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Daniel M. Barber & Albert W. Barber

When I was six years old I asked Santa for a sled… When Christmas morning arrived I was bitterly disappointed because Santa mixed up my request. Instead of a sled, I got a pair of skis!

I lived with my family in Iowa at the time and I knew even at 6-years old that Iowa didn’t have any mountains where I could learn to ski! We had miles of corn fields, but not even a large enough hill as far as I could tell where I could use my new set of skis. We did have small hills that would work great for a sled, though!

To add to my disappointment that year I had begun to suspect that my parents were responsible for my Christmas gifts, not Santa! Mom was always so excited about Christmas and us kids getting gifts she would always break down and ask Dad to ask Santa to give us at least, one early gift if we were good. I kind of suspected that wasn’t an approved Santa rule, but I played along anyway because I always tried to be good so I could get an early present.

But on this particular Christmas morning after my Father, seeing my sad face about not getting a sled reassured me that we would put those skis to good use. I had come to suspect that my Dad wanted me and my two brothers… no sisters or baby brother yet, to be athletes or bronc-busters because the previous summer he obtained two really mean untrained Shetland ponies. He told us that we could train those horses to give us rides. Our backyard became the hangout for all of the neighborhood boys. We would lasso one of the ponies and drag it to the picnic table and take turns trying to ride those mean horses. When we were thrown, which was all of the time, those horses would try to kick us, stomp on us or try to bite us before we could scramble back up on the picnic table! We never did train those ponies to give gentle rides like we were used to getting at petting zoos or carnivals. But Dad did convert our large garage into a horse barn to keep the ponies in during the winter.

That “barn” also became a great play area for us because we had hay to keep us warm during the winter and for the ponies to eat and straw on the dirt floor for the ponies to poop on. One of my jobs was to clean out the horse poop and pile it up next to the garage or barn so Grandpa could use it to fertilize his plants. That “barn” also became an important part of my Christmas story.

To remedy the “no mountain to ski on in Iowa” my Dad started building a “ski ramp” from the roof of the barn to the back yard… he worked on it every afternoon after work and for a couple of weekends until he finally had it finished. My Mom was really worried about the dangerous looking thing in our back yard, but Dad reassured her not to worry because he would try it out before letting us kids play on it. Keep in mind that my Dad had never skied a day in his life, but he figured that he’d seen it done on TV and it didn’t look all that hard. Our Mother had totally gone gray haired by the time she was 30 years old. Dad said a lot of people go prematurely gray, Grandma said she went gray because of our Dad and us boys! By the way, Mom’s favorite color of hair dye was red.

Dad shoveled snow on our ski ramp and packed it down, I thought it looked kind of dangerous too. But after Dad piled on what he thought was the right amount of snow, he carefully surveyed his work, told us kids to stand back then he put a ladder up to the eve of the barn/garage and carefully climbed up to the peak of the barn/garage. He sat down and strapped on the skis. These skis were designed for really beginner kids from the State of Iowa… no ski boots, no bindings, no ski poles! Dad tested them to make sure they were properly attached to his feet, he then stood up and immediately turned around backward and slid off of our barn/garage roof and landed in grandpa’s snow-covered pony poop up next to the building.

We kids were really concerned, we’d never seen anything like that before, Mom was really strange that day she was laughing and crying at the same time. Dad carefully got up, brushed the snow and pony poop from his backside and limped into the house and refused to allow Mom to call the doctor. But, before going to his easy chair, he did tell us to stay away from that dang ramp because it was too dangerous for us to play on. We boys spent the rest of that Saturday trying to nail those skis onto a box so we could build a useable sled. I didn’t get what I had asked for that Christmas I got something much better, knowing that I had loving Parents who really cared.

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