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The Christmas Carriage

December 18, 2014

 

The Christmas Carriage

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

NOTE:  In the early 1990s, when I was still a rehabilitation teacher, one of my older students periodically spoke of her wish to take a carriage ride in Milwaukee.  After years of toying with this idea for a story, I have finally, in the past two days, turned the Christmas carriage into a 2000-word, fictional story which is my gift to my readers this holiday season of 2014, and which I dedicate to the student who inspired this holiday tale.  My hope is that she did someday enjoy a carriage ride and that you will enjoy this fictional story.

 

 

For at least three decades, Mrs. Nevando’s Christmas wish was to have a carriage ride through the city on Christmas Eve.  She never mentioned this wish to her husband:  the idea seemed all too frivolous.  Twelve years ago, when she sat beside  his hospital bed, Mrs. Nevando dozed periodically and dreamed of a Christmas carriage ride.  Each of the past twelve Christmases that she endured with the memories of her deceased, beloved husband, the 74-year-old woman still entertained the thought of  a carriage ride, but then routinely dismissed the notion.  “An old woman riding in a carriage alone on Christmas Eve!  What would people think?” she often found herself wondering aloud–well, in an audible whisper.

 

In mid-December, Mrs. Nevando was in her usual mode of declining all holiday invitations although she was not receiving as many as she had in earlier years.  One son was somewhere in Europe, and the other son was on the East Coast.  Of course, they knew their mother was a Midwestern girl–old girl–who did not care to join the masses at airports during any holiday season.  After she wrote e-mails to both sons and a few other family members, Mrs. Nevando found herself exploring the website for the city carriage rides.  Although she read that carriage rides were available on Christmas Eve, the cost was too expensive for her taste.  Nevertheless, she reasoned that one carriage ride was certainly way less money than an airline ticket to Italy or even to Boston.  During the next couple of weeks, she kept returning to the website.  Focusing on the horse-drawn carriage ride along the lakefront and around three city parks, with holiday displays, helped her to miss her husband less, took away some of the tearful moments.

 

During the past decade, Mrs. Nevando had been living in a townhouse along the route of the carriage ride.  She was comforted by the clippity-clop of the horse and the jingling of the bells.  When she was outside, the muffled voices or laughter of a couple in the carriage could sometimes be heard through the cold air.  The driver was especially gentle with his horse.  Although the carriage driver wore a tuxedo for weddings and other special events, as the wind off the lake grew colder, he wore a heavy wool topcoat, warm gloves, and a red knit cap that covered his ears.  Whenever she glanced his way, he greeted her with a broad smile and a wave.  His friendliness prompted Mrs. Nevando to hurry into her townhouse as if she had a reason to rush.

 

Mrs. Nevando had always been a practical woman:  she told herself that in 31 hours, Christmas would be over.  Soon, the holiday would be over; and she could go on with her daily routines.  Just 31 hours.  After a walk with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, she would prepare some angel-hair pasta with plum tomatoes, leftover carrot-ginger soup, and a salad.  Then, she would listen to The Nutcracker, read, and knit.  Yes, soon, the holiday would be over.

 

About 9:15, on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Nevando remembered that the carriage rides were possible only until ten o’clock.  She stared at the star atop her four-foot, tabletop tree; she allowed herself to ponder the times her husband had stretched to place that same star atop one of their live, eight-foot Christmas trees.  Then, light from a car or another source created an aura around the star.  The magical, wondrous sight gave her a sudden urge to make her Christmas wish come true.   She coaxed her lapdog to find another comfy spot and set aside the holiday novel.  Suddenly, she heard the clippity-clop of the carriage horse and the jingle bells.  She recalled precisely the cell-phone number for the carriage driver.  Speaking to her Cavalier, Mrs. Nevando declared: “Ruby, I am going on a Christmas Eve Carriage Ride.  Would you like to come?  Let’s get our coats.”

 

“Merry Christmas!  Lakeside Carriage Rides,” Mr. Delaney answered his cell phone.

 

“Do you have any one scheduled for the last ride of the evening?” Mrs. Nevando inquired with only a mild hesitation in her voice.

 

“Can you be at Spirit Park at ten o’clock?  That will be the last ride for this Christmas Eve.”

 

Mrs. Nevando and Ruby were on their way.  Just a skiff of snow covered the sidewalks and streets, but the city looked like a snowglobe.  As she and Ruby walked to the park, Mrs. Nevando could hear the choir practicing for midnight mass at the cathedral; she had not been to church since her husband’s funeral mass.  Mrs. Nevando tried to walk a little faster as she passed the wreath-adorned doors of the Cathedral.  She stopped briefly to pick up Ruby and then hurried on to the park before she lost her nerve about the carriage ride.  It was her Christmas gift to herself.  She would not be alone on the carriage ride:  her memories and Ruby would be with Mrs. Nevando.

 

As the widow and her Cavalier neared the horse and carriage, Mrs. Nevando saw a couple–probably in their mid-80s–carefully and slowly descending the carriage with three grandchildren who were eager to assist their grandma and grandpa.  Smiles and laughter abounded while one by one, each took a turn at signing a book.  As the carriage riders walked in the opposite direction of Mrs. Nevando, they sang a harmonious version of “Jingle Bells.”  By the time she reached the carriage, her heart felt lighter–lighter than it had for years, during the holiday season.

 

“Mrs. Nevando?”  asked Mr. Delaney, as he stood beside his beautiful horse.

 

“yes, Mr. Delaney.”

 

“Merry Christmas Eve to you and your little friend!  Star and I welcome you to this Christmas Eve carriage ride. May I give you a hand?”  After Mrs. Nevando placed Ruby on the floorboard of the carriage, the mature lady did take the offer of a steadying hand of Mr. Delaney.  “You two can get settled while I get a blanket for you.”

 

As soon as Ruby was nestled into one arm of Mrs. Nevando, Mr. Delaney re-appeared with a bright red plastic bag; he opened the bag and offered to his rider a beautifully knitted Christmas afghan which included a shiny gold and silver yarn midst the red wool yarn.  Although she tried to decline the offer to use the special afghan, Mr. Delaney insisted: “Each year, my daughter knits a Christmas afghan for my last rider on Christmas Eve.  I cannot break tradition:  the blanket is yours–our Christmas gift to you.”  Never had Mrs. Nevando received such a beautiful homemade gift.  Despite feeling quite overwhelmed by the gift and the carriage, Mrs. Nevando managed to thank the driver at least a few times before he took his seat to begin her Christmas Eve carriage ride.

 

“The name of your horse–is it really Star?”

 

“Yes, Star and I have been working together for too many years.  She is a grand horse, but I am officially semi-retired, as of November when I turned seventy.  My youngest son took over the reins of the business.  I am cutting my hours, but I would never miss the Christmas carriage rides.”

 

While Mrs. Nevando was mindful to keep Ruby’s paws away from the knitted stitches of the afghan, she thought of the coincidence of the horse’s being named Star, the spectacular light displays, and the precious afghan lying across her legs.

 

First, the carriage went to the lakefront, where the wind made a breath-taking display of the waves on Lake Michigan.  In front of the Lakeside Inn restaurant, Mrs. Nevando became aware of a gathering of people.  When one car pulled into the parking lot, a young man in an Army uniform left the car.  A young woman who was probably nine-months pregnant broke away from the group–undoubtedly parents, siblings, and in-laws–and ran to her husband.  What joy!  The family group cheered and wiped happy tears.  Tears filled Mrs. Nevando’s eyes too because she remembered so clearly the day her husband returned from military service.  She was certain that no one would receive a greater gift this Christmas Eve than this young couple.

 

The horse left the lakefront and went west on State Street to circle the city’s Blue Spruce Park.  At the south end of the park was the city ice rink.  Mrs. Nevando noticed a Santa Claus skating around the rink; periodically, he stopped, greeted a family or someone, and handed out candy canes.  Most assuredly, some parents were being certain that their children were skating off all the excitement of the night so that the little ones would later sleep.

 

Looking at the 42-foot Christmas tree in the center of the park, Mrs. Nevando focused on a father carrying a three-year-old boy.  The mother was holding a mitten-covered hand of the little boy who obviously was eager to see the city tree arrayed with blue and white lights, as well as red bows.  For the stoplight and traffic, Star had to halt for a minute opposite the city tree.  Then, Mrs. Nevando was able to see that the little fellow had a large bandage over his forehead; a warm hood covered the rest of his head.  When the father placed his arm around his wife, she leaned her head on his shoulder and wiped grateful tears from her eyes.  They were together for another Christmas–one more Christmas.  How well Mrs. Nevando knew that kind of Christmas gift!

 

At the north end of the park was a Menorah.  Star proceeded through the next major intersection and went to Heather Z. Lamb Park.  In the glow of the children’s Christmas display, Mrs. Nevando watched a poorly-clad mother holding the hand of a five- or six-year-old girl.  Due to the shoes on the child being much too large, Mrs. Nevando wondered if the shoes made a clippity-clop sound as the little girl walked alongside her mother.  Just before Mrs. Nevando wanted to ask the driver to stop, she realized that the mother and child were headed into the Heather Z. Lamb Women’s Center where they would find warmth, peace, food, and shelter for the night, and so much more.  Mrs. Nevando knew this because after her retirement, she used to volunteer twenty hours a week at the center.  Mrs. Nevando was ashamed to think that in the past twelve years, instead of twenty hours a week, she volunteered only a couple of hours a week.  At that moment, she vowed to return to the twenty hours of volunteer work a week at the women’s shelter.  Mrs. Nevando was determined to give back gifts to her community.  A tear dropped from her eye to the lovely Christmas afghan.

 

Ruby perked up as she realized the home the horse and carriage were passing.  Amazingly, Mrs. Nevando saw the lights of Spirit Park as she had never before seen them.  The bells jingled, and she did feel merry.  She brushed a slight accumulation of snow off the precious afghan just before Star stopped at Spirit Park.  After Mr. Delaney folded the afghan into the red bag, he assisted Mrs. Nevando and Ruby off the carriage.  “Did you enjoy the carriage ride?”

 

Taking the red bag he offered again, she responded: “Thank you for a most special and unforgettable Christmas Eve carriage ride.  Please tell your daughter…”

 

Mr. Delaney interrupted: “There’s my daughter now with her dog.  She is a music teacher.  Tonight will be the twelfth year she will sing at midnight mass at the cathedral.  Are you going to midnight mass?”  Then, he quickly shouted: “Angelique, I am here.  Come meet the last rider of Christmas Eve.”

 

Mrs. Nevando smiled as the young woman–dressed in a white coat with gold buttons, as well as gold tam, scarf, and gloves–walked toward them guided by her Leader Dog named Keller, a golden retriever.

 

Mr. Delaney whispered to his last rider, “You must come to midnight mass to hear my daughter sing–she has been blessed with the voice of an angel.”

 

Slightly over an hour later, Mrs. Nevando walked alone into the cathedral while someone played the pipe organ before the mass began.  She saw a few familiar faces; then, the star above the manger caught her attention.  She decided to go up the aisle to be closer to the Nativity.  In the glow of the star, Mrs. Nevando noticed Mr. Delaney and quickly decided to sit behind him.  She knew that near the end of mass, he would turn around and shake her hand in a sign of peace.  This Christmas Eve, she had followed the light of three stars; and she wanted to thank him once more for the Christmas Eve carriage ride that led her to a path of peace and onto a bright new year.

 

Wishing you a peaceful and blessed Christmas,

Alice and Zoe

 

December 17, 2014, Wednesday

 

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6 Comments
  1. Well there you go again. This story tugged at my heart in numerous ways. The short scene with the military family had me welling up inside. Thank you for sharing such a warm and wonderful story. The holiday season has been known to be the cause of many splendid things to happen, and this story is proof. Merry Christmas Alice, and a very Happy New Year to you and Zoey. dp

    • Deon–Thanks again for your very generous comment. Best wishes to you and your family for a most special and Merry Christmas! Alice & Zoe

  2. Your very touching story brought tears to my eyes, Alice. I think you, Zoe, and I should take a carriage ride when I come to visit!
    Merry Christmas to you and Zoe!
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–Thanks for your comment and your carriage-ride idea; however, I imagine the weather will be too cold. AZ

  3. Alice, I liked how you intertwined family and your KHZ into this beautiful story. And yes, you should take that carriage ride!
    Merry Christmas with love!

    • Carole–Thanks for your comment! I am glad to know you liked the story. Quite a bit of rain here–no snow–so no carriage ride for a while. Merry Florida Christmas! AZ

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