KRIS KRINGLE and A Country-Western Christmas
By Cris Paravicini
(Printed first in the SUBLETTE COUNTY JOURNAL)
It was nearly the night before Christmas when I got
a call from one of my "bosses"-the editor/publisher of the
Sublette County Journal. "Cris, will you do an interview for
me right away for the Christmas issue?" he'd hurriedly asked.
Oh, yes! I thought-before he could tell me the subject
of this story. I'll bet the boss wants me to interview Santa Claus,
I 'd hoped. I've never been that far North before and the trip would
do me good, I'd further decided.
"No, I won't let you write on Santa Claus.
Too many stories are already written about him," he barked, reading
my thoughts. "You know I like to capture the essence of things
that are overlooked, so don't even argue the point with me. I want
you to talk with a man named Kris Kringle, and if you don't want the
job, I'll find someone else to cover it."
Why, you ol' grinch! I thought. "I always wanted
to interview Santa," I whined, "but I'll write the other
one if you're twisting my arm." I figured down the road, I'd
use my good-natured cooperation as leverage on some other story.
The boss then fired off a list of his special directives
and concluded, "Mr. Kringle e-mailed me this morning and said
someone from his outfit will stop to get you at precisely five o'clock-actually,
his exact words were 'spirit you away.' I understand the Kringle Place
is hard to find, and they have to pick up supplies in Pinedale, anyway.
Mr. Kringle said they know where you live-something about having been
pen pals when you were young? Regardless, I suggest you walk down
the lane and wait by your mailbox, just in case they miss your turn-off."
With that said, and taking with him my promise to
meet his deadline, he was gone.
Pen pals with a Mr. Kris Kringle? I sure couldn't place him. But,
I was as curious as a bored kid and a frosty flagpole, so I lit a
runnin' to find out.
Precisely at the stroke of five, someone did drive up the road, and
stopped dead in front of me.
A voice said, "Whoa. Whoa there, I say."
What in the heck is going on? I thought! I was more
startled than a pup playing with a porcupine; I didn't know whether
to run or cry. Someone bundled so completely against the frigid night
air was picking me up in a one-reindeer sleigh. All I could see beneath
the many layers of wraps, was the tip of a reddened nose and puffs
of frozen breath.
I was thinking-What has The Boss gotten me into
now?-and at the same time-I was picking out a tree to climb. My mind
had just about convinced my feet that it was quitting time when the
"Howdy! I'm Kora Kringle!" Her velvet
voice sang out in the night like the bells on her reindeer's harness;
my fears were immediately hobbled.
"Climb right in here, honey, and burrow down
under this feather tick, 'cause we're about to whip up a breeze."
She laughed heartily, then clucked to the reindeer as I, like a child
with a lovey blanket, timidly pulled the thick, fluffy quilt around
me. "Hup, there, Comet!"
The darkness swallowed us quickly as we raced along
like foxtails on the wind. So fast was the pace of this animal, I
could've sworn we were flying! Then quicker than a colt can spook
at a jackrabbit, we slid to a stop in front of a weathered, old barn.
Kora stepped from the sleigh and walked to the reindeer's
head. She scratched behind his ears, and patted his furry neck. He
leaned gratefully toward her, shook his head up and down, and closed
his eyes as though he knew he'd done his job well.
"Now, that's a good boy," she crooned.
"Hey, hey, Kora! You made good time, woman!"
Standing in the barn doorway was the man who must be-Mr. Kris Kringle.
He stepped spryly toward me extending a callused and scabbed bear-paw
sort-of-hand and with his other hand he politely lifted his battered,
black Stetson hat.
There was definitely something familiar about this man, but I couldn't
yet find the memory.
"Howdy, young lady," he said. "I'm
tickled as a Santa in a candy bowl to finally meet my old pen pal.
Been a while, though, hasn't it?"
What is this pen pal business, anyhow, I thought.
But, I didn't want him to think I couldn't remember him, so I kept
still as cream on a milk jug, hiding what was beneath the surface
until a later time.
Mr. Kringle scratched at his two-toned, midnight
black and silver-gray beard, squinted his intense brown eyes-studying
me-then spun around on his boot-overshoe heel and headed back toward
"Let's head for cover. The wind's taken a stubborn
notion to blow in a blue norther."
We hadn't walked but a couple steps when Mr. Kringle stopped and hiked
at his wool, Pendleton pants, pulling them upward from where they
sagged around his bowed legs.
Then as if talking to himself, he leaned back against
the side of the barn, in no real hurry to take shelter from the wind,
shook his head, and said, "Yip. Used to chew. Gave that up. Used
to roll my own cigarettes. Gave 'em up. Used to smoke a pipe, and
Jiminy Christmas, I gave that up, too."
He continued, disgustedly telling of his fate. "And
that wife of mine put me on a diet a couple months ago. Danged woman
said she figured it was high time, too, since my reindeer team couldn't
pull me much faster than a trot during our Christmas Eve deliveries
Hmmm, I thought, as I almost placed where I'd heard
of this man. But, again, my recall let me down. By now, though, I'd
made up my mind, I had to find out what was so all-fired special about
this guy that the Journal would send me to unknown acreage, and totally
refuse My Santa Story. Mr. Kringle seemed to be quite a jolly cowboy
character, but beyond that, I figured I'd have to hunt a little deeper
to hit on anything that would make a story-maybe even make something
"So, Mr. Kringle, sir, what kind of business are you in?"
"Well, that depends on what time of year you're
lookin' at. We do things a little different-kinda opposite what most
regular folks hanker for. We go South in the summer, down around Big
Piney, Wyoming, to pasture a little bunch of reindeer, a few sheep,
and a handful of cows. Then come wintertime, we trail the herd north.
It's one heck of a long, hard trip, so next year me and Kora have
decided to truck 'em home. We'll hire one of Sublette's livestock
truckers to help us out-whomever wants to put some mileage on his
He further explained. "Anyway, this time of
year the North Country is Hoot Owl Heaven, staying so blasted dark
most of the day. So when we migrate back here for the winter, we work
at our little gift shop and delivery service to keep from going stir
crazy. Me, Kora, and the boys do craft work, sometimes 'round the
clock; and we make and repair a few toys to distribute to kids here
"The boys?" I asked. "Who are the boys?"
"You know-the elves. Every big outfit's got
'em hired, I'm sure. You'll meet 'em in just a minute."
Elves? My gosh, you don't suppose? I thought, but again choked that
stubborn, nagging voice inside me.
Now, I have to tell you-even though the frosty night
wind was drifting the knee-deep snow, Mr. Kris Kringle wore his Mackinaw
coat fully unzipped so I was able to see he still had a ways to go
on that diet he was complaining about. His ample belly pushed his
red long johns through a slit in his Carhartt shirt where a button
had popped off. I was embarrassed when he noticed my observation,
but he chuckled heartily anyway.
"Ha, kid! Didn't give up everything."
Mr. Kringle pointed at the barn roof, leaned toward me, and whispered,
"Don't tell Kora, but I got a few supplies stashed in the hay
loft for emergencies!" He clucked his tongue, winked his twinkling
eye, and laughed again.
I was beginning to like this man. But, if he turned
out to be just one of us regular folk-if I couldn't find that "essence
of the overlooked" that Rob Shaul anxiously anticipated-I'd still
consider my visit with this man the highlight of the season.
The Christmas Cowboy motioned me into the barn where
he threw a horse blanket across a hay bale. He smoothed and fussed
with it like a hen in a nest of hay, then patted it, pleased with
"Have a seat, young lady. Hope you don't mind
shootin' the breeze out here for a while? Got a pot of fresh camp
coffee in the corner there, if you'd care to help yourself? But, don't
trip over that ol' Saint Bernard rug layin' in front of the stove."
He twisted the ends of his silver-tipped, handlebar
moustache. "Now, if you'll excuse me, we still got a few chores
to do before we call it a day."
I stepped as quiet as a cat in an oat bin, up and
over the sleeping dog's massive back; but half-way over he jerked
awake and sensing a newcomer, began to rumble to his feet, clumsily
tipping me toward the hot cast iron stove. His bottom eyelids, his
large lips, and his oversized brown and white coat, sagged and flopped
like the back side of a comfortable pair of old jersey sweatpants.
I patted the top of his broad head and told him "Good puppy,"
as big dog breath drooled onto my coat.
In a battered tin cup, I poured coffee, thick enough
to stand a spoon in, and then noticed the barn had become quite alive
with activity. A portable radio hung from a bale string tied to a
wall nail, and between irritating bits of static, I could make out
the tune-Jingle Bell Rock. Kris's hired elves seemed to jump from
the woodwork and when the notion stuck them, they clomped across the
wooden floor, dancing and snapping their fingers to the jaunty beat
of the radio. Step. Clomp. One, two, three, four; they two-stepped
They wore heavy Sorel packs upon their tiny feet,
and unlike Kris, had down coats zipped as high as they'd go-beneath
either smooth or whiskered chins. As they scurried by me, bright-eyed
and excited, they tipped their Scotch caps in my direction. I tried
not to stare, but, my gosh, their ears were as pointed as the top
of a Christmas tree. I couldn't believe it! By now, I felt I was ready
These miniature men were dressed in everything from
tidy Spandex bibs to bulky wool garments. And like kids on Christmas
Eve, the elves that were dressed in wool fidgeted and fussed and stirred
impatiently at the scratchy, irritating material.
"Howdy, ma'am, glad to meetcha! Welcome to
the Cross Star Ranch," they each said as they reached up to shake
my hand, snuffing leaky, cold noses. I managed to catch some of their
names. Galith. Sar. Windohl. Stefen. Handsome names, I thought, though
some might expect to hear cowboy names in a story like this.
A few more elves had just come into the barn and
as they too, lifted their caps to greet me, I worried at how bright-red
and frost-bitten the sharp tips of their ears were. They didn't seem
to mind, though, and bustled about their chores-throwing bright, green
hay into a large box stall where a few head of early-lambing Columbia
sheep, were bedded down for the night.
Between firing orders to this one and that, Kris packed two five-gallon
buckets filled with water from the stock tank for the heavy ewes,
then climbed into the hayloft to do something I couldn't see.
Galith and Sar grabbed a couple of halters from
the wall, and slipped out the rear door of the barn. As they opened
then closed the wooden door, I briefly saw a dim light coming from
somewhere behind the barn.
Kora had finished brushing Comet and turned him
into a corral with his teammates just outside the barn door. "There
you go, Comet, boy." I thought I heard her say, "Bet ol'
Cupid missed you more than he'll ever tell you."
By now, Kora had skinned out of her wraps, and was
stripping the last drop of cream from a Holstein cow that stood peacefully
chewing her cud. I noticed, Kora too, was tapping her foot to the
To my amazement, when she stood up from the milk
stool-without all that bulky clothing-Kora Kringle really was quite
petite. She couldn't have been much more than five foot one or two,
and I guessed she wore about a size six. She was muscularly toned,
but yet feminine and graceful as she moved around the barn. A sandy-colored
braid hung like a rope with a tasseled end, down to her narrow waist,
and swung back and forth like a pendulum-a natural part of her ever-fluid
motion. Her hands were rough and scarred and weathered, but seemed
to deliver a soft, gentleness to everything and everyone she touched.
She patted encouragement upon the thin, little backs of the younger
elves, and mischievously swatted high-fives to the elder ones. Even
when her face was silent-proudly observing the perfect melding of
elfin energy-her green eyes laughed loudly.
"Whew!" she exclaimed, swiping the back of her hand over
her brow. "I don't know what it is about milkin' a cow, or tryin'
to keep up with these youngsters, but it sure warms me up and makes
my heart pound."
"Now, Kora, kid. You don't suppose you're a
little out of shape, do you?" Kris winked at me then continued
his bantering as he stepped from the loft ladder. "Guess we're
gonna have to tie you to the back of the sleigh and lead you on some
of the deliveries."
When he walked by me to hang up his hay hooks, I
was sure I caught a whiff of chocolate.
"You hush now, you dear, ol' fossilized horse dropping, or I
won't drive for you anymore. I'll stay home and knit and make cookies
and write to that college boy of ours."
The pair grinned at each other, stopping only to
catch their breaths before spurring at each other again.
At that moment, I caught sight of movement in the
tack room at the far end of the barn, so I moved off my hay-bale seat
and edged toward the open door. A handsome elf with dark hair and
a proud stature, who I'd not yet seen, was shuffling through a saddlebag
filled with letters.
"Work, work, always work," he mumbled,
then sighed as he pulled at his red silk neck scarf. He tenderly lifted
out a handful of mail, then nimbly swung onto an empty saddle that
was hanging on a wall peg. A lantern spilled light over his shoulder
and onto the stationery he held in his hand. As he leaned forward,
propped his elbow across the saddle horn, and began to search the
page, I saw within his haunting blue eyes and melancholy face-the
wisdom of the ages. I strained my eyes to make out the large print
that reflected through the paper: "! U-O-Y E-V-O-L I ,A-T-N-A-S
R-A-E-D" it read backwards.
He then unconsciously began mumbling aloud the poignant
message: Thank you so much, Santa, for being alive. It keeps me warm
just knowing you're out there, somewhere, and always worrying about
us kids. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and tell you
not to work too hard this year. But my brother and I will watch for
you, anyway, just in case you take Mrs. Santa for a drive near our
orphanage. I love you. Goodnight, Santa. Signed-Dara
"Excuse me, sir," I said to him. "I
don't mean to interrupt you, but, I'm-" I really needed to ask
him where he'd staked claim to all of Santa Claus' mail, but he hissed
back at me quicker than a snake in a rat hole.
"Well, then don't interrupt, if you don't mind.
I'm very busy, don't you see?" The elf spat, "I've got lots
of work to do before Christmas Eve!" His eyes snapped both fire
and ice at me, unaware a teardrop glistened upon his cheek.
"Don't mind Gilippe," Kris spoke from
behind me. "He gets as cranky as a skunk by the tail; but if
you'd been around him as long as I have, you'd see he's really softer
than a polar bear rug."
I followed Kris back to the middle of the barn and he quietly added,
"Gilippe was a sad, little orphan when Kora and I adopted him
a long time ago. Now, he wears himself out each year reading all my
mail twice, just to make sure we haven't overlooked any homeless kids.
He'll snap out of it directly if we just leave him be."
Then he raised his voice so Kaleb could hear the
rest of his story. "Yep, always says he's overworked and under-appreciated.
But, I gotta tell you, he's just gotten used to whinin'; he doesn't
fool me one bit. He loves his job. . .and he's darned good at it!"
I glanced over my shoulder and thought I saw a smile
cross Gilippe's face as he swiped his shirt- sleeve across his cheek.
Dang, I surely wanted to ask Kris about the Santa
letters, but still, I didn't dare for fear he might think I'd rather
be interviewing that other man.
Above the squawk and song of the radio I could hear
a great clatter and commotion coming from the outside the barn. Suddenly
Windohl tore open the door and shouted, excitedly. "Come quick
as you can, San--, I mean, Kris. Cimmaron's getting' the best of Mrs.
"Good grief! Stubborn woman!" Kris jumped up and rushed
into the night. "I don't know why she won't she wait for me to
help her drive that fawn? But no, she's gotta do it herself!"
An array of lanterns hung on the fence poles, lighting
the snowy grounds like a billion stars. And there, in all this brilliance,
was Kora. Her arms were stretched outward and her heels were set in
the fluffy snow as she cut a twin furrow across the corral. Even when
the fawn finally jerked her down, she refused to let go of the lines,
dragging wildly behind the young reindeer.
When Kris was satisfied that she was not in immediate risk of injury
as she slipped and skidded behind the spooked fawn, he yelled, and
the St. Bernard barked encouragement to her.
"Don't let him get you down, woman, and don't
let go of them ribbons. Oh, yeah, Kora," he mocked, "he's
gonna make of dandy little sleigh deer, don't you think?" Kris
laughed till his round belly shook beneath his long johns.
It was certainly a funny sight, but I felt sorry for Kora.
It wasn't long before the lines slipped from her
hands like spaghetti through a child's lips. Three elves rushed out
to drag her to her feet, then timidly brushed at the mass of snow
that clung to her clothing.
"Dang, Mrs. K," the elves chattered excitedly in unison.
"He's a handful!"
"You okay?" They worried. "You sure
tried, but don't you think Kris oughta help now?"
Kora disgustedly swatted her snowy cap across her leg, then swung
it wildly toward Kris's back side.
"Dang it, Kris," Kora said, both agitated
and embarrassed. "Are you going to stand there and make fun of
me all night, or are you gonna help?"
She climbed the fence and limping slightly walked
to a 50-gallon barrel that held a brightly burning fire. She briskly
rubbed her frozen hands in its heat. The updraft boosted sparks into
the night sky illuminating her somber face.
I could barely see the sulking reindeer standing
as far away from elves as the enclosure allowed. But I could make
out that the small, quivering beast was outfitted in a sparse but
proper harness, the driving lines wrapped in disarray around his legs
Kris raked his stubby fingers through his salt and
pepper beard and still grinning, said, "Catch him again, boys,
and tie him up for a while, then tomorrow we'll snap him together
with Donder or Blitzen. They're excellent teachers for these difficult
young fawns. Calm and quiet. Nothing stirs 'em up or spooks 'em. And
they're big enough Cimmaron here, won't drag them too far."
Kris turned to Kora and tried to smooth her ruffled feathers. "If
you ain't been drug around, you ain't been breakin' reindeer, right
She just shook her head and put her gloves back on.
Kris then turned to me. "You know, I have high
hopes for this fawn, uh, hmm. If we get him broke out well enough,
we'll lead him along behind the sleigh when we're making our gift
deliveries. If one of the older reindeer even breaks a sweat, I'll
hook up this frisky, young buck. . .so, Kora, don't let me forget
to get a health and brand inspection on him. Can't have any danged
border-crossing guards delaying us."
He must be joking, I imagined, and is referring
to his neighbors or their watchdogs. Border guards, indeed!
Kris then let out a yodel that echoed throughout
the barnyard. "Supper! Let's eat!" He turned to me and added,
"I'm hungry enough to eat the south side of a north bound timber
wolf." I supposed I was, too.
Inside the Kringle's log castle, I discovered an
altogether different world from the bang and buck of the barnyard-an
almost serene calm embraced the spacious, but humbly furnished dwelling.
Galith fed pine logs to the dying embers in the stone fireplace while
Sar and Stefen shuffled plates around a very long, narrow dining table.
Still other elves hung ornaments on a half-decorated Christmas tree.
Kora took to the kitchen like a rocket scientist in a sixth grade
math class-easily moving from one challenge to the next.
Everyone was busy-everyone except Kris. It would
be unfair, though, to say he wasn't doing something. He just pursued
quieter work. He plopped into a made-to-fit recliner, picked up a
pair of black boots, and began to restore a military shine to their
scuffed surface. Draped over the arm of his chair was a recent issue
of the Sublette County Journal. On an end table next to his chair,
I noticed a thick book bearing the title-WAR AND PEACE. A length of
leather string hung from a page two-thirds of the way from the front
cover. An official-looking document poked out from beneath the book,
and while I'm not well-versed in flight terminology, and though I
couldn't see all the details, I was sure this paperwork was used for
filing FAA flight plans-destinations, times of arrival and departure,
and type of aircraft. So, I thought, Kris is a pilot after all. My
story line, indeed, was coming together now. From time to time, as
Kris put the finishing sparkle to his boots, he peered at me over
the top of his reading spectacles and grinned a sly grin. What a nice
man, I decided. I will miss him when I'm gone.
"Why don't you wander around and take a look
at the old homestead," he suggested. "Supper will be ready
in the wink of an eye." I roamed from wall to wall looking at
the many photos and paintings-pictures taken during their summers
in Big Piney; a huge family portrait with ALL the elves seated at
the feet of Kris and Kora; a painting of Bethlehem, the Star, and
the Stable; and, a painting of Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting in an
eight-reindeer-drawn sleigh, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the
"Come and get it," Kora sang out.
Everyone bowed their heads briefly, each thankful
in his own way, then passed heaping platters filled with cheeseburgers,
French-fries, and...a bowl of fruit and cottage cheese. Kris pretended
not to care as he let the burgers and fries slide right under his
nose, modestly spooning only the fruit and cottage cheese onto his
little plate. He had a will of steel, I decided as I finished my plate-load,
and said "Yes!" to the cherry pie and whipped cow cream.
"Kora, darlin', I do believe you've outdone
yourself this time. This has got to be the best salad I think I've
ever eaten." He patted his belly, and pushed back from the table.
"But, I'm going to go pull the harness off Cimmaron and turn
him loose; and, I think I left the light on in the hay loft."
Kris wasn't gone long, but when he returned and took off his coat,
a Snickers candy wrapper fell from his pocket. Lucky for him, he saw
it float to the floor and recovered it, he thought, before his secret
was revealed. I nearly laughed aloud, but stifled it with a cough.
"C'mon, gang! I'll wash and you dry the dishes,
then let's get this young lady's questions answered so we can watch
the National Finals Rodeo at 9:30 on ESPN. We've been rootin' for
Kelly Wardell during each performance." I told him I had been,
I knew, though, if I was running competition with
a rodeo or even a football game, I'd be the long shot in a bet, so
while they tidied the kitchen, I scanned over the list of questions
my boss had suggested and picked out a few of the best ones.
"How long have you been married?" I started with my classic
Kora jabbed her elbow into Kris' ribs, threw her
head back, laughing, then winked at him before she said, "Seems
like centuries, huh, ol' feller?"
"When were you were born?" I asked as carefully as I could.
"Let's just say I'm lookin' over my shoulder at my many, many
"It's apparent you raise some mighty fine reindeer.
How fast do you figure your top reindeer can travel?" I kicked
this question toward Mr. Kris Kringle, thinking he might enjoy talking
about his livestock for a change of pace.
This question really opened him up. He excitedly
answered, "Oh boy, can they ever fly! Just ask Kora. It's all
in how she breaks 'em out. And it's kinda in the way we speak to 'em
when we start 'em off center. Could be, too, in the relaxed way of
holdin' the lines. We give 'em lots of slack. Heck, anything on Earth
will surely fly if you throw 'em enough rein."
Kris kept glancing at his pocket-watch. Must be nearing
Finals time, I thought, so I asked my last question.
"How did you get to be this way, I mean, into this line of work?
"Child, I was born into it..."
Kris and Kora Kringle invited me to watch the NFR
with them. It was tempting, but I knew I had to get home and begin
writing this story to meet the deadline. However, while Kora caught
a fresh reindeer for our trip, I watched Kelly score an 84 on his
Still, as I said my thanks and good-byes, I knew
something was amiss with this interview, and I feared I had failed
to capture the "essence of the unusual."
I stepped into the sleigh beside Kora and settled
beneath the warmth of the feather tick, because even the moon had
hidden part of its face in darkness as protection from the Blue Northern.
Kris Kringle then heartily shook my hand one last time and with a
grin, said, "I have just one question for you, young lady, before
you fly away home. Years ago you wrote me saying you wanted to be
a cowgirl. How did that Annie Oakley cowgal suit work for you?"
I was stunned! Only Santa Claus could've known about that, but he
allowed me no time to answer-forasmuch as a wink and a whistle, the
wind carried me home.