Jo Ann J. Lovelace
Fiction story first publish in Equine Market December 1991
It was in the early forties when Dad and I went hunting for our Christmas dinner. I remember that hunting trip like it happened only yesterday. It was cold and the snow had been coming down steadily all day. I twisted the dial trying to tune in a station that was telling the weather when a blizzard warning blared out over the radio. I heard Dad's old pickup coughing and sputtering coming up the driveway. A gush of cold air filled the room when Dad opened the door.
"We made it to the cattle sale Jeff," Dad said in disappointment. "Hank's old cattle truck broke down about a hundred miles out of Houston. We got it going and went on anyway but the sale had been over for two hours.
There wont be another sale until after Christmas and we're dead broke."
"I don't mind," I answered. "The saddle I wanted will just be a day or two late that's all."
"I don't know how to tell your sister I can't get the doll she wanted," Dad said bewildered. "I'll have to tell your mom there wont be any ham for Christmas. I should have kept one of those steers. She could have fixed roast beef for Christmas."
"Maybe Mandy will understand about the doll," I said. "We could go hunting to get meat for Christmas. Indian Hawk told me he use to go hunting for Christmas dinner."
"What does Indian Hawk know?" Dad grumbled. "He's an old man that likes to tell stories."
"I thought if we could get a deer Mom wouldn't be so disappointed," I mumbled. "I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"No, you're right Son," Dad smiled. "Let's try our luck at hunting."
"Great!" I shouted, grabbing my coat, toboggan and gloves. "I'll saddle Sundance and Cheyenne. You can get Mom to fix some food for us to take along."
"Get food ready for what?" Mom asked as she entered the room. "What are you two planning?"
"We're going deer hunting," Dad answered. "That's the only way you'll have meat for Christmas dinner. We'll be back long before the storm comes."
"If you want to go hunting with a prediction of a blizzard hanging over your head that's one thing," Mom said. "Don't take Jeff along he's only a boy."
"I've taught him everything I know about gun safety," Dad said determined. "Jeff will be fourteen next month. He isn't going to learn anything if he isn't given the chance to get a little experience first hand. Besides I've already told him he can go."
"All right," Mom answered, her lips pressed tightly together. "I still don't think Jeff should go."
"I'm ready to go," I said, feeling proud when Dad got to the barn. "We'll get meat for Mom's Christmas dinner."
"You bet we will," Dad laughed, putting on his tall cowboy hat. "We'll tell how we went hunting for our Christmas dinner."
I waved as we rode through the gate. Mandy's face was pressed tight against the window. Mom was standing next to her. I could tell by the expression on Mom's face she was
still upset with Dad for taking me on the hunting trip. Her face was pale and she had the look on her face that I recognized better than anyone in the family. Mom never had to say a word to me. I knew when she gave me that stare that I had better straighten up and make it fast.
We rode for miles and hadn't seen a deer. We hadn't even seen a sign that a deer had been there. "The sky's getting darker and I'm getting scared Dad," I said. "Maybe we should go back. We might get caught in the blizzard."
"We have plenty of time," Dad assured me. "We should find a deer over the next hill."
We rode a mile or two farther when the blizzard hit with a vengeance. The wind roared like a freight train rushing through at high speed. Snow was flying in my eyes. Brush and small sticks blew against the horses legs. A jackrabbit dashed in front of Sundance. He reared up causing me to drop the food. I calmed him down but he had stomped the food into a million pieces.
"We better head for home," Dad said worried. "We sure don't want to get stranded out here without any food."
"Which way do we go?" I asked. "Are we lost Dad?"
"No, we aren't lost," Dad said. "We better lead the horses. The snow's getting deeper and making it unsafe to ride."
"What are we going to do Dad?" I asked when the horses refused to move. "Maybe we're going the wrong way. Indian Hawk says a horse knows his way home."
"Indian Hawk says," Dad mumbled. "The way you talk Indian Hawk knows everything."
"Sorry Dad," I whispered. "I was only trying to help."
"I suppose we'll have to follow them," Dad sighed. "Who knows maybe they do know their way home."
"Look Dad," I yelled, "There's two turkeys huddled against that rock. I'll get them."
The turkeys ran screeching and flapping their wings as I charged toward them and I fell face down in the snow. I wasn't sure anymore if Sundance and Cheyenne knew their way home. Maybe Indian Hawk did make up stories. I was getting colder. My face, hands and feet felt like ice. I could feel my stomach rumbling from hunger. If Indian Hawk did just make up tales I thought. We could freeze to death or die from hunger or maybe even worse. We could be attacked by a grizzly bear or a mountain lion might decide to have us for his Christmas dinner because I listened to Indian Hawk's tall tales about how he hunted for food to feed his family.
"I was going to tell you not to run toward the turkeys Son," Dad tried hard not to laugh. "It's all right. I'll get the turkeys."
"No," I said. "I should have known better than to charge head on at the turkeys. I can get them."
"I'm sure you can Son," Dad looked at me proudly. "I'll tell your mother that you were the one who got Christmas dinner for her."
The turkeys stopped running. I raised my rifle and aimed for the head fired and missed. I'm not ever going to hit those turkeys with this rifle, I thought. We should have brought the shotgun too.
"I'm starving Dad," I stuttered and stammered from being so cold. "Do you really think we'll make it home?"
"We'll make it," Dad said. "Remember, Indian Hawk says horses know their way home."
"I'm taking those turkeys home to Mom," I said, determined that I wasn't going to freeze and Mom was going to have those turkeys for Christmas dinner. The turkeys finally calmed down and huddled against a big rock covered with snow."They're not getting away again," I yelled to be heard above the howling wind. "I'll get them this time."
I moved closer to get a better aim. I dropped to one knee and suddenly remember Dad saying. "Squeeze the trigger, Jeff, don't pull." I got one aimed and fired again. I got the other one.
"Did you see that Dad? I got both of them," I shouted. "We'll cook one and take one home to Mom."
"You're forgetting something Son," Dad said. "We don't have any wood to build a fire."
"How could I forget something like that?" I said the disappointment showing in my voice. "What good is two turkeys if we have no way to cook them? We're going to starve to death out here if we don't freeze to death first."
"We'll make it home Son," Dad said sounding as if he really believed that we would. "I think the horses do know their way home. We'll just keep on following them."
We followed the horses for what seemed like forever. My legs felt numb. They felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each from struggling to wade through the deep snow. My stomach growled reminding me again that it was empty. All at once I thought I caught a whiff of wood smoke. "Dad," I said excited. "Is that smoke I smell or am I just imagining things?" "If you're imagining things I am too," Dad said. "I'm sure I smell smoke."
"Let's go, boy," I yelled when Sundance pulled on the reins. "I bet you do know your way home."
Sundance and Cheyenne led us to the barn. We unsaddled and dried the horses before putting them in their stalls. Dad gave them a scoop of oats while I went to the hayloft and threw hay down in their mangers. We knew they were cold and hungry too.
"You know Dad," I said as we walked to the house. "I'll never doubt anything that Indian Hawk tells me again."
"I wont either Jeff," Dad swallowed hard. "He's sure made a believer out of me."
"What have you two got to say for yourselves?" Mom said opening the door. "Having me worrying you all were lost."
"Here Mom," I said handing her the turkeys. "Merry Christmas."
"Get in the house before you freeze to death in those wet clothes," Mom scolded. "Take a warm bath while I get some soup ready. Dry clothes and a good hot bowl of my vegetable soup will do wonders for you two."
I married Jessica on my eighteenth birthday. We bought the ranch down the road from Mom And Dad. We spent Christmas day with Mom and Dad every year. Dad never got tired of telling the experience we had getting Christmas dinner and how proud I looked standing at the door, my face red as a pickled beet from the cold with those two turkeys in my hand. Mom would always slap him lightly on the shoulder and tell him how he aged her at least twenty years. Worrying that we were lost and afraid we would never find our way home.
Mandy married her childhood sweetheart, David on her sixteenth birthday. She was always there for Christmas dinner. She never failed adding to Mom's comment. She would tell how Mom paced the floor the whole time we were gone. She would tease Mom for saying if we made it back in one piece. She was going to take her broom to both of our hides.
Jessica and I are real excited about the Christmas holiday this year because all of our family will be with us for Christmas dinner. I can't wait to tell our great grandchildren my Dad's favorite adventure story. All about the cowboys, horses and Christmas turkeys.
Copyright © 1991 Jo Ann Lovelace. All Rights Reserved.