A Christmas Story to Read to Your Children
By Earl Brechlin
Poking around in the back of Wilmot Dow’s slightly tilting barn at Neverdun Farm, little Suzie stopped when she saw something, something big, something she hadn’t noticed before, way in the back, behind stacks and stacks of hay bales. She stopped as she let her eyes adjust to the dimness, the fog from the cold late December air swilling in front of her face.
Hard in the corner, covered with dust, an old tarp over the seat, sat an old John Deere tractor, one Suzie couldn’t remember ever seeing being used on the farm. She could tell that beneath a thick layer of dust and flecks of straw, the proud green and yellow paint still shined. The engine that looked like it had just rolled off the assembly line.
Pulling back the tarp, Suzie climbed up into the seat, put her hands on the large steering wheel, and began playing with the many levers, handles and other controls. She didn’t even realize she was making loud motor sounds as she played.
“Hey!” yelled Wilmot, stepping into the barn. “Get down from there!”
“Sorry Mr. Dow,” Suzie said scrambling back over the hay bales. “What is that doing hiding way back there?”
Wilmot peered at the tractor he hadn’t touched in 10 years. He hurriedly pushed it into the barn when it wouldn’t start the day after he took his wife to the hospital for the last time.
“Martha gave that to me for Christmas 30 years ago,” Wilmot explained. “We had many happy years together. I really miss her,” he continued.
Pointing to the name painted on the front, he chuckled “She said I worked it like a mule and because it was a present she named it ‘Yule,’” he said. “I wasn’t too fond of that but Martha loved it and it stuck.”
Climbing into the seat himself, Wilmot wiped the dust off the gauges and paused as memories of Martha and all their Christmases came flooding back to him. He hadn’t done much for the holidays in the last 10 years. There just wasn’t any joy in it.
“The engine in this thing always purred, like a kitten,” he told Suzie. “Not sure why it stopped. I suppose someday I’ll get her running again, but right now, there’s just too much else to do,” he said climbing down and pulling the tarp back over the seat. “You better get home now Suzie, before your mom gets worried.”
“Bye mister Dow, bye,” Suzie shouted as she headed down the snow-covered road for home. Walking toward the house, Wilmot paused and looked back at the barn, before turning towards the warm glow of the light in the kitchen.
At supper that night, Suzie asked her dad if he’d ever seen Wilmot out on Yule. “Sure did. That’s the most famous tractor in town,” said Dad. “He did everything with it. You’d see him pulling the hayride wagon at Halloween and hauling floats in the 4th of July parade.
“I can’t tell you how many times he towed Woodrow Verge out of a ditch with it,” Dad continued. “Once, when Warren Wick’s basement started to flood when we had five straight days of rain, Wilmot just showed up with that tractor and spent half a day grading a channel to keep the water away. Wouldn’t take a penny for it either.”
Mom added that she knew all about Yule too. “I loved the smell of the fresh turned earth when he’d plow his cornfield each spring and the scent of the grass when he mowed the hayfield,” she said. He always waved to everybody driving by.”
“In fact,” said Dad, “one winter Wilmot even used it to clear snow off a mile of the tarred road when the town’s plow truck broke down middle of a storm.” Dad and Mom exchanged smiles. “He did it so I could get your mom to the hospital on the night you were born.”
“I guess it’s nice to have a tractor like that to rely on,” said Suzie.
“Yes, it is,” said Dad. “But never forget that the most reliable thing of all was the person operating it.”
As she got ready for bed that night, Suzie looked out her bedroom window and far across the snow-covered fields. Silhouetted by the moonlight, she could see Wilmot’s house on a slight rise more than half a mile away. A thin curl of wood smoke rose from the chimney. A single light shined from the kitchen window. Suzie never saw any Christmas lights at Neverdun Farm. No wreath, no bows, no decorations at all.
“I know Santa comes in two days, but I’d like to give Mr. Dow a present,” Suzie said to her dad the next morning at breakfast. “What did you have in mind?” Dad asked.
Suzie whispered into his ear. The more she talked, the wider his smile grew. When she was done, Dad sat back, thought for a second, and said, “I’m going to need some help. But I think we can do that. I’ve got to make a few calls.”
While putting his breakfast dishes away in the kitchen on Christmas Eve, Wilmot almost didn’t hear the old rotary phone ringing in the parlor. Putting it to his ear, he heard Suzie’s mom on the other end.
“Would you like to go to the town’s Christmas Eve tree lighting with Suzie and me tonight?” she asked. “Well, I guess I could do that,” Wilmot answered. “Wonderful,” said Mom. “We’ll pick you up at five.
“Quick. We don’t have a lot of time,” Dad said to Woodrow and Warren as they rolled back the door on the tilted barn. “Did you bring everything on the list?” “Sure did,” they replied in unison.
The men lugged in work lights, cleaning supplies, tool boxes, a can of fresh diesel fuel, along with new hoses, filters, belts and a battery. “There’s no way we’d ever find an open parts store tonight. I hope you got the right ones,” Dad said.
After pulling back the dusty tarp, the men carefully removed the hood and went straight to work. Others who Wilmot had helped over the years began moving bales and bales of hay out of the way.
Outside, a light snow began to fall as light streamed from the windows of the barn. The weathered beams echoed with mechanical sounds, and the tilted barn overflowed with love and laughter.
Heading home after the tree lighting, Wilmot noticed something peculiar as the car got closer to his house. He’d left the one light on in the kitchen as usual but something didn’t seem right.
“There’s some kinda strange glow,” he said to Mom and Suzie with a slight sense of alarm. “Hope I didn’t leave somethin’ goin’ on top of the woodstove again,” he muttered.
As the car turned past the line of giant maple trees and into the driveway, Wilmot couldn’t believe his eyes. There in front of the barn was old Yule, clean, shining, decorated with strings of colorful Christmas lights.
Their hands and jackets stained with grease and oil, dad, Woodrow, and Warren, and their helpers stood smiling off to the side.
Speechless, Wilmot climbed into the seat, put his hands on the wheel, and, after collecting his thoughts, turned the key. With an ever-so-small puff of blue smoke, the trusty diesel motor roared to life. “Purring like a kitten,” he said proudly, his grin stretching from ear-to-ear.
Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, Wilmot pushed the throttle ahead and eased off on the clutch. Try as he might, he couldn’t hold back his tears.
For the first time in years, Yule began to move across the dooryard at Neverdun Farm. For the first time in years, Wilmot felt joy again.
Climbing down off old Yule after a spin around the dooryard, Wilmot went straight to little Suzie and gave her a giant hug.
“I know there’s lots of people to thank for all this but somehow I just know you’re behind it,” Wilmot said. “You’ve given me an incredible gift. You’ve given me back my Christmas. All I can say to everyone is ‘Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas one and all.'”