Early one morning that particular Christmas week, we awoke to the sight of blowing and heavy falling snow. It arrived with such force the farmyard became almost invisible. Immediately, Dad called us all together to detail the job ahead. The animals needed feeding and the cows needed milking. Even though most townspeople could safely snuggle in their beds to wait out the storm, as a farm family, we had duties to care for the livestock even in a blinding snowstorm. Dad carefully tied us all together, using rope so that we could reach the safety of the barn for the task at hand. Admonishing us to watch out for one another and stay close, we began our morning with a seriousness born of life and survival on the plains in winter. Even as children, we were aware of the dangers of getting lost in a blizzard. People were known to die of the cold within a few feet of their own front door. The winds swooped in with nothing to hold them back and drifts quickly became a blind mass of whiteout on the once flat and clear landscape.
With each of us bundled in coats, boots and mittens we struggled through the blinding snow out to the barnyard. Slowly feeling our way along the fence posts, we had to shout to keep track of one another as we struggled against nature to reach our goal. After several hours of working with the animals and securing them in the barn, we struggled back through the still swirling snow. As we reached our final goal of the house, Mom was waiting with Hot Cocoa and a warm fire burning in the kitchen stove for us to warm ourselves up again.
The rest of the morning we spent snuggled in the warm kitchen, making Christmas breads and cookies for the coming Christmas celebration. Covered with flour and sneaking bites of cookie dough kept we children occupied, while Dad kept watch over the weather conditions.
By early afternoon, the snow had stopped and it became apparent we would not be going anywhere soon. The snowdrifts were several feet deep and the road was buried. We knew it could be days before the snowplows came our way from the County Works Dept. With the visibility improved my Dad bundled up to set out in pursuit of any stranded travelers he might assist. We lived about a mile from a main highway and anyone who might have been stranded would soon succumb to the cold. Firing up the old “John Deer” tractor, Dad left to pursue his goal of checking the roads for possible victims of the Fury of the storm.
By dusk, Mom was visibly worried and we children became quiet. We joined our hands in prayer and quietly huddled together praying our Daddy would safely make it home. As darkness began to fall in earnest, we suddenly heard the sound of our “Old John Deer” slowly making its way back into the yard. With a collective sigh of relief, we all ran to the front porch to usher Dad back into the warmth. Much to our surprise the first person through the door was a stranger. Dad introduced the man as Chuck. Dad explained that just about dark he had decided to give up the search, when he had spotted a Pick-up truck buried in the snow bank along the old highway exit road.
For the rest of Christmas week Chuck worked along side all of us and proved himself a friend in deed and in word. Chuck, we soon learned, was an itinerate Cowboy. He had been traveling from Texas to begin a job on the McGinley ranch, a few miles farther east from us. The next morning, when he entered the barn to help out with chores, our newest horse Toni suddenly began banging the stall and whinnying. Toni immediately greeted Chuck with a friendly but insistent nudge at Chucks pockets.
Much to every ones surprise, Toni and Chuck already knew one another. Chuck had worked on the King ranch in Texas when Toni was there as a colt. Chuck had saddle broke him and taught him to cut cattle when Toni was just a young colt in Texas.
Dad had not used Toni much as yet. Toni had proved a bit skitterish when we first brought him home. Dad was still working with him to gentle him out. Chuck immediately showed us that Toni was a pro with the right stuff. Chuck and Toni were a team in Texas and soon Toni warmed up to us all. Chuck showed us all the special things, which made Toni the champion cattle horse he was.
First and foremost, Toni loved Cotton cake. Cotton cake, which Chuck always had in his pocket brought out the best in Toni from then on. Within a day, Dad and the rest of us could get Toni to do all we asked of him. Toni was now a real part of our family farm team… thanks to a stranger named Chuck.
As Christmas week progressed, the roads were still impassable with no sign of the snowplows in sight. The phone lines were still down and we had no way to communicate with the outside world. We were so looking forward to the Christmas Pageant at St Elizabeth’s Parish followed by Christmas Eve mass. My brother Billy was supposed to be a Wiseman in the Play, and I was suppose to be an angel. There was no way we could get to town in all that snow. Fearing Christmas would be canceled; we children grew quiet and somber. We began to fuss that even Santa could not get to our house this particular year. Our Letters had never been delivered to him because of the snowstorm.
On the day before Christmas Eve Chuck, our newfound guest came up with a plan. A plan that would make Santa and his reindeer proud. Chuck went out to the barn and saddled up Toni. He admonished us all, not to give up. He would set off for town and guide the snowplows to our farm to clear the roads. Dad was a bit hesitant, but Chuck assured him that he and Toni had traveled many miles together in Texas dust storms and could get through the snow on the plains of Nebraska. Dad warmed to the idea eventually, and saddled up our faithful old mare, ”Lady”, to make sure Chuck and Toni did not get lost. Dad knew the plains and the land well, even when it was buried in snow.
With a cheerful wave they set off, loping belly deep through the snow drifts. Later that day, the sound of snow plows brought smiles of joy and relief to our faces. With Chuck and Toni leading the way, the plows cleared our roads and made it possible for us to get to town the following day. Chuck was able to get his truck out of the snow bank and be on his way to his new job.
Early Christmas Eve night, before we went to town, the front door of our little farmhouse opened with a bang! In came Santa to pay us a personal visit. In his bag were all the very toys we children had lamented that Santa would not bring this year. Even if he could have made it through the snow, we were sure he would not have gotten our Christmas list. This particular year though, Santa was wearing cowboy boots, and seemed to have a very distinct “Texas” drawl when he exclaimed; “HO HO HO! Merry Christmas Ya’all!”