Shirley told me I had to write a Christmas story. I should have written one last week. Before Christmas.
BY DEAN MEYER
She said I should find that poem I wrote about the cowboy at Christmas. I kind of remember it. Like I kind of remember some of the passwords to get on sites that I really, really need. But I can’t find the poem. I can’t remember it. My phone rings and I get letters wanting the Christmas poem. Oh, it doesn’t ring often. I think once a couple years ago. And I did get a letter about my column. But the writer just said, “If she were married to me, I’d either be dead or divorced!”
But while searching for the Christmas poem, I started thinking about one of my favorite Christmas programs. In Harding County.
I’ve told you about Harding County before. It’s the county that always has the high wind warning when you watch the weather. It is a county that is short on topsoil, and long on gumbo and sagebrush. Sheep, cattle, jackrabbits, bald eagles, prairie dogs, and hardy people inhabit it. I’ve written to you about the community efforts when it comes to fighting fire, putting on a county fair, and raising their kids. I’m not sure if there is anywhere else quite like it.
We went down last week to celebrate Christmas with Carm’s family. Oh, it was a few days late, what with the storm and all. But we were lucky. It was the night of Gracy’s first piano recital. Yes, piano recital! I knew that would excite you!
Well, I admit, I wasn’t real excited. I mean how could it compare with poker and pinochle! But you know what, it was magical!
It wasn’t held in a concert hall. Or even a school gym or anything like that. No, we headed over to a Jack’s house across the Little Missouri. The moon was shining brightly off the snow of the past week. Winds had died down so you could see the few yard lights along the way. Gage was watching for rabbits and trying to make sure I didn’t hit any. I did hit one, but I think it was a glancing blow, because we couldn’t see him on the way home.
When we drove around the drifts and into the yard, there was a beautiful log home decorated for Christmas. And when you went inside, it was magical. The good china was set out, a bowl of punch, and everyone brought a few snacks. Chairs were lined up facing a baby Grand Piano, backed by a flickering fireplace (real wood), and Christmas decorations decked the halls. Really!
And the piano students were there. Along with their instructor. The boys and girls were transformed into young men and women. The girls wore black satin dresses and heels. The boys had suits and ties. The piano teacher had traded her Carhart coveralls for a black gown and gold jewelry. You know how I dress. I felt a little out of place.
We sat there with friends and neighbors, listening to Christmas music, played from memory, by a group of kids that was learning more than music. There was a violin number. Short songs. Long songs. One young lady had graduated to lessons in Spearfish, and I think will soon go beyond there.
As I sat there that night, it gave me a good feeling. To see kids learning that it can be cool to dress up. That learning can be fun. That you don’t need a video game or an i-pod to enjoy yourself. That the distance between neighbors doesn’t have to be measured in miles. I’ve learned that before I guess, but sometimes I need reminded.
I’m sure in the morning; the ties were replaced with neck scarves, the suits and dresses with coveralls. I would guess the piano teacher was feeding cows, and the black gown was hung back in the closet.
But for one old cowboy, thank you. That year you made my Christmas.
Dean Meyer is a former legislator and ranches in southwest North Dakota. He has been a columnist around the state for years.