The Hay Ride

For some reason a hay ride sounded like a great idea, especially so since Abigail Weaver was going to be there—she of the golden, curly tresses, the flashing blue eyes and the I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile. We were both 14; both freshmen in high school at Valley High School in Spokane, Washington; both members of a local church youth group the leader of which was the one responsible for the hay, the wagon, the two amazingly smelly horses and the hay riding/Christmas caroling idea.

I didn’t find out about that last part until I had been dropped off at the church parking lot by my parents. Had I known in advance, it would’ve been a deal breaker because I didn’t like singing. If you want to know the truth, I basically despised the practice and avoided it whenever possible.

But Abigail? Now that was another matter entirely. I loved the girl. That she barely knew I existed mattered not in the slightest. Her presence on the hay ride—did I mention that there was only one other boy besides me and he a mere lad of 12—had the potential to provide me with the proverbial golden opportunity, as they say.

Well, would have provided a golden opportunity had it not been for the presence of Mildred Barnett.

The girl next door.

The evil-eyed, sharp-tongued harpy next door would be a more apt description.

It wasn’t my fault that she thought she was in love with me. I mean how could anyone expect a guy to be interested in a stinky-breathed girl like Mildred when a goddess like Abigail was around?

We were a few days into Christmas break when the hay ride in question took place. Two days earlier stupid old Mildred said—after I had told her for the ten millionth time that I didn’t love her back—that she was going to make sure I never had a chance with any other girl besides her.I was pretty sure she meant it, because when Mildred made a statement like that, especially when it was punctuated by, “I swear by God and everything that’s holy,” it was beyond a promise. More like a solemn vow. And that’s exactly what she had said.

So there we were. Me, Abigail, Mildred, that twelve year-old kid and three other girls along with Sammy, the youth leader, his wife Kathy and an old guy who steered the wagon.

It was cold, even for Spokane and by the time we had gone about a mile we were all snuggled together under a couple of blankets. By some strange stroke of luck, Abigail was right next to me.

Life was good.

Then we got to our first stop, which was the house of one of the church deacons, a sour-faced man named Johnson. I’ll be honest with you, on our best day seven adolescents wouldn’t have done “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” justice. Throw in hypothermia, trying to look cool in front of the girl of your dreams and not being real sure of the words and, well, let’s just say even Mr. Johnson deserved better than what he got.

To this day I’m not sure how it happened, but good old Mildred somehow convinced Sammy that I was a great singer and was just too bashful to let anyone know. In point of fact, even before my voice had changed I couldn’t sing to save my soul and it had only gotten worse from there. But Mildred, being the persuasive girl that she was, kept egging Sammy on and because I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of Abigail—who, by that point, was actually speaking words to me other than, “Get away from me, creepo!”—I crawled out from under the warm blanket, thinking, “How bad could this be?”

I found out.

Sammy suggested I sing the last verse as a solo, handed me a sheet with the words printed out all nice and neat, and Kathy, his wife, the one accompanying us on an accordion, started to play. She played half-way through the verse and I just stood there. I stood there because, to be perfectly honest with you, if I had moved or uttered any sound at all I would have experienced, well, bladder malfunction.

Apparently drinking close to a quart of hot apple cider before going on a bumpy hay ride wasn’t such a great idea. Of course accepting glass after glass of the hot and spicy liquid from Mildred back at the church hadn’t been such a great idea either.

I looked at Sammy, he looked at me; I looked at Abigail, who actually smiled; I looked at Mildred who poured a glass of cider and handed it to me at which point I turned, jumped from the wagon and ran. I don’t know how far I ran but when I got to where I was going I no longer had bladder issues.

Of course I no longer had Abigail Weaver sitting beside me either.

I can’t remember the last time a Christmas rolled around and my wife didn’t remind me of that story.

That would be my wife Abigail, by the way.

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