Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Christmas message...a winter story

I remember times like this.

Back in 1979, we were living on a ranch in New Mexico, way up on the Continental Divide.
We were snowed-in that winter. The snowplow stopped 9 miles from our ranch, and our nearest neighbors lived 2 miles beyond that. This meant we had to ride out horseback to our neighbor's house.

We were 25 miles from town, so we couldn't get to the PO to get our mail. Our neighbors would get our mail for us, and every Wednesday, it was pre-planned that we'd ride the 11 miles out and pick up our mail from them.

Some weeks, we could not go because there was a snowstorm on that day. Those weeks were hard, because that meant we had to wait a whole week more to get our mail! ANd our mail was so precious to us! This was before computers and email.

My father, 3000 miles away in NH, would record messages to us on cassette tapes. How we loved getting those tapes! I still have them, and gladly so because today marks the date, 14 years ago, when he died. However, I have never gone back and listened to the tapes I have because it hurt too much to hear his voice. But I still feel glad to have the tapes and save them for my Dad's grandson, Jesse.


when we got to our neighbors' house, the husband, Johnny, an old Polish rancher who'd lived on that ranch every day of his life, helped us put our horses into his barn and we'd loosen the cinches and give them some hay, then we'd trudge across the barnyard to their house.

I'd be carrying the egg cartons containing the eggs I had gleaned from our hens on the ranch. Our neighbors would take these 3 or 4 cartons of eggs to the feed store in Gallup, who would then sell them for us. That was the ONLY amount of money we made during the winter, those few precious dollars from the sale of the eggs I had packed across the back of my saddle's cantle where they'd ridden snug and safe against my lower back, even when my horse had to lunge through snow drifts or had fallen through ice into swiftly running creeks.

In Johnny's house, we'd take off our boots and warm up our toes in their warm kitchen, while Ann, Johnny's wife, warmed up a lunch that often had delicious Polish sausages made from their own ranch beef.

How precious those visits were! We'd hear the news of the outside world and gossip about other neighbors and also hear old stories from Johnny and Ann. They were good folks, and good to us.

Too soon, it was time to bundle back up, take our sack of mail (letters and the Readers Digests that someone had purchased a subscription for us) and put them into our saddle bags, tighten the cinches, snug up our scarves and hug-goodbyes to Johnny and Ann, riding off down the county road until we got to where the snowplow had stopped plowing, then we'd point our horses toward the snowbanks, they'd clamber over and then seek out their own tracks that had been laid down in the snow that morning. Nine miles of hard riding lay between our horses and their warm barn; between us and our cosy cabin; between
our cold fingers on the reins, knitted caps pulled down over ears, and the joy of pouring out the saddlebags onto the big table in the cabin and feasting on news from our families.
This time of year, there'd be Christmas cards, and we'd read over and over the handwritten notes inside. My mother would send news of her family; my sister in Hawaii wrote long letters of her beginning of pregnancy and the dreams that such a blessed event promised (an experience that I would soon learn was also my own!); the Readers Digest held photos of seductive foods displayed for the camera in ways that would lure the reader to purchase Borden's Eagle Brand Condensed Milk and Land O' Lakes butter.

Could the photographers have known that a man and a woman surviving the long winter atop the Continental Divide in NM were drooling over their sumptuous presentations? Were they in New York City or Los Angeles with their cameras and lights while we were packing precious eggs over the miles and through the worst winter that mountainous area had seen in 50 years? I still can see in my recollection's eye the strawberry shortcakes that graced the small pages of the magazine not unlike the Sirens perched on rocks who would send out their song to call in unwary ships to meet their battered end upon the storm-ravaged shore.

While we were eating eating eggs which grew more scarce as the winter continued that year and drinking the milk that I gleaned from the wild Angus range cow, fighting off her hungry calf for just a cup of her precious nectar; while we had only pinto beans, eggs and milk and precious little else We had no flour or condiments, only eggs, milk, butter from a jar of cream --and cream from an Angus cow is little to nothing!-- and pintos. There are only so many ways to cook these ingredients and over the 5 months we were snowed-in, I believe we discovered them all!

We learned again that winter that blessings abound and are easily found in the little nooks and crannies of life.

A card lovingly mailed from far away; a note scribbled in haste before the stamp is licked and applied to the envelope; an extra half-cup of warm milk from the recalcitrant cow who would only allow me to touch her bag while her nose was buried in oats in a pan on the floor; the extra egg from the hens who faced bravely the cold and the tufts of snow that blew in through the cracks in the coop; the lovely, sunny day that allowed us to saddle horses and head out for a long-awaited visit over hot, strong coffee and the laughter that accompanied our visit with old-time ranch folks; yes, even the photo of strawberries and whipped cream and shortcake, that did not fill the belly but did produce the taste within our mouths.

Blessings abound. If all we have is a room, we can look around and know that blessings abound.

It's not hard for me to liken our treks through the drifts toward the shelter of our friends' home at the end of our trail to another trek near Bethlehem so long ago. I, like Mary, was expecting our first child, a son. Our destination was unknown, in that we could have arrived at Johnny's ranch gate only to find them gone to town, in which case, we'd turn our horses around and head back, empty-saddlebagged and disappointed, toward our ranch home.

I can also compare our winter adventures to the lives of us all. We struggle through rough times, find some shelter, shade or warmth once in a while along the trail, but in the end, there is the reward at the end and all troubles are solved, when we accept the offer given by our neighbors (or, as pertains to lifes' struggles, when we accept the hand of the Lord which is extended to every single one of us today). An extended Hand does no good if we do not do our part and accept it. If we'd not accepted the neighborliness of Johnny and Ann, we would have stayed, along with our horses, out in the cold snow, no warm meal and none of the last week's mail!

Merry Christmas to all.

My prayer is that all who read this will accept the extended Hand of Jesus who offers to
give to us the best gift of all: eternal forgiveness and everlasting Love! He has the best shelter of all from the
storm of Life's travails.

With love,


Cassandra said...

A beautiful post Virginia, as always. May the blessings of Christmas find you and offer you relief from pain, if only for a few hours. Merry Christmas, and all the best for the coming year.

zoe said...

Wow, what a life! I guess the good Lord knew you were a woman who alReady knew how to rough it and be content. Ah~ sweet Virginia ~ I quote my one and only plaque:
I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much!
(by Mother Teresa, but you probably knew that, huh?)
I love you and thank you so much for sharing your life here.
over the rainbow~