08 December 2017
A Simpler Time, A Wonderful Place
Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost
Frost wrote four of these novels about the Clark family of Vermont and the titular pony in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Windy Foot is a Shetland pony owned by 12-year-old Toby Clark, but he is just one part of the action and doesn't do miraculous equine tricks. As the book opens, the Clarks are awaiting not only Christmas, but a visit from their new friends, Jerry Burnham, a horse trainer, and his daughter Tish, who has become Toby's especial friend after Windy Foot beat her pony Jigs in the Webster County fair some months earlier.
This is a warm and nostalgic book, with simple preparations for a holiday composed of simple gifts given to those who are loved, homemade and homegrown farm food, a small village with occupants of many nationalities who gather for happy events like a village carol sing and Christmas shopping at the general store, and children and adults working hard and reaping rewards from it (and learning some small lessons about life and consideration of others).
One of the things I notice each time I read this book is how much the children, especially Toby, eat. Christmas Day is particularly astonishing: they have a big breakfast, the kids snack on cookies, then there's a big Christmas dinner, Tish and Toby go into the village and have two hot fudge sundaes at the drugstore, and then there's a buffet party at night! Yet no one is overweight because they are always doing some kind of work: in Toby's case during the week chronicled by the book he has done daily chores like taking care of the horses and helping milk the cows, patrolled the farm for a bear, rebuilt and painted a sleigh and restored some sleigh bells, run errands for his parents, shoveled snow, filled and refilled the woodbox (presumably having chopped some of the wood), gone skiing twice, gone snowshoeing with his sister to gather greens to decorate the house, made a base for the Christmas tree, and other stuff I've forgotten. It's amazing reading how many chores everyone in the family had to do just to keep warm and fed.
This is an annual read and a nostalgic one, going back to when the book was in my elementary school library. It never fails to make me feel loved and cozy and happy and home, whether it's imagining the cold air in a buggy ride home from school, gathering Christmas greens and spying a beautiful fox in the woods, dreaming yourself participating in the Christmas sing or the Clarks' Christmas party, or just wanting to own a lovable pony like Windy Foot.