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Across the Fence: A Cowboy kind of Christmas
December 23, 2013 M. Timothy Nolting   

Read more by M. Timothy Nolting
This Christmas I would like to share a few Christmas poems that I have written over the years. I hope that they might bring a smile to your face and perhaps light a spark of that good old Christmas Spirit in your heart.

Many Years ago we had a Christmas tree that was a misshapen cedar that Dad had cut out of a fencerow along the county road. It definitely was not a perfect tree by any stretch of the imagination. Most times our Christmas tree came out of the pasture and Dad would pick out whichever one might look best that year.
Store-bought trees were far beyond our means and northeast Kansas has few if any nicely shaped pine trees. We did have electric lights for the tree and Mom would buy a package of tinfoil icicles to drape over the branches and Angel Hair to encircle each light. Most other decorations were homemade, popcorn and cranberry garland, construction paper ornaments and an angel for the top. But regardless of the tree, how beautiful or homely it might be we were always taught what was the most important part of Christmas, the gift of the Christ child.

Bill’s Tree

It was just an’ old cowboy an’ me all alone

in an old run down line-shack that we both called home.

An’ here it was Christmas, or close there-a-bouts,

‘least the old man thought so, but I had my doubts.

But I reckon ‘twas close enuff to say so,

least-wise it was cold, an’ was plenty of snow.

Well, old Bill come up with a right good idee,

he said we should have us a Christmas tree.

The tree that we got was a scrubby old pine

that we found ‘hind the shack out there on the line.

One spot was plum necked, no branches a’tall,

an’ it leaned to one side, like as if it would fall.

So we propped it with rocks, the best that we could,

an’ when we was finished it looked purdy good.

We’d tore out some snowflakes from an old Stockman’s News,

an’ for garland we had bits of rope we could use.

We’d hung a few pinecones on some of the limbs,

along with the tops of some bean an’ peach tins.

An’ then for a star, on the top, that would shine

the rowel of an old Spanish spur worked just fine.

I ain’t seen one like it, an’ prob’ly never will,

but it sure seemed to bring on a change in old Bill.

Fer old Bill was a codger, an’ gen’ly a grump,

an‘ just ‘bout as lively as an old hick’ry stump.

But he up an’ declared that it was Christmas Eve,

took out his mouth harp, wiped it off on his sleeve.

An’ he played Christmas songs ‘til he run out of wind,

stopped for a bit, then he played ‘em again.

The first tune he played was that one, Silent Night,

though it took him a spell to get the notes right.

But when he got goin’ he played quite a few,

an’ I sung right along to the ones that I knew.

Then he took down his Bible from off of the shelf,

said he weren’t sure ‘bout me, but believed it hisself

an’ he read me a story ‘bout the first Christmas day,

an‘ after he’d read it, I seen old Bill pray.

If the boss had seen us, wonder what he’d of said.

He’d prob’ly figured we’d gone soft in the head.

‘Cause we ended up dancin’ around that old tree,

like a couple of kids, just old Bill an’ me.

Though it weren’t much to look at, kind-a simple an’ plain,

it’s the tree I remember, time an’ again.

An’ I’ve come to consider it ain’t just the tree,

it’s the story Bill read, is what Christmas should be.

I can remember some pretty meager Christmases when there were very few gifts under the tree. I can’t say that I was not disappointed but I like to believe that I came to understand that it’s not size or cost or quantity of gifts received but that it really is about the sincerity behind the simplest of gifts that expresses the true spirit of Christmas. And when the Christmas spirit takes ahold of a heart even a grumpy old cook can be a Santa.

Christmas in the Bunkhouse

The mornin’ star is shinin’ bright

as Cooky mixes dough,

while frosted panes of icy lace

reflect the lanterns glow.

Pine planks squeak as stocking’d feet

‘high-step’ across the floor.

Buck stokes the stove with cedar logs

an’ makes the fire roar.

Strong coffee’s boilin’ in the pot,

a steamin’ wake-up call.

They quit their bunks, grab coats an’ hats

off pegs along the wall.

It’s Christmas in the bunkhouse

but the day begins the same

as any other day begins

regardless of its name.

But there’s a scrawny little cedar

at the foot of Sandy’s bunk

an’ it’s got some decorations

that ol’ Cooky claims is junk.

An’ there’s chores that needs a-doin’,

horses, cattle, all need fed.

Charlie’s turn to milk ol’ Bossy

but he’s hopin’ that she’s dead.

It’s cold an’ clear an’ gettin’ light

when chores are finally done

an’ the smell of eggs an’ bacon

bring the boys on the run.

It’s just a day like any other

only somethin’s different now.

That scrawny little cedar’s

got a gift tied on each bough.

There’s cowhide gloves for Charlie,

Buck has got a braided quirt.

There’s a bosal tagged for Sandy

an’ a cartridge belt for Curt.

“I told Santy not ta leave ‘em.”

Cooky growled with mock disgust.

“Ain’t a single one among ya

that a decent man could trust!”

Then he wished ‘em “Merry Christmas!”

an’ with a twinkle in his eye

said, “You ladies don’t deserve it

but I’ve baked a Christmas pie.”

Yep, it’s Christmas in the bunkhouse

an’ what Cooky tried to say

was, “I hope your Merry Christmas

ain’t no ordinary day!”

The Christmas story is probably one of the best known and most often told stories around the world. I like to think that this poem relates that beautiful story with the same message but with a slightly different twist.

The Cowboy’s Christmas Story

An’ lo a pair of cowboys ridin’ line by full-moon’s light

Were keepin’ watch on cattle that had bed down for the night.

An’ after they had made their rounds they headed back to camp

As snow crunched to the rhythm of their horses steady tramp.

When to their wide-eyed wonder came a vision from the sky

Of an angel dressed in glory and they feared that they might die.

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, you whiskered ol’ galoots,

I’ve got some news that’s better than a pair of custom boots.

The news I bring is for the world, but you’re the first to know

Of a miracle that’s happened in the valley down below.

Just ride on down to Bethlehem, you’ll be there by first light,

An’ you’ll see the baby Jesus who was born there just tonight.

You’ll find Him in the livery on the south side of the town,

Warm an’ cozy in a feed bunk where His mama laid Him down.”

Then the sky was filled with angels, singin’ songs an’ praisin’ God

An’ the cowboys joined the chorus as they knelt upon the sod.

Then the angels up an’ left them, as they stood there plum amazed.

They had just seen heavens angels and was feelin’ sort-a dazed.

But they savvied what the angel said, about God’s newborn Son,

So they swung astride their ponies an’ they spurred ‘em to a run.

An’ all the way to Bethlehem, just like the angels asked,

They spread the news of Jesus birth to everyone they passed.

They told the little shepherd boy who stood his watchful guard.

They told the farmers in the fields, their wives out in the yard.

But when they reached the city, their poor ponies heads hung low.

Them horses was plum tuckered out an’ needed time to blow.

So the cowpokes found a water tank to quench their ponies’ thirst,

An’ so it was the shepherd boy, got to the stable first.

As it passed down through the ages, the story got confused,

The shepherds got the credit and the cowboys’ claims refused.

So it’s told that it was shepherds, who first heard the angels’ song,

That’s why cattlemen and sheep men just can’t seem to get along.

But at that first-time Christmas they all stood there side by side,

As they marveled at the baby who had come to save their hide.

An’ the Christmas angels’ message promised peace for ALL the earth,

So I reckon it don’t matter who it was that got there first.

A blessed Christmas to you and yours!

All poems are protected by copyright 2013 by M. Tim Nolting
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