The Christmas Pony by Melody Carlson

Sunday, September 16, 2012

December 1937
Lucy Turnbull knew better than to wish for a pony for Christmas this year. Besides receiving the upsetting news that Santa Claus was only make-believe (Tommy Farley had popped that beloved bubble several weeks ago), Lucy had been assured by Mama in no uncertain terms that she was not getting a pony—and furthermore, Lucy had no business asking for such nonsense. “You might as well ask me to buy you the moon,” Mama firmly told her at the dinner table.“

Ponies are expensive,” Grandma added. “Only rich people can afford those luxuries these days.”

Really, Lucy should have heeded their warning. But at bedtime, after she’d finished her prayers, Lucy noticed that the corners of Mama’s mouth were turned downward. Lucy pulled the covers to her chin, cringing to realize she was to blame for the two deep creases in the center of Mama’s forehead. Lucy should not have asked God for a pony. Not tonight. And especially not after what Mama and Grandma had told her at dinnertime.

As Mama put an extra quilt on the bed, Lucy craned her neck, straining to see the picture she’d pinned above the metal headboard earlier. She’d drawn her dream pony on the blank side of the November calendar sheet that Grandma had nearly used as fire starter. Then, using her best penmanship, Lucy had written “Pony for Sale or Trade” across the top of her drawing—just like the sign she’d noticed this afternoon. The wooden sign had been nailed to a fence post by the Greenburg field, and Lucy knew that meant that Mr. Greenburg was selling Smoky. She’d admired the little gray pony for as long as she could remember. Seeing he was for sale had sent her running home to tell Mama and Grandma the good news.

“You know that I can barely afford to keep food on the table.” Mama sighed as she leaned over to kiss Lucy’s forehead. “Heaven knows I cannot afford to feed a horse as well.”

“Smoky’s not a horse,” Lucy pointed out. “He’s a pony.”

“Ponies . . . horses . . . they still eat food, don’t they?” Mama tucked the quilt more snugly around her. “The only extra mouths we need around here are the paying kind, Lucy.Instead of praying for a pony, why don’t you ask the Good Lord to send us some boarders?”

“Yes, Mama.” Lucy burrowed deeper into the covers as Mama pulled the string on the overhead light. “I will pray for that,” she promised. Lying in the darkness, she listened as Mama’s footsteps went down the hallway toward the kitchen. She heard the squeaking of the woodstove door and the clunk of a heavy piece of firewood being set inside, followed by the clanking sound of the heavy door being closed and, after a bit, the reassuring creak of the old rocker as Mama sat down.

Grandma was already in bed, but Mama always stayed up late. She was probably reaching for her knitting basket now. Lucy didn’t know how it was possible, but sometimes Mama could knit a whole sock in just one single night. The socks were all made out of worsted wool, a fine black yarn that Mama said was hard on her eyes. But when Lucy suggested she use another color, a prettier one like sky blue, Mama had explained that the store would only sell her socks in black. Lucy knew that ever since Daddy died, back when she was just five, they needed Mama’s socks to trade for groceries. Just like they needed paying boarders to fill the three upstairs bedrooms of the old farmhouse, because even though they earned extra money by taking in people’s laundry, Lucy knew that it was never quite enough. She’d heard Mama and Grandma speak of this very thing often enough. Mostly when they didn’t realize she was listening.

“We just have to make ends meet,” Mama would tell Lucy sometimes, especially when Lucy couldn’t have something she wanted. Usually it was something she didn’t really need, like candy or toys or pretty hair ribbons. Always it was something much smaller than a pony.

Lucy was only eight years old, but she was old enough to know that times were hard. Grandma said that often enough. “Times might be hard, Lucy,” she’d say in her slow, quiet way, “but you can still be thankful for what you’ve got—a roof over your head and food to eat.” Of course, Lucy didn’t think too much about those things. She was more thankful for the long rope swing over the creek, or the bird’s nest she found after last week’s windstorm, or getting to play an angel in this year’s Christmas pageant. Those things were easy to be thankful for.

Sometimes Lucy would overhear Mama and Grandma having conversations they didn’t want Lucy to be privy to, but the solemn, serious tone of their voices always made her ears perk up, and she would listen harder than ever. Like when the Saunders family lost their farm last spring and had to move away. Lucy wasn’t quite sure how their neighbors “lost” their farm since, as far as she could see, it was still there. Sure, it was overgrown with blackberries and weeds and the slumping fences needed fixing, but when she walked past it on her way to school every day, it never looked lost to her.

True to her promise, Lucy closed her eyes now and, with genuine faith, prayed for God to bring them some paying boarders. Mama had just said that this time of year, with Christmas around the corner, not many travelers would be stopping in Maple Grove to stay. The best time of year for boarders always seemed to be summer. Just the same, Lucy knew that God could do anything. At least that was what Pastor McHenry liked to say. Sometimes she wasn’t too sure Mama believed that exactly. Otherwise, why would she be so worried about Lucy’s prayers for a pony?

© 2012 by Melody Carlson Published by Revell a division of Baker Publishing Group P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

Melody Carlson is giving away a signed copy of her book A Christmas Pony to one lucky winner! Winner will be chosen from comments on this blog entry. Good luck!