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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Runaway Reindeer

There was once a town in Michigan where it was Christmas all year ‘round. Families came there from far and wide with thoughts of snow and silent nights even in the summertime. Christmas Town was magic. Old shoppers felt young; young parents felt wise; and small children felt safe and brave (as we shall see).
In Christmas Town things turned especially special in December, when Santa himself arranged to have all eight of his reindeer there for children to see. In a special barn behind a large ornament factory, each reindeer had his very own stall with his name etched into a barn-wood board on the gate: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Donner, Cupid, Comet, and Blitzen.  Like many other guests to the barn, you may be wondering, “Where was Rudolph?”
Well, Rudolph was no ordinary reindeer. He never came to Christmas Town but stayed behind at the North Pole resting up for Christmas Eve. Being the lead reindeer was not only an honor, it was the most tiring position of all. The reindeer pulling in the front always had a harder task than those closest to the sled. Santa rotated the other pairs of reindeer at stops along the way around the world.
Dasher and Dancer began in the front harness but typically moved to the back of the team in Denmark; Prancer and Vixen had “front duty” from Prague to Venice (depending on the headwind); Donner and Cupid rotated to the front for the flight from Djibouti to China; and Comet and Cupid preferred to lead from Tasmania to Hawaii. Few people know this, but if time allows, all of the reindeer and Santa himself take a half-hour break in Hawaii where they eat pineapples for extra energy. From there, the rotation begins all over again through the night until the last gift is delivered and Santa’s sleigh is empty.
But poor Rudolph never gets to rotate. He is always in the very front where his shiny red nose is most needed. (Otherwise, he would only light up the other reindeer’s rear ends, and what good is that?) 
It takes extra stamina to lead the other eight, and because of that, Rudolph gets an extra pineapple in Hawaii from Santa himself. More important to our story, this is the reason why Rudolph gets to rest all through December when the other eight reindeer make an appearance at Christmas Town.
Millions of people have seen the reindeer there through the years, but the reindeer do not remember them all by name… that is… except for two. Two children, a girl and boy, they will never forget. Their names were Nora and Charlie. They were brother and sister, and at first, they were just two faces in a long line of parents and children waiting to see the reindeer in the barn behind the ornament factory.
“Are we almost there?” Charlie moaned. He was wearing his blue rubber boots, and sometimes after a long day his feet felt so heavy he could only shuffle them along the ground without picking them up.
“We’re almost there,” said Nora, patting him on the shoulder. “I can see Dasher’s antlers between the grown-up’s hats.
There were some grown-ups in the line with the children, but Nora and Charlie’s parents were off buying special presents in a gigantic toy warehouse next door, and because Santa’s elves kept a close watch, the children felt safe and brave in Christmas Town. Any place else, it would be  odd to see a five-year-old girl standing with her three-year-old brother alone in a long line of strangers, but here the two of them thought only of the reindeer which could now be seen through the opening and closing gaps in the people ahead.
The barn was cold and smelled of moist hay and the steaming breath that shot from the nostrils of the reindeer who greeted each passing guest with a nod of their antlers and a jingle of the bell on their heavy leather collar.  This collar was not always worn, but whenever guests were allowed in the barn, the elves in charge of the reindeer needed a way to keep the reindeer from floating away with excitement.
You see, reindeer do not fly like birds because they have no wings. They leap with the excitement that comes only with Christmas, and then they float higher and higher with each leap. Once in the air the mere motion of their leaping legs sends them galloping through the air. Here is a secret very few people know: reindeer can only fly great distances when they are harnessed together with the heavy load of Santa’s sleigh behind them.
Without the sleigh, they can only fly a yard or so at a time—not a “yard stick yard” but a yard like from one side of your front yard to the other. It’s a very impressive leap, but nothing like flying around the world.  Even so, the elves knew Santa would not want his reindeer leaping over the heads of the barn guests. That could get messy and dangerous. Such a thing had never happened, but that is why each reindeer’s collar was tied to the lowest rail of his stall.
There was a sign near the stalls that explained all of this, and Nora took the time to sound out the words, explaining each sentence to Charlie as she read.
“Wow! I didn’t know that, Nora,” he said, eyes wide.
“That’s why they have to wear collars here in Christmas Town,” she repeated with a nod, but Charlie didn’t hear her. He was lost in a smile and a far-away look as visions of reindeer boinking back and forth danced in his head..
“Coooool…” he sighed, but Nora thought he was simply commenting on her brief oral report.
The line kept moving on: Frist Dasher, then Dancer, now Prancer, and Vixen; on Donner, on Cupid, on Comet, and Blitz… but wait. Before they got to Blitzen, something happened. Just what no one knows for sure. Some people say that the large boy ahead of them—Nora thought he looked like a fifth-grader—had somehow unhooked Blitzen’s collar. Other’s said that Blitzen’s elf was distracted by his girlfriend elf (who was in charge of Comet), and he never got the buckle pin in the hole of the leather. So with each nod of his antlers to the passing guests, Blitzen’s collar got looser and looser until, just before Nora and Charlie stepped up to his stall, it fell to the ground.  
The jingle of the jingle bell at Blitzen’s feet startled him, and he jumped backward hitting the rail behind him. This frightened him even more, and he leapt forward over his manger and above Nora and Charlie’s heads.
“Coooool…” laughed Charlie.
Not cool” said Nora, ducking her head. “The sign said he’s not supposed to do that, and now he’s flying right out the barn door.” 

The rest of the people in the barn saw none of this. Nora grabbed Charlie’s hand and pulled him to the open barn door.  By then, Blitzen was out in the middle of a large meadow in front of a line of bare winter trees.  The elf in charge of Blitzen came running up beside them.
“Oh, dear! What shall we do?” He shrieked in a squeaky elf voice. “I’m too small to catch him alone, and Santa is at the front of the Toy warehouse double-checking his Christmas lists. He’s checked it once but now he’s checking it twice. You keep an eye on Blitzen while I run to get him.”
“We will, but please hurry,” said Nora nervously. She was so nervous that her voice squeaked a little bit. The elf stopped in his tracks and turned back at her.
“Are you makin’ fun of my voice?” He asked.
“No. I’m just nervous,” she said with a frightened grin. “Please hurry.”
Just then, Charlie saw a bushel of carrots by the barn door. These carrots were kept as treats for the reindeer after the guests left the barn. Nora had read about it on the sign.
Charlie grabbed a carrot and said, “Follow me, Nora.”
“We shouldn’t …” Nora began, but before she could finish the thought with “…… shouldn’t go out there,” she suddenly felt safe and brave as only children in Christmas Town can feel, and she followed closely behind Charlie who walked closer and closer to Blitzen.
Steam came from the reindeer’s nostrils, and Charlie could feel the warm air against his face. It smelled surprisingly sweet like hot cocoa.
“I have a carrot for you Mr. Reindeer,” Charlie whispered.
Nora whispered in his ear, “Try calling him Blitzen.”  She stood closely behind Charlie, and helped steady his hand.
“Hi, Blitzen. My name is Charlie and this is my sister Nora. We came all the way to Christmas Town just to see you and the other reindeer. If you follow me to the barn, I’ll give you a bite of this carrot.”
Blitzen nodded his antlers and snorted more steam as he stepped forward to take a bite of the carrot.
“That a boy,” said Charlie with a big smile. And he and Nora began walking the huge reindeer back to the barn with each bite. By the time the thee of them stepped back into the barn door, Blitzen nibbled the last nub of carrot from Charlie’s open palm.
“Well, Ho Ho Ho…” whispered a deep voice behind them. It was Santa speaking far more softly behind the astonishment of his wondering eyes. “That’s right, Blitzen. Follow Charlie and Nora. I’ll get the gate.”
Nora and Charlie looked at each other and whispered together, “How did he know our names?”
“How did I know your names? Ho Ho Ho,” Santa laughed, in spite of himself. “I was just double-checking the list before I came. I saw your names right there.”
“Which list?” Charlie asked, “Naughty or nice?”
He gave them a wink of his eye and a nod of his head, and they knew in a moment they had nothing to dread.
Santa closed the gate behind Blitzen and fastened the collar around his thick neck just as Nora and Charlie’s parents made their way through the crowd.  Charlie’s mother picked him up in her arms.
“I hear you’ve become a reindeer wrangler!” she said.
“He was so brave, but I helped, too!” said Nora, and her father picked her up with a twirl.
“You were both very brave,” he said.
“Very brave, indeed,” Santa agreed.
A lady from the crowd stepped forward holding out her I-phone. “I took a picture of it. If you like, I’ll send it to you. It’s a keeper!”
“Thank you. We’d like that,” they said. “We’ll share it with their grandparents.”
Everyone in the crowd began asking her to send it to them, too. (Soon the picture went viral all over the internet. To this day, it remains a very popular picture at Christmas time.)
Santa raised his hand for silence. “I don’t know what we would have done if you had not stopped Blitzen,” he said with a grateful smile. “And now if you don’t mind, these reindeer and I have a big trip of head of us. It’s time for us to close up the barn and head up to the North Pole. Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve. We’ll be busy all night.”
He walked the crowd to the front doors of the barn and turned to Nora and Charlie with a twinkle in his eye, “Thanks for keeping my team together. It takes all of us to get the job done. Oh…and thanks in advance for the cookies and milk. Yours are always just a little tastier than the others.”
“It’s my Mom’s recipe, but I helped frost them.” Nora said proudly.
“Me, too,” Charlie added. 
The elves slowly closed the doors, but Nora and Charlie heard Santa say as he slipped out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
Two days later, on Christmas morn, after all of the giftwrap was scattered and torn, Charlie and Nora checked their stockings with care and laughed when they each found a carrot in there.
© Tom Kapanka, December 31, 2015 

[Note: A day or two before New Year's Eve 2015, my daughter Emily gave us the picture above. There is another story behind the picture, and I can say that Nora and Charlie were actually standing in a meadow in Michigan with a carrot when it was taken. Other than that, let's just say there was some "magic" involved. The picture made me smile each time I looked at it because it begs for a story of explanation. So on New Year's Eve morning I jotted down the tale above, and Julie read it to my grandchildren and other guests as we waited to bring in the New Year. It was post-dated to December 24 because it is a Christmas story based on the personalities of my grandkids and on personal recollections of the live reindeer displays (once popular at places like FrankenmuthMichigan). I also placed it on that date because there are subtle echos of ""'Twas the Night before Christmas" in some of the lines. ]

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