret had given her the Christmas prior, she carefully made her way down the path to the barn. Stopping in her tracks she thought that she saw the figure of a horse standing just outside the barn doors. Then it was gone. Locking the doors up tight and heading back to the house, she saw it again. This time it was approaching her, neighing and eager to greet.

“Mum, Mum!” said Margaret running from the house, It is her, see? I told you. She belongs to someone. Her name is Daisy. It is on the tag just below her neck.

“Well, we have no room for her here. I will ride her on up to Johnson’s Farm and see if he has an open stall. You go back inside. I will be back shortly.”

Mounting the horse, Grace gave her a quick kick and off they went but it would seem that the horse had other ideas about just where they would go. Faster than a shooting star on Christmas morn, Grace was carried off in the opposite direction. They flew down the road that headed toward town and then veered off across a snow covered meadow to an old abandoned stable. Stopping just outside its doors, she dismounted and could see the slight flicker of a lantern inside. Soon the scream of a girl in horrible pain filled the night air Entering the stable, Grace saw a young girl in the far corner. She was giving birth and she was alone.

“Help me, Ma’am. Please. My baby is coming. I am going to die. The pain is so great. Please help me.” Quickly parting the young girl’s legs, Grace could see the dark fuzzy hair of a baby about to come into the world. “Yes, honey. Your baby’s head is crowning. Give some good strong pushes and we will get it out...push, push!”

No sooner had she said the words when out came the most beautiful little baby girl she had ever seen. With a holler and a quick cleansing of its face, she laid the baby girl across her mother’s breasts. Quickly covering her with her coat, she piled what little bit of dry hay that she could find around them both.

“I am going for help, lay still and you both will be just fine.”

High tailing it back up the road on Daisy’s back they found Farmer Johnson locking up his barn for the night. “We’ll get her to the clinic in town,. Not many folks working on Christmas Eve, it will be skeleton crew, but if we can get them there, they should be fine..”

That night, after making sure mother and child were safe and warm within the walls of the tiny clinic on Main Street, Grace wandered back up to where her truck was parked. There it was! Tim Walton had not sold the painted horse. and he was just closing up for the night.

“Wait, Tim...wait! I am going to buy that horse for Margaret after all. If you will just give me a hand loading her into the back of the truck, I will not bother you again. I have a feeling that little girl will be by to claim her money very soon.”

Needless to say, Margaret was thrilled to find her painted horse under the tree the following morning and as she examined her every detail she cried.

“Oh look, Mum! See the tag around its neck, her name is Daisy!”

“Well, how very strange!” declared Grace with no small amount of wonder.. “It seems as if there are just some very odd happenstances that just defy explanation.”

The O’Donnell family spent Christmas day at the little clinic. Grace stopped by the nursery and pulled one of the untouched stuffed bears from a small shelf and placed it in her basket of goodies which contained some other small gifts and a Mince Pie. She loved knowing that a baby would play with that bear after all..

“My name is Jessie and can not thank you enough, Ma’am. I have no family in these parts. I came to work at the five and dime and lost my job when things got tough. If it had not been for you, I may have died in that old stable.” She had seen no horse that night or any other night. Neither had any of the humble people living in Deer’s Ridge.. It would seem that only Grace and Margaret had seen Daisy. Moreover, they would never see her again. It was just one of those unexplainable happenstances.

Well, my babe and I lived and loved with the wonderful O’Donnell family until I was strong enough to leave and work at my old job at the five and dime. We became a part of the family and that empty nursery that Grace had so lovingly prepared for her own baby did not stay empty for very long. And although none of us ever saw Daisy again, the story still goes ‘round and ‘round that somewhere in those beautiful, snow covered meadows just north of Concord where the wind whispers gentle secrets through the pine trees, there lives a beautiful horse by the name of Daisy. She belongs to no one and everyone all at the same time. And even if we should forget one year to light a Christmas Candle in honor of her, we could never forget her, for we will always have Margaret’s painted horse to remind us..

       Web Site: JB Stillwater

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