After a record-breaking snowfall on December 22, 1963, that left Memphis, Tennessee, with 14 inches on the ground, my father, two older sisters and I listened to the clickety-clack of snow chains whirring along treacherous roads as we drove to our Dixieland farm. We were on a mission to search for a lost horse named Daisy and her new colt.
Daisy was my feisty, short-legged bay mare. Because she was always the fattest of the three horses Daddy “rescued from the glue factory,” we were completely surprised in late fall to realize she was in foal. Soon after that, she delivered a handsome stocking-footed, rust-colored colt. But they had not returned to the barn with the rest of the horses on this day when it began snowing, and with subzero temperatures forecast, we knew the colt might not survive if we didn’t find them.
When we finally arrived at the farm, we trudged along in knee-deep snow, our frosty breath evaporating in the bitter-cold night air. With our flashlights, we scanned the woods looking for them. But when we came to the open pastures, the glow from the full moon shimmered down, reflecting off the white-blanketed fields, providing all the light we needed. Peaceful stillness surrounded us, the only sounds being the crunching of crusty snow beneath our boots and occasional whistles to try to get Daisy’s attention.
We walked for hours through the snow searching for them. The colder it got, the more I worried about how such a young colt could possibly withstand the steadily dropping frigid temperatures. Daddy must have been thinking the same about us, because he finally said, “We’ve got to get back to the car. It’s way too cold out here now.”
“But we’ve got to find them,” I pleaded.
He shook his head. “We’re going to freeze to death if we stay out in this much longer.”
Numb from cold, we knew he was right.
Although we retraced the same footprints we’d made earlier, my heart sank with thoughts of the colt freezing to death, and the path seemed twice as long as it did when we began our search.
When we finally reached the car, we shoveled snow away from the tires and checked the tailpipe, making sure it wasn’t clogged with snow. Then we got in and wrapped ourselves in blankets, with the heater going full blast. Instead of driving home, Daddy sat there quietly, looking out the window.
After we were warm again, he said, “I’m going back to look for them one more time, but I want y’all to stay here, keep warm, and don’t unlock the doors for anybody.”
I’ll never forget Daddy wearing his red wool hunter’s hat with ear flaps, the bridle looped over his shoulder as he walked away, turning into a shadowed silhouette against the snow.
We watched and waited, constantly wiping condensation from the frosty windows, hoping he’d return soon with Daisy and her colt. Then after a long, anxious while, we simply hoped he’d return, with or without them. Just past midnight, we were so worried we set out to find him.
My oldest sister with hawk-eye vision finally spotted him in the distance leading Daisy, with her long-legged colt hopping through the snow behind them. We ran toward them, stumbling across the moonlit, snow-covered pasture, and heard Daddy’s laughter carried by the insulation of the snow as if he were 10 feet away.
I hugged him, thanking him over and over. Then I wrapped my arm around Daisy’s neck, watching vapor rise from her nostrils as I rubbed her soft velvety nose. “Where were they?” I asked.
Daddy explained how they were hidden in a thicket next to the creek. Snow had piled up around it, protecting them from the cold and wind but blocking us from seeing them when we’d walked by earlier.
“This time,” he said, “I walked on the other side of the creek and heard her. She poked her head through an opening in the thicket, and there they were, safe and sound. Ole Daisy might be stubborn, but she’s not stupid. She knew just what to do. They were probably warmer than any of us!”
As it turned out, two days later on Christmas Eve, it reached an all-time record low in our area of minus 13 degrees. If Daddy had not found the mare and colt when he did, they might not have survived.
That Christmas season our father gave us one of the greatest gifts we could ever receive – the courage to not give up hope in the face of adversity. Now, whenever I see shades of blue and gray reflected off a fresh blanket of snow on a moonlit night, I remember that snowy night with Daddy, and I feel a special warmth inside.
Although Cathey Frei writes from her home in Virginia, some of her fondest childhood memories are of the times spent on the family farms in northwest Mississippi.