One Christmas when my Norwegian grandmother was visiting at our Wisconsin farm, I asked if we could bake bread for our animals.
As we worked, she regaled me with the old-country legend about the animals speaking on Christmas Morn.
But how could Grandma know about my heavy heart?
A few days before she arrived, we children had been playing in my parents' bedroom. I knew mother's dresser was off limits, but some magnetic force drew me to it. There, lying on a lace doily, was her engagement ring, which she seldom wore except to church.
I slipped it on my finger. The sparkle bedazzled me, and if an inner voice was cautioning me, I was not listening.
We played there for awhile until we noticed snow was falling and ran outside to make "angels in the snow" and to play "Fox and Geese." Father, who was herding the cows into the barn, called to us to pitch some hay into their feeding stalls. We grabbed forks and fed the cows.
I want on to Prince, my favorite horse. He snorted and eyed the basket of yellow corn set aside in the bin for him. As I patted his nose to offer a handful of kernels, my heart thumped.
Staring at my hand, I saw the ring was gone!
I fell to the floor of the barn with a desperate wail, searching through the hay. But the ring had simply vanished.
When we gathered at the supper table that evening I was very quiet. And all the excitement of Christmas plans and Grandma's visit didn't lift my spirits.
I said nothing about the ring to my mother, hoping against dimming hope and praying that I would find it. But my prayers went unanswered, and after searching futilely in every possible place, I became resigned that the ring would never be found.
Mother was so occupied with holiday work that she never noticed her ring was missing. But, oh what anguish I suffered during those next few days.
I made up my mind to tell mother, and was trying to decide how during our baking that day before Christmas. Grandma interrupted my thoughts while we were taking the bread out of the oven, suggesting I feed the animals their treats after Christmas Eve services that night.
After church, we all stayed up later than usual. We sat around the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate and eating popcorn while sister made fudge on the old wood cooking stove.
It was almost midnight when I finally lit the kerosene lantern and headed for the barn with my basket. I had loaves of rye, pumpernickel, whole wheat, corn muffins and even some raised potato donuts.
The sleeping animals came alive when they heard me. I tore off chunks of dark rye for the cows and gave portions to pigs who grunted their approval. Lambs nuzzled my basket, and each received a corn muffin. Rough tongues licked my hands in appreciation.
For Prince, I saved a special loaf of whole wheat. His ears were alert and flicking when I came to his stall. I touched him on the nose and offered my loaf. Something about him caught my attention. Staring at me in a strange manner, he opened his mouth. I would have sworn on my Confirmation Bible that I heard him say:
Something compelled me to hang the lantern high on a hook, as I looked at the pile of hay. There, glinting like a star in the flickering light, was the precious gold ring. I knelt and carefully picked it up. No, my eyes had not deceived me. It was real.
"Thank you," I prayed with tears of joy and relief.
I left the barn and looked up at the sky with a grateful heart. And that night I slept in peace.
So far as I know, Prince never spoke again.
I left home a few years after that special, magical night. But whenever I returned while Prince was still alive, I went out to the barn to pay him a visit. As I patted him on the nose and offered a little treat, it seemed he gave me a knowing nod. And always, some mystical feeling passed between us.