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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year

Gifts That Can’t Be Wrapped

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(12/2013) On Christmas morning I am no longer a college kid who sleeps until noon but an excited child whose eyes won’t stay shut. The moment I wake, I immediately hop up and look outside my bedroom window, hoping to see a blanket of white covering the ground. Instead I see the neighbor’s three children running outside and cheering with excitement as they discover the new trampoline in their backyard. They race down their porch stairs and run through the yard before jumping up and down in their matching flannel pajamas.

I wait under my covers until it is late enough that I can wake up the rest of the house without my family’s disapproval. While waiting anxiously, I hear my bedroom door crack open, and I turn to see who it could be. My cat enters my room and walks over to me with her tail straight up in the air. I can’t help but recall the familiarity in this scene. The first time we met was years ago on Christmas morning. She snuck into my bedroom the same way she always does and woke me up by brushing her whiskers against my cheek. I was startled and completely perplexed about how and why there was a kitten on my bed. What a surprise that was! When I noticed the bow tied around her neck I began to think that she was a gift, but I never imagined that she was for me. Every year since, she has walked into my bedroom on Christmas morning. As if it were tradition, she lies down in front of me, and we watch the clock across the room slowly count down.

The time finally comes, and I roll out of bed and quickly put on my slippers. I open my door and rush over to my sisters’ rooms. From experience I know I should always start with Jenna first. I push open the bedroom door and whisper her name, gradually getting louder until she finally stirs. I sit down beside her, and we devise a plan to wake up our other sister, Kelsey. Waking her is not a task that can be accomplished alone and failure is always imminent. Jenna and I are aware of the importance of teamwork and know that the plan must be executed precisely. The two of us stand outside Kelsey’s door and finalize our attack before pouncing. Jenna pushes open the door, and I get a running start. I jump onto Kelsey’s bed and bounce up and down as if her bed was my new trampoline. Jenna and I then start loudly singing Christmas carols. When Kelsey takes the pillow from under her head and uses it to cover her ears, I know we are making progress. Our song gets louder and louder until Kelsey sits up and tries to silence our singing voices by insisting she is awake. Pleased with our success, Jenna and I smile knowingly at each other. The three of us leave Kelsey’s room to find our other family members, venturing past the tree as we do. I have to cover my eyes so that I don’t peek at the Christmas tree in all its beauty until we’re all together. After a few more planned wakeup attacks and a brief pause to don Christmas sweaters, we’re finally ready to celebrate.

When the wrapping paper lies crumbled on the floor with bows and tinsel, the Christmas cookies have all disappeared, and the fridge is filled with leftovers for the week, my mom and I know it is time. Pulling on our boots over our layers, buttoning our jackets, and finding our gloves, we walk out into dusk. With a bag of carrots and cut apples in hand, we hop into the car and drive that old familiar route. When we reach the red gate, I throw off my seat belt and get out of the car. Unclipping the chain, I open the gate to let my mom and her car through so they can continue on the dirt road. I wait as they drive past, then I take off. I sprint past the gate, through a field and into the darkness, the sound of my heavy boots rushing through the grass signals my approach. Before I even reach her pen I know she will be there, that 15 hand, chestnut mare waiting and welcoming me. My beautiful present Indy.

I slide through the crack in the fence and we greet each other, our breath visible in the brisk December air. With disappointment, her tongue would lick my empty palm before she eagerly insists in showing me the way to her stall, grunting with anticipation. I let her inside, and she paces back and forth with excitement. In the barn I look for a note on that green dry-erase board, and I smile as I write, "I hope you had a great Christmas too, Mrs. Pam!" in response to the barn owner. My mother and I break the thin layer of ice across the top of the water tub and carry buckets to refill it. I walk over to the bin that holds reused plastic coffee cans, each already measured with feed. I grab one and enter back into Indy’s stall. She matches my steps as we walk to her feed bucket. The moment I open the can, a mixture of scents fills my nose. I breathe in the combination of honey, oats, and molasses as Indy quickly devours her food. She licks the bucket thoroughly to make sure she hasn’t missed anything before walking to the flakes of hay my mother and I had set out for her. Indy happily finishes her dinner while my mom and I brush the dirt from her hair and clean out her hooves. We pat her neck and comb her mane as we talk about the day and about how Christmas came and went too fast. As Indy nudges my pockets, insisting I give her more peppermint treats, my mom and I discuss the gifts we gave and the gifts we received. Somehow we seem to forget to mention the gift we are experiencing right then.

Since I was first able to write to Santa, all I ever asked for was a horse. Indy wasn’t ever mine to keep. She was simply mine to borrow, but the lessons she taught me and the memories we shared made our time together one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Not only did she help me grow and ease the troubles of my adolescent years, she instructed me on how to communicate without using words and strengthened my relationship with my mother. I will forever cherish the times the three of us spent in each other’s presence. This year, don’t expect to find the greatest gifts in perfectly wrapped boxes, but rather with those you love doing what you enjoy. This Christmas, may you create moments that will last forever.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen