The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, December 16, 2010


My Grandpa carried a pocket watch. Like most farmers, he ran his day by it. He kept it in his vest pocket, hooked with a gold chain. Whenever he flipped it open, I knew something was going to happen.

" I think it's time we had a tree, don't you? Let's go see if we can get those lazy horses up and cracking. We'll need help with this."  And then he smiled at me. He was going to take me with him!

I watched while he got the harnesses ready. They hadn't been used in a while, so all the leathers needed to be checked. I know they were well cleaned and oiled because I was the one who did that. It was a job I took seriously, even though I didn't know how they were used. I'd never seen Penny and Sun hooked to the wagon before.

I climbed up on the hay bales and brushed them, first Penny and then Sun. They stood quietly, patiently for me. This was old hat to them. They'd spent their lives pulling that wagon. Sun kept turning to nudge me here, push me there. "You missed a place. I itch here." She was excited! We were going out to work.

It took a while to get things done. The wagon was dusty and the harnesses needed to be checked one more time, and then adjusted. Time is different when you're little. There is no past, no future. You're in the "now" all the time, so everything is intense, and new. I can still close my eyes and remember how the bells sounded, the creaking of the leathers and the quiet sniffling and occasional snorts and sighs coming from the horses. They were as anxious to go as I was.

At last it was time! Grandpa swung me up onto the bench seat next to him and out we went, through the barn doors, into the sunshine...just me and my Grandpa and our horses. I was on top and everything was perfect! Every time they took a step, the bells on the harness rang in a rhythm, matching their time. I was feeling pretty important, up there on that bench.

We had a saw and some ropes with us, stowed away in the back of the wagon. And under the seat were some old blankets in case it got cold. Cold? Never occurred to me. Grandpa had told me to keep an eye out for the perfect tree. I was too focused to be cold. It was my first tree ever, the first one that I got to pick. I was going to take home the prettiest tree that anyone had ever seen!

That day spreads out in my memory, going on forever. It probably didn't. Penny and Sun were very old by that time. Grandpa would never keep them out too long. They were retired and his friends. I run it through my mind every Christmas, though, when we go out to find our own tree.

This year, for the first time, we bought a tree. We've done such a good job of clearing all the fields around here during the past nine years that there are no more cedars small enough to cut! And now it isn't permissible to cut on the neighbor's land. Used to be most everyone was happy to have the cedars removed from their fields. They're a weed tree in Kansas. People aren't as easy about having you on their land to help by taking a tree as they once were.

This morning, though, while I was outside doing chores and spending time with my herd, I did find a treasure to add to our store bought tree. It's a tiny nest made of hair from Lucky, Apache and Willow! It had blown out of a tree or from under an eave during the big winds that we've had the past few days. It's like a jewel, it's so well made. Lucky's red hair and Apache's black hair make up the outside of the nest. Willows soft, woolly grey hair is on the inside, put there to keep the babies warm.

I showed it to Lucky when they came in for grain. He sniffed at it and was indifferent. It wasn't grain or carrots. Apache picked it up and flipped his head up and down, then dropped it. It wasn't a tool to steel and hide. Willow curled her upper lip in a flehmen. It was interesting, but only for a moment. It was grain time and she's as serious about her tiny bit of breakfast as Lucky is about his! So it was official. The wind had brought a gift to me!

When we went out to get my very first tree more than fifty years ago, one of the things we took with us were a package of cookies my Grandma had made. They were Grandpa's favorite cookies were made with molasses and ginger. I'm going to give that recipe to you, as my gift. He loved them with his coffee. " Perfect for dunking!", is what he told me. I make them every Christmas and hear bells in the harnesses when I eat them. If you listen, you might hear them too along with the sounds of two horses pulling a wagon, all those years ago.


1. Soften and mix together :  1/3 cup real butter, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 brown country egg, 2/3 cup molasses.  It should make a nice, gooey, brown mixture.

2. Sift together and stir in : 2 3/4 cups unbleached flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp sea salt, 2 tsps cinnamon, 1 or 2 tsps ground ginger (I like two tsps of ginger. So did Grandpa. ) Mix just until it's a nice dough, but not too much.

3. After chilling the dough (nice because you can make it the day ahead of time), Roll out the dough about 1/8th to 1/4 inches thick (thin is better!) and cut with cookie cutters. This is going to make about 5 dozen cookies, so do it in stages. Keeping the dough cold is a good idea. It gets sticky as it warms up. Place the shapes about 1 inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

4. Cook at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool and ice if you want to. I like them plain with tea or hot chocolate.

I always gave Penny and Sun one of these cookies too. They didn't dunk them, but they did love to eat them!

I am ever yours, Nancy, smiling and remembering

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