© 2016, John Michael Reedy. Request permission for use.
by J.W. Beeson
It’s 15 below on the prairie
the wind chill’s down near 42
and I’m watchin’ a Texas blue norther blow in
and I’m not sure what I’m gonna do.
‘Cause the tanks are froze pretty near solid
and the handle broke off my best ax
and the feed’s gettin’ wet from a hole in the roof
where it’s leakin’ all over the sacks
And I’m feedin’ more hay than I planned on
’cause the snow covered up all the grass
the tractor’s broke down and the pickup won’t start
and it’s cold as a well digger’s…shovel
It’s the 24th day of December
and the sagebrush is covered with ice
and I think that a hot cup of coffee
or a good shot of rye would be nice
‘Cause my feet are so cold I can’t feel ’em
and my fingers are purty near froze
and there’s icicles hung off my moustache
from the drip drippin’ off of my nose
I was hopin’ I’d get to quit early
and be back at the house Christmas Eve
but these baldies are cryin’ and hungry
and there’s no one to feed if I leave
And there’s one little motley-faced heifer
who somehow got in with the bull
and she’s just too little to leave by herself
’cause the calf’s gonna have to be pulled
And there’s one other thing I might mention
a fact that is painfully clear
I’m so broke that I can’t pay attention
so I guess I’ll spend Christmas out here
But it’s pretty out here on the prairie
where the stars light the cold winter sky
and though I can’t remember when things were much worse
I guess I’m still a right lucky guy
‘Cause I’ve got a good woman who’ll love me
no matter what time I come home
and my young ‘un is happy and healthy
though I wish he weren’t quite near so grown
And I’ve got that new 3-year-old filly
who’s better than I even dreamed
and my old spotted gelding as good as they come
so things ain’t all as bad as they seem
I’ve got no cause for being ungrateful
and to gripe and complain isn’t good
’cause there’s people all over this country
who’d trade places with me if they could
So I know that I’ll have a good Christmas
in spite of my problems somehow
I’ll just watch as this Texas blue norther blows in
and sing “O Holy Night” to the cows.
© 1996, J. W. Beeson
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Texas cowboy and saddlemaker J.W. Beeson’s Christmas poem first appeared in Western Horseman in December, 1996. His recitation of it is included on the double-cd Christmas edition of The BAR-D Roundup from CowboyPoetry.com.
His bio tells, “In 1995, J.W. Beeson was hired by the Great American Cattle Drive to help drive a herd of Texas longhorns from Fort Worth to Miles City, Montana. Beeson left with the herd March 5, 1995 from the Fort Worth Stockyards and arrived September 1 in Miles City, Montana, six months and 1600 miles later. In October of 1996, he was inducted into the Old Trail Drivers Association of Texas, and was credited as being the only cowboy to be ‘in the saddle’ every day of drive, a feat not accomplished since 1886.”
We asked J.W. Beeson about the inspiration for the poem, and here is his response, printed in full as received. Read it and you’ll see why not one word was changed:
As for how it was written, it’s pretty much a true story, when it was written. A Tornado had blown my Saddle Shop away in April so I hired out wherever I could find work. I was taking care of some cattle and had a little First Calf Heifer that was due to calve any day. I had built a little crosstie leanto at the pens and used an old combine wheel for a Fire Pit. I spent a lot of time out there with those cows, my horses and Dog. Had a big ol Black and White Paint Gelding named Bill ( one of the best horses I ever owned) and was riding a Green Broke Philly named Calico, who was petty snakey, but smart and coming along real good, just needed lots of miles.
A Big Blizzard blew in the day before Christmas Eve and I knew that sure as the world, if I left that heifer alone and couldn’t get back to her she would calve, so I put some food and my coffee pot in my old 1963 Chevy Feed pickup and headed to the pens. It was an old 6 cylinder, 4 wheel drive 3/4 ton stepside pickup that had been brush painted OD Green. It would only run about 45 mph top speed, but would climb a house in FWD.
I had a Female Afghan Wolfhound named “Duchess” who was my constant companion and usually when I went to feed, she would ride on the back, on top of the hay bales with her nose in the wind. I would put the pickup in four wheel Low and the transmission in Granny Low, Set the throttle, jump out, get on the back with the Dog and feed hay. The old pickup would drive itself and the cattle would follow, and when I was done feeding I would run up to the cab and jump back in. I knew that if the snow got deep and I had any trouble I had either the Pickup or Ol Bill to depend on, so I wouldn’t be stranded.
So, I headed to the pens, built a fire, made a pot of Cowboy Coffee and put a can of Beanie Weenies on to cook. It was Blowing Snow and Pretty cold but I had a good fire going and was ready to stay the night and baby sit the little heifer. Duchess snuggled up next to me, trying to mooch a Beanie Weenie just as the wind layed down at about 9 or 10 o’clock, Christmas Eve Night.
It was that old Hard Cloudless Cold that goes clear through you, but the stars were all out and shining bright. The Ground was frozen hard and everything crackled when I walked. The Trees were covered with white frost and the tank was froze near solid but the light from the Moon and the Campfire was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I have always loved nights like that, and I remember thinking, Mother Nature put on her Best White Dress for me tonight and she wearing every Diamond she owns.
I’m Nearly Broke, I’m spending Christmas Eve in a windbreak with a Dog, A Horse,and A pregnant cow, and I wouldn’t trade this to be anywhere else in the world. It was like tonight God made the whole world just for me. He gave me the greatest Christmas Present I could get, and it was something Money couldn’t buy and most folks never see.
People all over the world were wondering if they would live out the night or if their kids would starve, and here I was, with a warm coat, a full belly, a warm fire, 2 friends that loved me unconditionally and a Front Row Seat to the Majesty of Creation and the miracle of Birth. I wondered how many people would trade places with me in a heartbeat if they could. Made me ashamed I ever griped about anything.
I knew that when the heifer had her calf, I would Grain Ol Bill, Duchess and I would get in the Truck and head in, to a Wife and Son, waiting in a Warm House, with Hot Food, a Soft Bed, and probably a Christmas Present or two. I looked up at the sky and the words to “Oh Holy Night” just kinda came softly out of my mouth. It was one of the best nights of my life.
All those things are now, as all things are destined to become, Memories. Wife left, Kids grew up, Horses, Dogs and the Pickup, got old and died. The Cold hurts me now and I still get around, but a lot slower and I have lived longer than anyone, including me, ever bet I would have, but I will always remember that special Christmas Eve Night When things were about as bad as they could get and as Good as they could Be, All at the same time.
That Night, God gave me something He didn’t give to just Everybody, and I’ve never stopped being grateful.
Find more about J.W. Beeson at CowboyPoetry.com.
This striking photograph was made by photographer, songwriter, musician, and poet John Michael Reedy. See more impressive photography at his site.
John Michael Reedy’s recent book, “This Place,” includes his impressive photography accompanied by his poems and songs. You can view the entire book here.
Find more Christmas poetry throughout the season at the 20th annual Christmas at the BAR-D.