The Gift

© F. Thomas Breningstall

published in ANVIL Magazine, December 1997

It's morning. Not just any morning - Christmas Eve morning. You're laying bed; it's cold outside, and not all that warm in the bedroom, either. You wish the bathroom and the morning were another eight hours away. But they're not. As your feet find the floor, you note the howling wind and sound of blowing Snow pecking at the window. You think to yourself, how long has this been going oil' To cover yourself from the cold, you pull on your old robe. You grumble as you try to find that other sleeve that loves to hide behind your back someplace. With the tips of your fingers you poke the window blinds open - you gasp and say out loud, "Oh, man, two feet of snow andI'm dreaming of a white Christmas!" You find your way to the kitchen and coffee, after stoking the fire and putting on another log. Your wife, cooking up breakfast, says, "Why do you do this every year?"

You respond, "Im supposed to - it's my job."

Yes sir, it's your job, you think to yourself. Every year you shoe four Haflingers and a donkey on Christmas Eve. And why? Because the Smith family always puts on a Christmas parade in town and the Haflingers pull Santa Claus at the end of the parade. With this snow, without winter shoeing on those horses, there would be no parade. And the donkey, he's in the Nativity scene at the Smith's tree farm. He needs to look good for that. So it is your job!

It's been a hard year; harder than most. Hell - harder than any of the last 25 years you've been shoeing. Burnout has left a deep wound this time, a deformed scar that will not heat. You just want to quit shoein' but after all these years the money is good and what other job can you do?

The year started off too cold, and summer was hotter than ever. There was the snow, rain, wind and that hot, hot sun. The baby horses in the spring and the yearlings from last year. The old brood mares and the feisty studs. You're just tired too tired to go on and too young to retire. Your mind and body just hurt - hurt more every day.

Then you say to your wife, "I can't do this anymore. Tell the Smiths to find another shoer for next Christmas. I've gotten to the point where I don't like the people, I don't like shoeing, and don't know why I'm doing it anymore. It's just a big act. I act like I want to be there, I act like I want to shoe their horses, I even act like I like some people I really don't like. I've learned to act real good after 25 years. It's gotten to the point where the smiles are even fake. It's just one big act and I'm tired of it."

You load yourself into the truck and go off to shoe the horses. You do a good job as always and you act like you want to be there, but you don't.

Christmas Eve arrives. You and your wife go to the parade, sing carols and walk behind the sleigh at the end of the procession. The sleigh is carrying Santa Claus, pulled by four Haflingers. Your wife notes, "Did you see those horses look at you when they passed us back there?" You nod. "Kind of spooky," you respond. "Yeah, it was like they were looking for you," she said.

At the Nativity scene, hundreds of people sing more songs, drink hot chocolate and enjoy the festivity of Christmas.

Something stirs within you as everyone stands with their heads bowed, deep in Christmas prayer. You get a feeling like hot coffee running through your veins. The hair on the back of your neck bristles up like a cat's tail and sweat beads up on your face.

Then you feel your wife seize your arm and shake it; she is saying something. And then you hear her say, "Look, Honey! Look at the horses and the donkey, too look over there!" You raise your head, look and gasp. Each animal has a halo in the colors of the rainbow glowing brightly around each of their shining bodies. No one else in the crowd seems to note this equine glow, or feel this rush of heat pouring over your being and over your soul. Your wife hugs you deeply and you hold each other close - closer than ever before. And then, it's gone. As fast as it came, it's all gone - the halo, the rush of heat, and the hair standing on end - just gone.

On the way back to the car, nothing is said. On the drive home, nothing is said. As you and your wife sit down at the kitchen table to drink a cup of microwaved coffee, you look deep into each other's eyes, hold hands, smile and nod your ]leads in agreement. Then you say, "Yeah. Come to think of it, I feel good about shoeing horses; it's a gift I was given, and as long as my mind and body hold up, I'll keep giving that gift back. I'm a farrier - that's my gift ... it's my job."

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