Kaye’s Corner: Our Best Christmas

Written in 1954 by my Uncle Clarence Hill for the Farm Journal, I hope you will enjoy this story as much as we have. A father of five, Iowa farmer, humorist, woodworker, and uplifting writer, Clarence Hill was an unforgettable character.

A shaggy, pot-bellied little Shetland pony got all mixed up with our Christmas last year. I’d like to tell you about it. 

Our four boys are in the pony business; you’ll see that from our sign along the road, which reads: “Kids love ponies; ponies love kids.”

Ponies, like children, have personalities. “Major Midget,” our chestnut stallion, 38 inches tall, 14 years old, is a gentleman in the hands of Eleanor, age seven, but with our four boys he is full of tricks, devilish, and unpredictable.

About a dozen Shetland foals are born on our farm each year. “First to see a colt gets to name it,” we say and the result is a lexicon of names, such as Dagwood, Scamp, Cheffy, and Twinkle.

Then Sparkle came along. A proven broodmare, she was also the gentlest pony we ever owned. Jet black, she had that comfy look, with a broad and matronly middle, like Mom and Aunt Easter when they’re not cinched up for Sunday.

In our six-pony hitch, Sparkle was literally our anchor mare. She couldn’t be hurried. The village kids adored her and loaded her up with humanity on the outside and with apple cores on the inside.

Sparkle has horse sense. She would stand motionless while a child got out from under her chassis, but she likewise kicked the daylights, as well as the taillights out of a boy who annoyed her colt.

One of the unwritten codes of our business is that no one shall become so attached to any pony sentimentally, that it may not be sold. But already Sparkle had become an exception. She just wasn’t for sale!

It was the week before Christmas that the Baxters came – a tired looking father and a very very red-headed little boy of seven. Bill Baxter’s eyes were so blue and his freckles so unanimous that you hardly saw the limp that polio had left him with.

We learned in four words, why Mama hadn’t come along: “His Mother is dead.” Here was one order we couldn’t fill. We didn’t have any pony that was safe – none, that is except old Sparkle who wasn’t for sale.

But between boy and beast, it was love at first sight – a silent communication between black mare with her long whiskers and warm nose and red-headed boy with eager, tense face.

Would we price the mare? The twins Ed and Art (16) were noncommittal. Robert (12) and Harold (10) objected. Eleanor rebelled. So, we called a conference.

Could Sparkle, even in a small way help heal the lame leg?  The doctor said yes.

But most important, could this decision become our greatest gift this Christmas – not something easy, but a genuine sacrifice of something loved?

We delivered old Sparkle on Christmas Eve. Bob and Harold went along, across the Des Moines River and over near Polk City. I was sorry we arrived at dusk, for a motherless farmstead is loneliest when night and Christmas Eve come on. But a light was in the barn. We found a clean stall with fresh bedding and bright hay and a red-headed boy. 

It was then that I knew what I wanted for Christmas tomorrow. Just ten sturdy legs and ten strong arms for my five children and Mother Mabel to be waiting at dusk each day.

Something was happening to Robert and Harold, something as great as a timeless Christmas itself. They were sensing their own participation in the fulfillment of another’s dream. For now, Billy had four more legs to help him and a friend to roam the pasture when spring came around.

The freckle-faced boy stood, wordless, watching the pony and I wondered if her barny smell and loose dandruff weren’t frankincense and myrrh to him.

We left Sparkle then, my two boys and I. We didn’t have much to say as we rode home, but deep inside us, I know we shared something: a strange warm glow, warm enough to melt my eyes just a little. Sometimes, I thought, great lessons are best taught in stables.

At the Des Moines River bridge we slowed down a while and looked back at the Baxter barn where one star sparkled down – bigger, more brilliant, and warmer by far than all the others. At least, that’s what two little wisemen said who sat beside me in the truck.


By KAYE SULLIVAN – Special to the Herald Times