~ Riceland Meadows ~

Simple Pleasures
by Ralph Rice

Around our Christmas table I bask in the glow from the joyful faces of my daughters, sons, and daughters-in-law, the little ones, my wife, and her parents. Dinner over, I ask if everyone is ready for a sled ride, and the room erupts in a gleeful "Yes." Rounding the field at a brisk trot, with sleigh bells ringing and a sledful of laughing youngsters, I recall a great gift my grandparents gave me on another Christmas many years ago.

The snow was deep and shining in the bright moonlight as we stamped the snow from our boots in Grandma's back room. Our arms were laden with gifts and our thoughts were filled with anticipation. My little sister and I could barely wait to open our Christmas Eve gifts.

After placing our presents under the tree we all gathered near the table and visited with my grandparents and my young aunt. Grandma's kitchen was warm and wonderful. The smells of food, pies, and cookies filled our nostrils while the kitchen stove warmed our bodies. But we children soon grew tired of the talk in the kitchen and invented a game. We went throughout the house in search of Christmas trees.

Sure, there was the main tree in the middle of the window in the front room, but we found hundreds more—reflections of the little decorated tree gleamed from every mirror, window, dish, and piece of glass. The panes of the French doors alone held nearly a hundred reflections, and I counted two more in my aunt's eyes. We had so much fun we didn't want to quit when called to dinner. Our game was simple, our thoughts were pure, and our time with our grandparents was short, though we didn't know it.

After dinner and feasting on sweet desserts, we cleared the table and moved a few chairs to the front room to open our presents amid laughter and the celebration of the holiday. Just as we finished cleaning up the last of the paper, sleigh bells rang out in the night. All of us kids stopped short, telling each other to hush—Santa had surely landed on the lawn. Then Grandpa yelled in through the door to grab our coats and come take a sled ride. We kids were a little disappointed to see it was only Grandpa and not Santa, but we soon got over it.

I've never ridden with Santa Claus, but I believe that night was as close as I could ever come. The horses took us down the lane, their breath frosty in the crisp air. The moon lit up the night like daylight, and diamonds danced on the snowdrifts. We flew across the hayfield and past the orchard while the sound of jingling bells filled the night. As we neared the woods, Grandpa slowed the team to a walk and we sang "Silent Night."

I remember that evening as if it were yesterday—the warm smiles, the hugs, the smell of the horses, and the pure delight on my grandparent's faces. What fun we had that Christmas Eve.

It was my last Christmas holiday with my grandparents. Two months later they were killed in an automobile accident. I miss them still. The sounds of hoof beats, sleigh bells, and laughter always take me back to that Christmas long ago and remind me of the great gift my grandparents gave us—the joy in loving each other and in enjoying life's simple pleasures.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Holiday 2004 issue.

22 January 2005