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Be thankful for friends in all forms

This deals with never being ashamed of a friend--a friend that very well may turn around to help you in an unexplainable matter. This also deals with a historic snow storm event. Readers and raters have placed it close to the top among Engler's animal stories. Copyrighted by Jerry W. Engler from Just Folk's: Earthy Tales of the Prairie Heartland, Engler's first book.




She was in her eighties in the 1980's, a pretty, vivacious lady with silver hair and bright, warm, big brown eyes behind her glasses above a short nose that people must have called "cute" when she was young.
Edna listened to the chattering conversation of the people around her this Thanksgiving Day. But when one of the youngsters finished talking enthusiastically about horse-riding lessons, Edna's face also glowed with a memory as she began to speak.
She said, "I remember a Thanksgiving time too when I had a horse, actually a pony, and another animal friend. They probably saved my life. It was so very long ago, and the world around here has changed so much. You children can hardly know how it was for us."
"Well, tell us Aunt Edna," the other adults and children said. "The pony really saved your life?"
"Yes, I think there's a chance he probably did. But as much as anything, my story is about faithfulness. It made me forget my own selfishness and self-concern, and remember for the first time on a Thanksgiving that somebody is watching over us. He gives you friends from throughout the creation,sometimes before you even know you have them.
"It was a lot different here then. We didn't have automobiles. People travelled by horse and buggy, rode a horse, or walked. There wasn't any paved roads, no gravel roads either, just dirt roads--or mud when the weather was wet.
"It had been wet nearly all that fall, and the dirt was churned into globs of mud by the traffic. At least on the road back to my house, it wasn't very well travelled, and a strip of grass was growing down the center you could walk on until you got to the main road. Usually to get to school in the mornings, I would start that way, but then I would cut across the fields and pastures where I could. The school was over three miles away.
"Lots of the kids rode horses. In the summer the farmers would fill the school shed with hay for them, and the kids would tie them along a rail, and each would give his horse some hay from the shed before going in. The farmers would take turns during the school year bringing more hay to the shed so we didn't run out. At other times, they would bring loads of firewood.
"Most kids rode big horses, lots of good sorrels and bays. My folks gave me this dumpy-looking little pony gelding with a gray-brown mousey kind of color, and my daddy said he looked like kind of a smudge on the grass standing out there. So that was my pony's name because it stuck, Smudge.
"We had this big old funny looking dog too, white with black spots, a body like a greyhound, but with a big old rough, wide head. He was just all over the place all the time, had a hard time remembering not to jump up on ladies he liked them so well. Daddy called him mutt, and that stuck too. Of course, then I was stuck, starting out to school every morning with Smudge and Mutt.
"I thought I was getting to be quite a young lady that year going into seventh grade. My mama and I had made me a couple of new calico dresses from flour sacks for school, and I was feeling kind of elegant. It made me feel really ashamed at the idea of riding such a dumpy little pony into school with a bouncing big ugly hound alongside.
"So, all that fall when I got to the point, just before where other school friends travelling the road might see me at a high point in a prairie pasture, I would climb off Smudge, and slap him on the rump to send him home.
"He was stubborn, and not wanting to work either, so he was always just really happy to trot off for home.
"Mutt was another story. Usually I would start hollering at him, trying to make him go home, where we went around a corn field half-way up our road. He'd just smile at me panting until I wanted to kill him. Sometimes he'd fall back a little, then he'd meet me up ahead--really irritating. If he put his nose against my lunch pail to try to smell it, I'd slap his face.
"When I joined the other kids, I'd ignore Mutt like he really wasn't with me. One time, I'm shamed to say, I even giggled like he was a stray when a couple of the boys threw dirt clods at him. Mutt would be there to meet me every afternoon when school let out which made me feel even more humiliated. Everybody caught on that he was my dog. " But at least Smudge went home, and Daddy would scold me every once in a while because he would have taken his bridle off to put him back in his pen. 'You ought to be happy to have a pony,' he'd say.
"There came the morning when we were all excited going on to school because the next day we would be off for Thanksgiving. I had slapped Smudge on the rump to send him home earlier, just like usual.The clouds that day were dense and gray, hugging the earth. It was cold but almost eerily still. The weather that fall had been mild, with only two or three freezes, and lots of sunshine. Of course, there was no radio, no weather reports.
"Everybody must have felt the cold because when we got to the one-room school, the teacher and the older boys already had a hot fire going in the stove. The boys carried the fuel up from the cellar where there was one bin for coal and another for wood.
"Finally one girl looked up at the window, and called out, 'Look, it's snowing.' Almost right away, there was a big sigh, as though the whole world breathed out, and the frame of the schoolhouse creaked as a wind began to come up.
"The teacher let us all take a break to get up to look out the windows at it. It was the first snow of the season, and it was heavy. You could scarcely see the privies across the school yard.
"The wind kept coming harder and harder, and the teacher let us all pull chairs up around the stove while she read stories to the little ones, and most of us older ones read books on our own. 'Don't worry,' she told us, 'it should let up. It's too early in the year for a big snow.'
"But she was wrong. There was a half-foot on the ground before two hours were up, it was coming down heavy, and blowing. There were big soft drifts forming up around the building. A farmer came by to get his children, and the teacher told us all that school was out early. 'You all need to go home now as quickly as possible, and be careful,' she told us.
"I delayed. I didn't really want to get out in that. I dreaded the walk home. I hugged the stove, and kept trying to read my book. I should have walked out with the first ones to go so we were all together. The teacher kept looking at me until she finally said, 'Edna, you have to go now. Don't just keep sitting there. Go home. I'm closing the school up.'
"I had a sort of sick feeling when I walked out that door. The wind nearly reeled me over, and the snow was stinging against my face like blowing sand crystals. I could hardly see three feet in front of me. I began to feel very afraid of the walk home.
" I remember shuffling down the porch steps wondering if I could even see the road in front of the school when a big heavy thing hit me right in the chest. It was Mutt jumping up on me he was so glad to see me. He hadn't waited until the usual time. He was three hours early. I took hold of the scruffy hair on his neck with my mittened hand, it was such a relief to find him there.
"We lumbered along together through drifts where I could see another big shadowy shape through the blowing snow. It was Smudge. How or why the two of them showed up back at school, I'll never know. My folks said they never came back home that day like usual, but Smudge didn't follow me either. It was pure serendipity as though the two of them had a conversation with God somewhere along the way, and been told to come back for me.
"That's what I'll always believe anyway. I've never been any happier to see anyone in my life than I was to see the two of them that day.
"I got on Smudge, and Mutt leaped in the snow ahead of us, coming back to check every few yards. I couldn't see our route any part of the way. I never saw the other kids on their way home. The snow covered everything so you couldn't tell the difference between road or grass or cornfield. Smudge just trudged along, Mutt leading, and I hung on. They took me straight home.
"I'll tell you all since it's Thanksgiving. This is going to be preachy, but you'll all listen to your Aunt Edna won't you?" she paused while the rest of them waited to listen.
"My prayer for you is that each one of you will remember to give thanks for your friends--no matter who or what they are, no matter what they look like--because they're a gift to you, and you're a gift to them. Never be ashamed."
  by Jerry W. Engler
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