Each year I write a short Christmas story that embodies some aspect of the true meaning of Christmas. This is this year’s– 2006
His one boot was resting on the bottom rung of the fence, and his chin was resting on the back of his hand, and that hand was on top of his other hand which gripped the pipe that was the top rail of the fence. It was comfortable position, elbows splayed, one he had learned from his dad. His eyes were rheumy, but that was because of the cold wind quartering towards him. He was following a beautiful filly, one of three horses in the field. Horses brought a contentment to his life he could not explain.
He lived in Ft. Worth, on the edge of town, and had ten acres with an eight stall drive-through barn . He had built it himself and it had taken over a year of his spare time. It was well built, perhaps even overbuilt. The stalls were solid, sawdust spread around, a tack room at the front, and a spigot for each stall. Various tools were hung neatly on the walls.
He had raised his family on that ten acres. The house was smallish, the exterior was rock, and he provided for his family working at a local Chevy Dealership as the manager in charge of used cars. He had a natural sales ability, and his uniform was simple—a starched white shirt, and pressed jeans. His wallet was the sort that stuck out of his left hip pocket by three inches in the style of the day. And boots. Always boots. He made a comfortable living.
The problem with his wife started soon after he married her. How he had missed the signs he would never know. It seemed he could do nothing right. She nagged. He did his best. Nothing was good enough. He hung in there. She always needed just a little bit more than he made. The kids were grown and he was in his mid-fifties when the shrillness in her bitterness became unbearable.
At age 54, after giving it due consideration he decided he had had enough. Max gave everything due consideration, usually with chin on hand at the fence, watching one of his horses, a sprig of coastal grass between his teeth. He was reasonably successful in life. He had paid off their place. The kids were gone, one married, one in college, one working. He was comfortable…but that was going to change dramatically.
After a particularly onerous week at home when all his wife had done was disparage, undercut, humiliate and degrade him he asked her if he could talk for just a couple of minutes.
It was a short speech. She could have everything. He was leaving. When he was done, he took out his wallet, and handed her the entire contents, all the cash, all the credit cards, keeping only his driver’s license. He handed her his, their, checkbook. He tossed his set of keys to the house and his car onto the bed.
He called a friend and he left with what he was wearing.
She got it all. ALL.
The kids were sick, but they had seen it coming.
Max started from scratch. Again. Within a year he was on his feet, financially. But he had taken such a beating for so long he had no desire to start another relationship. And he missed his horses.
Four years later his ex was diagnosed with cancer. He heard all about it from his kids. All of them wanted to help. Not one of them could for very long. She was on chemo– she felt lousy and she made anyone who tried to help her come along for the ride. A year into it it was clear she was not going to make it. She was dying. And no one wanted to help her. No one.
Unannounced, Max turned up at the house, his first time back since he left. Things had gone to seed both inside and out. It was a mess. She looked at him, somewhat surprised, but said nothing. He moved in. He started picking up. And he cooked for her. And did the wash. And went to work. And he did it for two years. And not once did she thank him.
And when he got a chance, he leaned on that fence, watching her filly and the other two that had been his, and the five others currently boarding there.
And when she died the kids came to him. They found him packing. They told him that they had never seen anything like what he had done. They expressed deep admiration and appreciation. And they wanted to give the home-place back to him. He was grateful for their generosity but reluctant– it was now theirs, he told them. His oldest boy said, “OK then, if I move into the house, would you consider staying? You could have the back room with the side door.” And he said he would.
And there he was, chin on gloved- hand on rail–rheumy eyed from the wind quartering into his face–a cold winter wind. It was a ten acre oasis. And it was almost heaven when he could watch his horses run.
Steve Van Rooy
(based on a true story of someone I know)