By Jennifer Bryan
The frosty morning air stung my nose as I stepped out the door of our farmhouse. My parents’ boot prints in the fresh snow marked their earlier trek to the barn. I could hear the drone of the milk pump and the calves bawling for their breakfast.
Cows don’t know when it’s Christmas. Or maybe they do, but they still need to be cared for.
Either way, I crunched my way through the calf-deep snow and thought about my mom’s famous cinnamon rolls waiting for us when the chores were done. This had been the tradition for as long as I could remember — morning milking, then cinnamon rolls, then presents. I could practically taste their fresh-baked goodness.
At the barn, I began my routine, humming I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day as I went through the all-too-familiar motions. The occupants of the calf barn were glad to see me, including the stray tabby cat who had showed up on the farm around the time we were finishing fourth-cutting hay.
“Good morning, Jones,” I greeted him, dumping grain into the feed trough. “I’ll feed you in a minute.”
I had just picked up the bag of cat food when I heard a muffled crunch. I paused, and the distinct slam of a car door met my ears.
Jones meowed in protest as I sat the cat food down and went to investigate. I rounded the barn to find the tail end of a green Camry poking out of the ditch. The out-of-state license plate caught my eye, as did the petite blond standing on the snow-covered road, a flustered look on her face.
Obviously, this little adventure hadn’t been in her Christmas plans.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my brother Sam emerge from the barn.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” I called out, trudging toward her through the drifts.
“I think so.”
She drew a shaky breath.
“I was coming around the turn and started sliding and the next thing I knew I was in the ditch.”
I had figured as much. The road’s sharp bend in front of our farm was bad enough in dry weather, and downright treacherous in a good snow.
“Where I am going to find a tow truck at 7 a.m. on Christmas morning? This is going to cost a fortune … and I don’t even know where I am!”
Her voice rose in frustration.
“We’ll figure something out,” I tried to reassure her.
Sam clambered out of the ditch where he had been inspecting her predicament more closely.
“It doesn’t look too bad,” he agreed. “Your car seems okay, so let me get the tractor and we’ll see about getting you out of there.”
He headed off to the machinery shed.
“I’m Angie,” I said, turning back to our disoriented traveler. “That’s my brother, Sam. Welcome to Paris, Ohio.”
“Joanne,” she replied, sticking out a gloved hand. “I’m from Elmhurst, outside Chicago. My sister moved here six months ago and I was passing through on my way to surprise her this morning. And then…”
She grimaced and gestured to the car. I nodded sympathetically as Sam arrived with the John Deere.
“Don’t worry — you’ll be on your way soon.”
After securing the chain to the rear axle, Sam eased the tractor forward, and Joanne’s car slowly crawled out of the ditch. He climbed down, unhooked the chain and gave the car another once-over.
“It looks like you’re all set,” he pronounced.
“Thank you. What do I owe you?”
Joanne reached for her car door.
“Nothing,” I shook my head. “Consider it a Christmas gift.”
Sam bobbed his head in agreement.
“Well, okay, if you’re sure. Thank you,” she smiled. “I really appreciate you taking pity on this city girl today. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas,” we chorused.
She shut the door, cranked the engine and gingerly pulled away. Hoisting himself back up on the tractor, Sam gave me a look as if say, what a way to start our Christmas!
I just grinned and shrugged. Comes with the territory, I thought to myself. Cows have to be fed and milked on Christmas and lost city folk have to be pulled out of ditches.
I hiked back to the calf barn to finish my chores, humming again and thinking about the difference a little dose of neighborliness can make in a person’s life.
Big, fluffy snowflakes began to flutter down again and I quickened my step. Mom’s cinnamon rolls were waiting.