The heavy clouds had lifted during the night and bitter cold had laid claim to the snow laden ground below.
When I looked out the window, the thermometer showed the temperature hovered just below freezing. I could just see the horses, their shaggy winter coats were puffed out and glittered with a fine shower of ice crystals. They bucked and spun, rearing up at each other in a goofy mock battle, rowdy with the cold and the clear blue sky.
Their play was irresistible. I slid my bare feet into my boots and pulled a jacket over my pajamas. I eased the basement door open and shut it behind me with barely a click. My parents were upstairs and sleeping at the other end of the house, but raising six rowdy children had honed their hearing to razor sharpness, it wouldn't take much to wake them.
I wanted to be alone with my horses and delay the chaos of holiday togetherness. My freshman year of college, and first time away from home,was proving to me how much I still needed my family, but it was my horses, especially Mort, that I had missed the most.
When I slid between the corral rails the horses bolted. They tore up the hill, digging with their front feet, hinds pushing dirt and snow and their tails flagged in fun.
The three of them crowded together, Murray, the flighty Arab, Oakie, my goofy yearling Paint and Mort, playing wild mustang.
He blasted a warning snort at me and I squared off. I spread my feet and bent my knees, my arms spread wide and my hands open.
Mort charged down the hill,leaping in a zig-zag pattern with lightening speed, the other two came racing behind him. He snaked his head and his mouth opened with deadly intent as he approached. He skidded to a stop in front of me with his ears flat against his head. His eyes were wild and steam blew out of his nostrils.
"HA!" I shouted and stood upright, my hands in the air. Oakie and Murray spooked and spun away.
Mort arched his neck and we faced off almost nose to nose.
He blasted me with another snort and snot showered on my face, freezing as soon as it hit. When he reared up to his full height I stepped into him, ducking his front feet and slapping him on the chest.
"HA!" I yelled and stepped to the side as he came crashing down.
He whirled and shot back up the hill, crazy with fun.
We were getting in position for another round, snarling and snorting like two WWE wrestlers in the ring, when I heard a door open with a bang somewhere behind me. Oops.
"Janet! Knock it off! You're going to end up with a hoof planted in your head! Good God!"
I ran for the barn, if I fed and chopped ice it would give Dad time to cool off and hopefully see the humor of the situation. Mort and I had been playing our game for years, it was as inevitable on a cold winter morning as the ache in my fingers from an old case of frostbite.
Poor Dad had about had a heart attack the first time he had seen it and was pretty bent. But jeez, you'd think he'd have gotten over it by now.
I filled up the feeders and gathered up their buckets. A good hot mash was in order for today. It was Christmas after all. I headed to the house, whistling the alto part to the Hallelujah Chorus and banging my buckets in time.