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A Learning Experience Part 4


The bite in the air was a welcome relief from the heat several weeks ago. The frosty grass crunched under Renee’s boots as she hurried to the barn. The mist shimmered on the horizon as the morning sunlight filtered through. The slender young woman slipped into the barn. A welcome neigh sounded through the hallway as Renee approached the stalls in the back of the barn. Bleats from Mama’s milk goats echoed Cinnamon’s sentiments.

“I’m sorry, girls.” Renee grabbed the bay horse’s rope halter from its hook, opened the stall door, and slipped it over Cinnamon’s nose. “I only have time for Cinnamon this morning. You’re gonna have to wait for Mama.” The does bleated again in complaint.

After securing the pasture gate, Renee hurried back to the barn to get Cinnamon’s breakfast. She scooped a quart of alfalfa pellets into a pail. Hefting three laps of hay onto her right shoulder, she carried the pail in her left fingers, and headed back out to the pasture. She dumped the pellets into Cinnamon’s feed container on the ground and set the hay in its rack. She quickly checked his water tub, then rushed to the house to gather her keys, purse, lunch, and water bottle. She had slept past her alarm, so cleaning Cinnamon’s stall would have to wait until after work. As it was, she was pushing it to get there on time.

Chilly, covered in horsehair, and tired, Renee pulled herself into her Equinox. She had arrived at work that morning just on time. She’d had to hurry to get her things put away so she could help with cleaning up the horses and get them saddled for the day. It had a been a long day with hundreds of customers. She had received quite a few generous tips from the people she had taken. She sighed in happiness as she rolled to a stop in her spot in the garage. She, Dad, and Mama parked their vehicles in the three-car garage. Jay and George parked theirs off to the side of the driveway in the grass.

“How was your last day at the stable?” Mama stirred the steaming pot on the stove. Wafts of beef and vegetables floated through the air.

“It was great, but sad that the season ended.” Renee placed her lunchbox and purse on the kitchen table. “I’m gonna go take a shower.” She edged towards the stairs headed down to her room, her muddy boots in hand.

The fading sunlight struck the sliding glass doors and pooled on the carpet next to her parents’ exercise equipment. Entering the bathroom, Renee dropped her muck boots into the tub and grabbed the spray nozzle. She rinsed the boots thoroughly. After wiping them dry with a rag towel from the cabinet, Renee hurried to her room to gather her clothes.

The heat seeped into her chilled body as the water cascaded down over her hair and shoulders. After all the heat in September, she had forgotten how sharp the rainy days could get in October. She stood, soaking it in for a while before toweling off and dressing in clean clothes.

“Your father’s birthday is next week.” Mama pointed out as Renee returned to the kitchen.

“Wow!” Renee flipped the calendar to November. Her father’s birthday was on the fifth. “Let’s plan a fun party.”

“He’s going to be fifty-two this year.” Her mom threw some celery into the pot on the stovetop.

“Yeah. Let’s do it.” Renee grinned. She grabbed up a pen and sheet of paper to begin planning.

Several people gathered in the Brown’s living area. Renee laid out the blue paper plates on the counter. Chicken Marsala, salad, and French bread were laid out across the island. April stood behind her, holding the napkins and silverware.

“Here, I’ll put these by the plates.” She leaned into Renee, giving her a side hug. “What do your parents think of David so far?”

“I think they like him.” Renee smiled at her friend. “They said I could invite him to the Holiday Walk in town the week before Thanksgiving.”

“Oh, wow! You ready to meet him?” April’s eyes widened.

“I think so. It’s in two weeks from Friday.” She turned to face the older woman.

“That’s great!” April was cut off just as Mama called to the guests to gather around for prayer.

Renee piled food onto her plate and then joined April on the couch. The guests from church were spread around the main area of the house: some in the living area, some at the kitchen table, and some at the dining table. She propped her plate on her legs and began slicing her chicken into bite-sized pieces.

“How have you been, Renee?” Diana slipped a forkful of chicken and onions into her mouth.

“Pretty good.” She rubbed her slice of gluten-free garlic bread around on her plate, soaking up the juices from the chicken.

“Have you talked with David yet about meeting up soon?” The lady pressed gently.

“Not yet, but I will tonight.” Renee couldn’t help grinning. “I’m going to invite him to the Holiday Walk.”

“Oh! Fun!” Mary joined them in the living area. She eased onto the loveseat next to Diana.

“It is great to have you here visiting.” Mary grinned at the slender woman next to Renee.

“I love visiting this amazing family.” April beamed. Conversation continued between the four of them for a while. Then they were interrupted by Mama, announcing that she was cutting the cake. It was the same cake Dad requested every year: spice cake with cream cheese frosting. And of course, it was gluten-free. Dad was gluten intolerant as well, though his reaction wasn’t nearly as bad a Renee’s.

The last of the guests filed out the door at nine thirty that night. Renee plopped on the couch as her family relaxed around her.

“I had fun tonight.” She covered her mouth as a yawn took her by surprise.

“We’re all tired.” Mama stifled a yawn herself. Dad sat forward in his chair, wiped, his face, and stood slowly.

“I’m heading to bed.” He moved towards to the bedroom and Mama stood and walked with him, slipping her hand into his. Renee smiled, and then ambled down the stair to her room, leaving her brothers to their own devices.

She texted with David for quite some time before bringing up the Holiday Walk. She explained that the town decorated the sidewalks and storefronts with lights and greenery. People would mill about, visiting the shops, which would have sales and tables with free snacks and drinks. Each place did something different. There was also a tree lighting in the square and horse-drawn carriage rides.

That sounds very interesting. His reply was promising. Renee hesitated, a nervous tingling in the pit of her stomach, and then sent another message. Would you like to come and meet me and my family? She tapped her fingers on her blanket. Pooh Bear blinked up at her in surprise. Renee took a deep breath and stoked the chihuahua’s short, soft hair. A message popped up on her screen. I would love to, but unfortunately, I am slammed with work until Thanksgiving. Renee sighed in disappointment. She let her fingers rest on her lap, trying to think of a reply. Another message popped up on her phone screen. We could meet the week after Thanksgiving, though. When it gets close to then, we can come up with a date. Is that okay with you? A smiley-face emoji accompanied the message. Renee grinned. Yes, that is perfectly okay, though I will miss seeing you at the Holiday Walk. Renee glanced at her clock. Wow! It was after midnight! She and David quickly said their goodnights and then she switched off her lamp.

Two weeks later, the Brown family all climbed into Dad’s Chevy Silverado. After a short drive, they parked in one of the designated spots behind one of the shops. They all climbed out and headed towards the square. The tree lighting ceremony was first. White Christmas lights twinkling on the lampposts lit the darkness. Festive greenery decorated the windows of the shops. An enormous evergreen tree filled the square, people already gathered around it. Renee and her family found some spots. The singing had already begun, so they joined their voices in with the other singers. After signing a few more carols, the leader plugged in the tree. As the lights came on, everyone clapped. They all dispersed. Renee hurried towards the carriage rides.

“If we don’t get there soon enough, the line will be forever long!” She called out. Her family laughed. They all knew that Renee loved the carriage rides. The line was very short, and they soon climbed aboard. The driver told the horse to walk on. The Shire-Friesian cross was surprisingly light on his feet. He tapped down the road at a brisk trot. Renee sat forward as she watched the smooth movements of the black animal. Soon the ride came to an end and they disembarked the carriage.

Ambling down the sidewalks, they entered shop after shop. They sampled the treats laid out and admired the wares. The general store was old fashioned inside, with wood-plank flooring and antique items spread out around the shop. The scent of cinnamon and spruce filled the air. A little table sat off to the side with goodies for the people. Bobby filled a foam cup almost to brimming with hot chocolate.

“Woah!” George’s eyes widened. “Don’t spill that.”

Lastly, they visited the sweet shop. The scents donuts and chocolate wafted through the air. Renee sampled the dark chocolate peppermint bark.

“Mhmm!” Renee held out a piece to her mom. “You have got to try this!” Mama took it, savoring a bite.

“Oh, my!” Mama turned and handed a small piece to Dad. “We have to get some of this.”

After purchasing some of the chocolate, they returned home, happy and tired. The next few days flew by in a blur as they started preparing for Thanksgiving on Thursday. Renee’s brother Andrew and his wife Julianne were arriving soon. There wasn’t room at the house, so they were going to stay in a bed and breakfast in town. Renee pushed the vacuum over the bone-colored rug in the living area and then grabbed a broom for the polished hardwood flooring. Mama ran a dust rag over the mantle above the fireplace. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving. And Christmas was in about a month. Renee loved the holidays. It was her favorite time of the year. She loved giving gifts to her family members. This year, she might get a gift for David too.

“Andrew and Julianne should be here around suppertime.” Mama broke into her thoughts.

“Awesome!” Renee was going to text with David earlier today so that she had time for her brother and sister-in-law tonight. As much as she enjoyed talking with him, she did not want to be rude to her family. When she finished cleaning in the living area, she settled onto the couch. Just as she pulled out her book to read for a little before texting David, her phone pinged with a new text message. She pulled it out. It was from David. Hey, I’m free earlier than expected. Let’s decide on a time next week to meet. Renee typed out a reply. Okay, awesome! They texted back and forth for a while figuring out each other’s schedules. Renee wanted to make sure that it was a good time for her family. Just so you know, I am bringing my parents with me to the meeting. She hoped he would respond positively. A message lit her screen. Oh, certainly! I figured you would. After a while, they decided on the following Tuesday at three in the afternoon. They were going to meet at a coffee shop in Casnovia, a little town halfway between Fremont and Grand Rapids.

Just at that moment, a tinny song rang through the house and the front door opened. The voices of her brother and sister-in-law sounded in the entry. Renee texted goodbye to David and rushed to greet Andrew and Julianne at the door. She was joined by her sister, Carol, who had been making pies in the kitchen. Renee was enveloped in a big bear hug by her six foot and one-and-a-half-inch brother. Then she shared a tender hug with Julianne. Andrew laughed.

“Where’s Mama?” He inquired.

“Yay!” Mama entered the room before Renee or Carol could answer. They all gathered in the living area, lounging on the furniture. Renee related everything that had happened so far with David.

Later that evening, Renee sat curled on the couch with Pooh Bear in her lap. Her family, including April, all sat around playing games together and catching up with Andrew and Julianne. Laughter rang through the room. It was going to be a great Thanksgiving. And she couldn’t wait for Tuesday.

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