It was late Christmas Eve, when the boss, looking grieved, knocked on the bunkhouse door.
"Boys," he said sadly, "young Tim's doing badly, and is asking to see you once more.
We pulled on our coats, our hearts in our throats, and walked out into snow flurries.
It was windy and cold, and without being told, we knew there was reason to hurry.
The outlook was grim, for the boss's son, Tim, was losing his fight with the Flu.
Tho the doctor had tried, staying close by his side, there was no more he could do.
We uncovered our heads at the foot of his bed. Young Tim sure looked like a goner.
His fevered face red, his eyes burned in his head, he won't be with us much longer.
"Hi, Smitty. Hi, there, Buck. Seems I've had no luck in shaking this awful Flu.
It's the last Christmas for me, and I sure wanted to see Santa's reindeer as they flew.
But, with my dizzy head, I can't get out of bed, so, I'm asking a favor of you.
If I could hear a reindeer hoof, when he lands on our roof, I guess that's the best I could do.
I know it'll be hard for you to stand guard, but please wake me up to hear.
If I hear a reindeer hoof pawing up on our roof, it'll be like I see him from here."
Buck sobbed and turned, to hide tears that burned, the poor kid was out of his head.
It was the fever talking. Buck started walking, "I've got the first watch," he said.
"Don't you worry, Tim. I'll be helping him. We'll sure tell you when Santa arrives."
I ducked out on him then, feeling less than a friend. I couldn't tell any more lies.
I found Buck just outside, thru tears smiling wide. I could hardly see thru my tears.
Buck said, "I have a plan, so get with it, Old Man, Tim's gonna hear some reindeers!"
Buck harnessed the team, much better he seemed, but he hadn't yet clued me in.
We hitched up the sleigh, which we used to haul hay. Buck was still wearing a grin.
"Old Juan, that sells us oats, has a big bunch of goats, and I'll bet he'll loan us a few.
We'll put 'em on the roof; Timmy will hear his hoof, making his last wish come true!"
With the help of Old Juan, we got the goats loaded on, tho they didn't like the sleigh.
We kept them together, thru that awful weather, then we boosted them upon their way.
The goats liked to climb, and in almost no time, the rooftop had hoofbeats galore.
Buck then slipped in to awaken young Tim, so he'd hear his reindeer for sure.
He was not prepared for what he found there. Little Timmy was not in his bed.
He was asleep and still at the open window sill. He was ice cold and almost dead.
Christmas morning dawned clear. We expected to hear Timmy had died in the night.
But the boss came in, with a lop-sided grin, and said, "Tim's now doing all right!"
A greater power had spoken. His high fever had broken. He'd asked his mom for food!
The goats went unheeded; seems they weren't needed. Things had worked out pretty good!
But then Tim told a story, of an Angel from Glory, who stopped by his window to say
That he would recover, and he would discover the real reason for Christmas Day!
Buck looked out the window for tracks in the new snow. Not a single print did he spy.
Tim's mom started singing, soon the cabin was ringing with "Angels We Have Heard on High."
Celebrating Christmas in Big Piney, Wyoming
Now Wes and Howdy were good ol' boys, rough, but not really mean,
They'd been stuck at the ranch by the worst snow storm they had ever seen.
It was five weeks since they'd been to town, and they were set to howl,
They came charging into Big Piney like two grey wolves on the prowl.
Their first stop was the Trails End Bar, where their first drink was free.
Wes picked up the local paper to see what amusement there might be,
They were open to almost anything, because they were primed for action.
They noticed that tomorrow there'd be some cutter races in Jackson.
But as they sat savoring their first beer in weeks, so flavorful and so cold,
They happened to overhear a sad story that the bartender was being told.
They listened carefully as this rural mailman passed along a sad tale,
Of how Jesse Sikes, the local n'er-do-well, had been thrown into jail.
It seemed he'd gone on a week-long drunk and squandered his paycheck,
And when he could get no drinks on credit, he made a local bar a wreck.
It being Christmas Eve and all, the Sheriff hated to put him in jail,
'Cause with Jesse's reputation, it was sure nobody would go his bail.
Another thing that made it sad, was something the dispatcher had said,
About a note in Jesse's pocket that said he must buy some milk and bread,
The kids were eating dry cereal, 'cause there was no food in the house.
"Can you imagine" the bartender said, "being married to such a louse?
Letting your family go hungry-just so you can drink, why that's a disgrace!
If I could get away, I'd buy some food and take it out to the Sikes' place.
No reason his wife and those little kids should suffer because he is a fool."
The mailman said,"I've seen those kids waiting for the bus to go to school,
And they ain't got no gloves or snow boots! It's enough to break your heart!
Sometimes I get so mad at that Jesse Sikes, I'd like to tear that jerk apart!"
Now Wes and Howdy had been listening to this story quietly until now,
'Til Howdy said, "Why don't somebody do something about this anyhow?"
The bartender scowled at his buttin' in, "Well, that's easy for you to say --
But Jesse Sikes sure don't take kindly to somebody getting in his way.
Besides, most folks' extra Christmas money is already up and flown!
There's nothing left for charity, so the Sikes family is on their own!"
Wes and Howdy exchanged glances, in their pockets was five weeks pay,
They had planned to throw a big Christmas bash and blow it all away.
They didn't have to discuss it, they both knew what they should do,
So, they got up from the bar and paid the bartender for their brew.
"How old are those kids you were talking about, and are they girls or boys?"
The bartender said, "Why do you ask? Are you gonna buy them some toys?"
"We just might," said Wes, "If you can tell us about their ages and such."
"And if Jesse don't like it,"Howdy growled, "that don't bother us too much."
The mailman got out a pencil and wrote names and ages on a small pad,
"There's Cody, he's seven, Bonny, she's five, and Mark is a wee little lad.
"What about Mrs. Sikes, does she need anything? Is she small, tall, skinny or fat?"
"You'd better not buy Mrs. Sikes anything, 'cause Jesse sure won't stand for that!"
The mailman said, "Well, I'll chip in, but all I've got now is a twenty-dollar bill."
"I'll throw in, too," the bartender said, and he took some money out of the till.
"They'll need some food first of all, but the kids really should get some toys.
There's a store just west on Main Street that has clothes for girls and boys.
The Sikes place is on Freezer Flats, an old mobile home, 'bout two miles out."
The mailman said, "If there's two junk cars in the yard, that's it without a doubt."
Wes and Howdy headed for the door, but the bartender's words made them pause,
"Careful you don't scare Mrs. Sikes, 'cause you look too rough to be Santa Claus!"
Well, now, Howdy and Wes just had a ball picking out things for each little kid.
It turned out to be the most satisfying thing that either of those cowboys ever did.
The ladies at the clothing store seemed to know exactly what was called for,
And those cowboys were heavy-laden when they squeezed out of the door.
They stocked up on the staples,- sugar, flour, vegetables, milk and meats,
But they also chose a lot of snacks, like cookies, fruits and Christmas treats.
Soon the cap top on their pickup was looking like the back of Santa's sleigh,
Then they had just one more stop to make, before they went on their way.
The Sheriff was surprised when they came in to pay Jesse Sikes' bail,
He couldn't believe those cowboys were willing to take Jesse from the jail.
They stopped by the side of the hardware, were snowmelt was pouring down,
And they held Jesse beneath that stream, until he thought that he would drown.
He was sputtering, choking, teeth chattering, as ice water poured on his head.
If they had held him there much longer, he might have been frozen dead.
When they were sure that Jesse was sober, they then laid down the law to him,
If he ever pulled such a stunt again, they'd hold him under the water again.
They gave him his jacket so he wouldn't freeze, and put him back in the truck seat,
And they carefully explained if he didn't shape up, he was liable to be dead meat.
When they got his house, they all trouped in, acting like they were old friends,
And they lugged in the toys and clothes and grub, 'til the larder was full again.
Jesse's wife was astonished, she looked at the gifts, and she eyed the cowboys,
You could tell that she was figuring out just who had purchased all the toys.
The kids were delighted, they never had seen such a wonderful treasure trove,
And Wes and Howdy had tears in their eyes as they stood by the warm stove.
When they said their goodbyes and walked to their pickup, Jesse came along.
"I want to thank you, friends, for what you've done to make up for my wrong.
I promise you, I'm going to change, and from now on I'll be a go-getter."
Howdy leaned down, and looked in his eyes, and said, "Partner, you'd better!"
Well, they'd spent all their cash, so there was nothing to do but to call it a night,
Driving back to Big Piney, they couldn't stop grinning, remembering the kids delight.
"Y'know," said Wes, "I can't remember when I've had so doggone much fun!
Of all the Christmas Eves I've ever seen, this has shore got to be the best one!'
A group of carolers were crossing a Big Piney street, singing a old Christmas song.
Two young ladies said, "We heard what you did. Would you like to come sing along?"
Like I said before, Wes and Howdy were rough ol' boys, but not really mean,
And they had just experienced the most joyous Christmas they had ever seen.
So, the boys jumped out of their pickup, these two rough 'n ready galoots,
And they sang with joy the old Christmas hymns as part of the carolers group.
This story is mostly true, "Only the names have been changed," as they say,...
But hearts are changed and wonderful things happen because of Christmas Day.
Read more of Second Lariat Laureate Neal Torrey's poetry here at the BAR-D.
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