Wyoming Cowgirl - On the Ranch

Kris Kringle
and a Country-Western Christmas

Christmas Story by Cris Paravicini

"Years ago you wrote me saying you wanted to be a cowgirl.."
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KRIS KRINGLE and A Country-Western Christmas
By Cris Paravicini
(Printed first in the SUBLETTE COUNTY JOURNAL)

It was nearly the night before Christmas when I got a call from one of my "bosses"-the editor/publisher of the Sublette County Journal. "Cris, will you do an interview for me right away for the Christmas issue?" he'd hurriedly asked.
   Oh, yes! I thought-before he could tell me the subject of this story. I'll bet the boss wants me to interview Santa Claus, I 'd hoped. I've never been that far North before and the trip would do me good, I'd further decided.
   "No, I won't let you write on Santa Claus. Too many stories are already written about him," he barked, reading my thoughts. "You know I like to capture the essence of things that are overlooked, so don't even argue the point with me. I want you to talk with a man named Kris Kringle, and if you don't want the job, I'll find someone else to cover it."
   Why, you ol' grinch! I thought. "I always wanted to interview Santa," I whined, "but I'll write the other one if you're twisting my arm." I figured down the road, I'd use my good-natured cooperation as leverage on some other story.
   The boss then fired off a list of his special directives and concluded, "Mr. Kringle e-mailed me this morning and said someone from his outfit will stop to get you at precisely five o'clock-actually, his exact words were 'spirit you away.' I understand the Kringle Place is hard to find, and they have to pick up supplies in Pinedale, anyway. Mr. Kringle said they know where you live-something about having been pen pals when you were young? Regardless, I suggest you walk down the lane and wait by your mailbox, just in case they miss your turn-off."
   With that said, and taking with him my promise to meet his deadline, he was gone.
Pen pals with a Mr. Kris Kringle? I sure couldn't place him. But, I was as curious as a bored kid and a frosty flagpole, so I lit a runnin' to find out.


Precisely at the stroke of five, someone did drive up the road, and stopped dead in front of me.
A voice said, "Whoa. Whoa there, I say."
   What in the heck is going on? I thought! I was more startled than a pup playing with a porcupine; I didn't know whether to run or cry. Someone bundled so completely against the frigid night air was picking me up in a one-reindeer sleigh. All I could see beneath the many layers of wraps, was the tip of a reddened nose and puffs of frozen breath.
   I was thinking-What has The Boss gotten me into now?-and at the same time-I was picking out a tree to climb. My mind had just about convinced my feet that it was quitting time when the driver spoke.
   "Howdy! I'm Kora Kringle!" Her velvet voice sang out in the night like the bells on her reindeer's harness; my fears were immediately hobbled.
   "Climb right in here, honey, and burrow down under this feather tick, 'cause we're about to whip up a breeze." She laughed heartily, then clucked to the reindeer as I, like a child with a lovey blanket, timidly pulled the thick, fluffy quilt around me. "Hup, there, Comet!"
   The darkness swallowed us quickly as we raced along like foxtails on the wind. So fast was the pace of this animal, I could've sworn we were flying! Then quicker than a colt can spook at a jackrabbit, we slid to a stop in front of a weathered, old barn.
   Kora stepped from the sleigh and walked to the reindeer's head. She scratched behind his ears, and patted his furry neck. He leaned gratefully toward her, shook his head up and down, and closed his eyes as though he knew he'd done his job well.
"Now, that's a good boy," she crooned.
   "Hey, hey, Kora! You made good time, woman!" Standing in the barn doorway was the man who must be-Mr. Kris Kringle. He stepped spryly toward me extending a callused and scabbed bear-paw sort-of-hand and with his other hand he politely lifted his battered, black Stetson hat.
There was definitely something familiar about this man, but I couldn't yet find the memory.
   "Howdy, young lady," he said. "I'm tickled as a Santa in a candy bowl to finally meet my old pen pal. Been a while, though, hasn't it?"
   What is this pen pal business, anyhow, I thought. But, I didn't want him to think I couldn't remember him, so I kept still as cream on a milk jug, hiding what was beneath the surface until a later time.
   Mr. Kringle scratched at his two-toned, midnight black and silver-gray beard, squinted his intense brown eyes-studying me-then spun around on his boot-overshoe heel and headed back toward the barn.
   "Let's head for cover. The wind's taken a stubborn notion to blow in a blue norther."
We hadn't walked but a couple steps when Mr. Kringle stopped and hiked at his wool, Pendleton pants, pulling them upward from where they sagged around his bowed legs.
   Then as if talking to himself, he leaned back against the side of the barn, in no real hurry to take shelter from the wind, shook his head, and said, "Yip. Used to chew. Gave that up. Used to roll my own cigarettes. Gave 'em up. Used to smoke a pipe, and Jiminy Christmas, I gave that up, too."
   He continued, disgustedly telling of his fate. "And that wife of mine put me on a diet a couple months ago. Danged woman said she figured it was high time, too, since my reindeer team couldn't pull me much faster than a trot during our Christmas Eve deliveries each year.
   Hmmm, I thought, as I almost placed where I'd heard of this man. But, again, my recall let me down. By now, though, I'd made up my mind, I had to find out what was so all-fired special about this guy that the Journal would send me to unknown acreage, and totally refuse My Santa Story. Mr. Kringle seemed to be quite a jolly cowboy character, but beyond that, I figured I'd have to hunt a little deeper to hit on anything that would make a story-maybe even make something up.
"So, Mr. Kringle, sir, what kind of business are you in?" I asked.
   "Well, that depends on what time of year you're lookin' at. We do things a little different-kinda opposite what most regular folks hanker for. We go South in the summer, down around Big Piney, Wyoming, to pasture a little bunch of reindeer, a few sheep, and a handful of cows. Then come wintertime, we trail the herd north. It's one heck of a long, hard trip, so next year me and Kora have decided to truck 'em home. We'll hire one of Sublette's livestock truckers to help us out-whomever wants to put some mileage on his truck.
   He further explained. "Anyway, this time of year the North Country is Hoot Owl Heaven, staying so blasted dark most of the day. So when we migrate back here for the winter, we work at our little gift shop and delivery service to keep from going stir crazy. Me, Kora, and the boys do craft work, sometimes 'round the clock; and we make and repair a few toys to distribute to kids here and there.
"The boys?" I asked. "Who are the boys?"
   "You know-the elves. Every big outfit's got 'em hired, I'm sure. You'll meet 'em in just a minute."
Elves? My gosh, you don't suppose? I thought, but again choked that stubborn, nagging voice inside me.
   Now, I have to tell you-even though the frosty night wind was drifting the knee-deep snow, Mr. Kris Kringle wore his Mackinaw coat fully unzipped so I was able to see he still had a ways to go on that diet he was complaining about. His ample belly pushed his red long johns through a slit in his Carhartt shirt where a button had popped off. I was embarrassed when he noticed my observation, but he chuckled heartily anyway.
   "Ha, kid! Didn't give up everything." Mr. Kringle pointed at the barn roof, leaned toward me, and whispered, "Don't tell Kora, but I got a few supplies stashed in the hay loft for emergencies!" He clucked his tongue, winked his twinkling eye, and laughed again.
   I was beginning to like this man. But, if he turned out to be just one of us regular folk-if I couldn't find that "essence of the overlooked" that Rob Shaul anxiously anticipated-I'd still consider my visit with this man the highlight of the season.
   The Christmas Cowboy motioned me into the barn where he threw a horse blanket across a hay bale. He smoothed and fussed with it like a hen in a nest of hay, then patted it, pleased with his effort.
   "Have a seat, young lady. Hope you don't mind shootin' the breeze out here for a while? Got a pot of fresh camp coffee in the corner there, if you'd care to help yourself? But, don't trip over that ol' Saint Bernard rug layin' in front of the stove."
   He twisted the ends of his silver-tipped, handlebar moustache. "Now, if you'll excuse me, we still got a few chores to do before we call it a day."
   I stepped as quiet as a cat in an oat bin, up and over the sleeping dog's massive back; but half-way over he jerked awake and sensing a newcomer, began to rumble to his feet, clumsily tipping me toward the hot cast iron stove. His bottom eyelids, his large lips, and his oversized brown and white coat, sagged and flopped like the back side of a comfortable pair of old jersey sweatpants.
I patted the top of his broad head and told him "Good puppy," as big dog breath drooled onto my coat.
   In a battered tin cup, I poured coffee, thick enough to stand a spoon in, and then noticed the barn had become quite alive with activity. A portable radio hung from a bale string tied to a wall nail, and between irritating bits of static, I could make out the tune-Jingle Bell Rock. Kris's hired elves seemed to jump from the woodwork and when the notion stuck them, they clomped across the wooden floor, dancing and snapping their fingers to the jaunty beat of the radio. Step. Clomp. One, two, three, four; they two-stepped along.
   They wore heavy Sorel packs upon their tiny feet, and unlike Kris, had down coats zipped as high as they'd go-beneath either smooth or whiskered chins. As they scurried by me, bright-eyed and excited, they tipped their Scotch caps in my direction. I tried not to stare, but, my gosh, their ears were as pointed as the top of a Christmas tree. I couldn't believe it! By now, I felt I was ready for anything.
   These miniature men were dressed in everything from tidy Spandex bibs to bulky wool garments. And like kids on Christmas Eve, the elves that were dressed in wool fidgeted and fussed and stirred impatiently at the scratchy, irritating material.
   "Howdy, ma'am, glad to meetcha! Welcome to the Cross Star Ranch," they each said as they reached up to shake my hand, snuffing leaky, cold noses. I managed to catch some of their names. Galith. Sar. Windohl. Stefen. Handsome names, I thought, though some might expect to hear cowboy names in a story like this.
   A few more elves had just come into the barn and as they too, lifted their caps to greet me, I worried at how bright-red and frost-bitten the sharp tips of their ears were. They didn't seem to mind, though, and bustled about their chores-throwing bright, green hay into a large box stall where a few head of early-lambing Columbia sheep, were bedded down for the night.
Between firing orders to this one and that, Kris packed two five-gallon buckets filled with water from the stock tank for the heavy ewes, then climbed into the hayloft to do something I couldn't see.
   Galith and Sar grabbed a couple of halters from the wall, and slipped out the rear door of the barn. As they opened then closed the wooden door, I briefly saw a dim light coming from somewhere behind the barn.
   Kora had finished brushing Comet and turned him into a corral with his teammates just outside the barn door. "There you go, Comet, boy." I thought I heard her say, "Bet ol' Cupid missed you more than he'll ever tell you."
   By now, Kora had skinned out of her wraps, and was stripping the last drop of cream from a Holstein cow that stood peacefully chewing her cud. I noticed, Kora too, was tapping her foot to the radio's beat.
   To my amazement, when she stood up from the milk stool-without all that bulky clothing-Kora Kringle really was quite petite. She couldn't have been much more than five foot one or two, and I guessed she wore about a size six. She was muscularly toned, but yet feminine and graceful as she moved around the barn. A sandy-colored braid hung like a rope with a tasseled end, down to her narrow waist, and swung back and forth like a pendulum-a natural part of her ever-fluid motion. Her hands were rough and scarred and weathered, but seemed to deliver a soft, gentleness to everything and everyone she touched. She patted encouragement upon the thin, little backs of the younger elves, and mischievously swatted high-fives to the elder ones. Even when her face was silent-proudly observing the perfect melding of elfin energy-her green eyes laughed loudly.
"Whew!" she exclaimed, swiping the back of her hand over her brow. "I don't know what it is about milkin' a cow, or tryin' to keep up with these youngsters, but it sure warms me up and makes my heart pound."
   "Now, Kora, kid. You don't suppose you're a little out of shape, do you?" Kris winked at me then continued his bantering as he stepped from the loft ladder. "Guess we're gonna have to tie you to the back of the sleigh and lead you on some of the deliveries."
   When he walked by me to hang up his hay hooks, I was sure I caught a whiff of chocolate.
"You hush now, you dear, ol' fossilized horse dropping, or I won't drive for you anymore. I'll stay home and knit and make cookies and write to that college boy of ours."
   The pair grinned at each other, stopping only to catch their breaths before spurring at each other again.
   At that moment, I caught sight of movement in the tack room at the far end of the barn, so I moved off my hay-bale seat and edged toward the open door. A handsome elf with dark hair and a proud stature, who I'd not yet seen, was shuffling through a saddlebag filled with letters.
   "Work, work, always work," he mumbled, then sighed as he pulled at his red silk neck scarf. He tenderly lifted out a handful of mail, then nimbly swung onto an empty saddle that was hanging on a wall peg. A lantern spilled light over his shoulder and onto the stationery he held in his hand. As he leaned forward, propped his elbow across the saddle horn, and began to search the page, I saw within his haunting blue eyes and melancholy face-the wisdom of the ages. I strained my eyes to make out the large print that reflected through the paper: "! U-O-Y E-V-O-L I ,A-T-N-A-S R-A-E-D" it read backwards.
   He then unconsciously began mumbling aloud the poignant message: Thank you so much, Santa, for being alive. It keeps me warm just knowing you're out there, somewhere, and always worrying about us kids. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and tell you not to work too hard this year. But my brother and I will watch for you, anyway, just in case you take Mrs. Santa for a drive near our orphanage. I love you. Goodnight, Santa. Signed-Dara
   "Excuse me, sir," I said to him. "I don't mean to interrupt you, but, I'm-" I really needed to ask him where he'd staked claim to all of Santa Claus' mail, but he hissed back at me quicker than a snake in a rat hole.
   "Well, then don't interrupt, if you don't mind. I'm very busy, don't you see?" The elf spat, "I've got lots of work to do before Christmas Eve!" His eyes snapped both fire and ice at me, unaware a teardrop glistened upon his cheek.
   "Don't mind Gilippe," Kris spoke from behind me. "He gets as cranky as a skunk by the tail; but if you'd been around him as long as I have, you'd see he's really softer than a polar bear rug."
I followed Kris back to the middle of the barn and he quietly added, "Gilippe was a sad, little orphan when Kora and I adopted him a long time ago. Now, he wears himself out each year reading all my mail twice, just to make sure we haven't overlooked any homeless kids. He'll snap out of it directly if we just leave him be."
   Then he raised his voice so Kaleb could hear the rest of his story. "Yep, always says he's overworked and under-appreciated. But, I gotta tell you, he's just gotten used to whinin'; he doesn't fool me one bit. He loves his job. . .and he's darned good at it!"
   I glanced over my shoulder and thought I saw a smile cross Gilippe's face as he swiped his shirt- sleeve across his cheek.
   Dang, I surely wanted to ask Kris about the Santa letters, but still, I didn't dare for fear he might think I'd rather be interviewing that other man.
   Above the squawk and song of the radio I could hear a great clatter and commotion coming from the outside the barn. Suddenly Windohl tore open the door and shouted, excitedly. "Come quick as you can, San--, I mean, Kris. Cimmaron's getting' the best of Mrs. K!"
"Good grief! Stubborn woman!" Kris jumped up and rushed into the night. "I don't know why she won't she wait for me to help her drive that fawn? But no, she's gotta do it herself!"
   An array of lanterns hung on the fence poles, lighting the snowy grounds like a billion stars. And there, in all this brilliance, was Kora. Her arms were stretched outward and her heels were set in the fluffy snow as she cut a twin furrow across the corral. Even when the fawn finally jerked her down, she refused to let go of the lines, dragging wildly behind the young reindeer.
When Kris was satisfied that she was not in immediate risk of injury as she slipped and skidded behind the spooked fawn, he yelled, and the St. Bernard barked encouragement to her.
   "Don't let him get you down, woman, and don't let go of them ribbons. Oh, yeah, Kora," he mocked, "he's gonna make of dandy little sleigh deer, don't you think?" Kris laughed till his round belly shook beneath his long johns.
It was certainly a funny sight, but I felt sorry for Kora.
   It wasn't long before the lines slipped from her hands like spaghetti through a child's lips. Three elves rushed out to drag her to her feet, then timidly brushed at the mass of snow that clung to her clothing.
"Dang, Mrs. K," the elves chattered excitedly in unison. "He's a handful!"
   "You okay?" They worried. "You sure tried, but don't you think Kris oughta help now?"
Kora disgustedly swatted her snowy cap across her leg, then swung it wildly toward Kris's back side.
   "Dang it, Kris," Kora said, both agitated and embarrassed. "Are you going to stand there and make fun of me all night, or are you gonna help?"
   She climbed the fence and limping slightly walked to a 50-gallon barrel that held a brightly burning fire. She briskly rubbed her frozen hands in its heat. The updraft boosted sparks into the night sky illuminating her somber face.
   I could barely see the sulking reindeer standing as far away from elves as the enclosure allowed. But I could make out that the small, quivering beast was outfitted in a sparse but proper harness, the driving lines wrapped in disarray around his legs and hooves.
   Kris raked his stubby fingers through his salt and pepper beard and still grinning, said, "Catch him again, boys, and tie him up for a while, then tomorrow we'll snap him together with Donder or Blitzen. They're excellent teachers for these difficult young fawns. Calm and quiet. Nothing stirs 'em up or spooks 'em. And they're big enough Cimmaron here, won't drag them too far."
Kris turned to Kora and tried to smooth her ruffled feathers. "If you ain't been drug around, you ain't been breakin' reindeer, right Kora?"
She just shook her head and put her gloves back on.
   Kris then turned to me. "You know, I have high hopes for this fawn, uh, hmm. If we get him broke out well enough, we'll lead him along behind the sleigh when we're making our gift deliveries. If one of the older reindeer even breaks a sweat, I'll hook up this frisky, young buck. . .so, Kora, don't let me forget to get a health and brand inspection on him. Can't have any danged border-crossing guards delaying us."
   He must be joking, I imagined, and is referring to his neighbors or their watchdogs. Border guards, indeed!
   Kris then let out a yodel that echoed throughout the barnyard. "Supper! Let's eat!" He turned to me and added, "I'm hungry enough to eat the south side of a north bound timber wolf." I supposed I was, too.
   Inside the Kringle's log castle, I discovered an altogether different world from the bang and buck of the barnyard-an almost serene calm embraced the spacious, but humbly furnished dwelling.
Galith fed pine logs to the dying embers in the stone fireplace while Sar and Stefen shuffled plates around a very long, narrow dining table. Still other elves hung ornaments on a half-decorated Christmas tree. Kora took to the kitchen like a rocket scientist in a sixth grade math class-easily moving from one challenge to the next.
   Everyone was busy-everyone except Kris. It would be unfair, though, to say he wasn't doing something. He just pursued quieter work. He plopped into a made-to-fit recliner, picked up a pair of black boots, and began to restore a military shine to their scuffed surface. Draped over the arm of his chair was a recent issue of the Sublette County Journal. On an end table next to his chair, I noticed a thick book bearing the title-WAR AND PEACE. A length of leather string hung from a page two-thirds of the way from the front cover. An official-looking document poked out from beneath the book, and while I'm not well-versed in flight terminology, and though I couldn't see all the details, I was sure this paperwork was used for filing FAA flight plans-destinations, times of arrival and departure, and type of aircraft. So, I thought, Kris is a pilot after all. My story line, indeed, was coming together now. From time to time, as Kris put the finishing sparkle to his boots, he peered at me over the top of his reading spectacles and grinned a sly grin. What a nice man, I decided. I will miss him when I'm gone.
   "Why don't you wander around and take a look at the old homestead," he suggested. "Supper will be ready in the wink of an eye." I roamed from wall to wall looking at the many photos and paintings-pictures taken during their summers in Big Piney; a huge family portrait with ALL the elves seated at the feet of Kris and Kora; a painting of Bethlehem, the Star, and the Stable; and, a painting of Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting in an eight-reindeer-drawn sleigh, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Kringles.
"Come and get it," Kora sang out.
   Everyone bowed their heads briefly, each thankful in his own way, then passed heaping platters filled with cheeseburgers, French-fries, and...a bowl of fruit and cottage cheese. Kris pretended not to care as he let the burgers and fries slide right under his nose, modestly spooning only the fruit and cottage cheese onto his little plate. He had a will of steel, I decided as I finished my plate-load, and said "Yes!" to the cherry pie and whipped cow cream.
   "Kora, darlin', I do believe you've outdone yourself this time. This has got to be the best salad I think I've ever eaten." He patted his belly, and pushed back from the table. "But, I'm going to go pull the harness off Cimmaron and turn him loose; and, I think I left the light on in the hay loft."
Kris wasn't gone long, but when he returned and took off his coat, a Snickers candy wrapper fell from his pocket. Lucky for him, he saw it float to the floor and recovered it, he thought, before his secret was revealed. I nearly laughed aloud, but stifled it with a cough.
   "C'mon, gang! I'll wash and you dry the dishes, then let's get this young lady's questions answered so we can watch the National Finals Rodeo at 9:30 on ESPN. We've been rootin' for Kelly Wardell during each performance." I told him I had been, too.
   I knew, though, if I was running competition with a rodeo or even a football game, I'd be the long shot in a bet, so while they tidied the kitchen, I scanned over the list of questions my boss had suggested and picked out a few of the best ones.
"How long have you been married?" I started with my classic first question.
   Kora jabbed her elbow into Kris' ribs, threw her head back, laughing, then winked at him before she said, "Seems like centuries, huh, ol' feller?"
"When were you were born?" I asked as carefully as I could.
"Let's just say I'm lookin' over my shoulder at my many, many tracks."
   "It's apparent you raise some mighty fine reindeer. How fast do you figure your top reindeer can travel?" I kicked this question toward Mr. Kris Kringle, thinking he might enjoy talking about his livestock for a change of pace.
   This question really opened him up. He excitedly answered, "Oh boy, can they ever fly! Just ask Kora. It's all in how she breaks 'em out. And it's kinda in the way we speak to 'em when we start 'em off center. Could be, too, in the relaxed way of holdin' the lines. We give 'em lots of slack. Heck, anything on Earth will surely fly if you throw 'em enough rein."
  Kris kept glancing at his pocket-watch. Must be nearing Finals time, I thought, so I asked my last question.
"How did you get to be this way, I mean, into this line of work?
"Child, I was born into it..."
   Kris and Kora Kringle invited me to watch the NFR with them. It was tempting, but I knew I had to get home and begin writing this story to meet the deadline. However, while Kora caught a fresh reindeer for our trip, I watched Kelly score an 84 on his bareback bronc.
   Still, as I said my thanks and good-byes, I knew something was amiss with this interview, and I feared I had failed to capture the "essence of the unusual."
   I stepped into the sleigh beside Kora and settled beneath the warmth of the feather tick, because even the moon had hidden part of its face in darkness as protection from the Blue Northern.
Kris Kringle then heartily shook my hand one last time and with a grin, said, "I have just one question for you, young lady, before you fly away home. Years ago you wrote me saying you wanted to be a cowgirl. How did that Annie Oakley cowgal suit work for you?"
I was stunned! Only Santa Claus could've known about that, but he allowed me no time to answer-forasmuch as a wink and a whistle, the wind carried me home.

The Pearson Angus Ranch is located approximately 2 miles northwest of Daniel, and 11 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming. Cris can be reached by e-mail at: cowgirl@wyoming.com.

Copyrights: Photos and page text content copyrighted, Cris Paravicini, 2000. No part may be reproduced without permission of the author/photographer. Page graphics copyrighted, Pinedale Online, 2000.

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