3 - The Reindeer-Sledge - Mig Phoenix

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 3. The Reindeer-Sleigh
     at Westfield Wood
Who forgot it? Surely nobody! Even as it’s more than 80 years ago now, the story is told time and again in this region. It is the story of Gary Smith and Lenny Miller, who spotted a mysterious reindeer sleigh at New York’s Lake Erie coast near Westfield on Christmas Eve of the year 1925.
When I heard the story about the two boys for the first time, I was fascinated immediately. The two main persons couldn’t be found around the region where it happened, and must have been nearly 90 years old in the meantime – if they were still alive at all. But, nevertheless I tried optimistically to find them. And after nearly two years I was successful. Gary Smith lives today with his wife in a home for elderly people in North Boston near Buffalo. Lenny Miller, widower in the meantime, stays in a nursing home in Little Rock in Arkansas.
Like this it must have looked, what Gary and Lenny had seen at the Lake Erie coast in 1925: A sleigh with seven reindeers, steered by a man in fur
When I visited the regions where the two gentlemen lived in the recent years for articled and TV-productions, I used the trips to to meet them and to talk about their experiences of their youth.
 
And it was astonishing. Beside some details – what doesn’t wonder after 82 years – both of them told the same story. And they swear on the bible, that this story took place in exactly the way they remember.
Time leap: 1925, the two sons of fishers, Gary and Lenny, are seven years of age and the best friends forever. Okay, the region was not very densely populated in these times and the choice for best friends was not huge. But the two of them liked each other very much and spent all day after school together. On extensive expeditions they roamed through the surrounding lands – well, lacking “Playstation” and “Disney Channel” the kids in these days played outdoors.
 
Their favorite spots of course had been at the coast, where they regularly with moderate success were on the hunt for the largest piece of amber ever. And beside the beach of course the Westfield-Wood at the lake, East of Westfield, was their second home.
 
Here they knew each tree by its first name, and while other kids, afraid of ghosts, didn’t dare to do a step in the forest – Gary and Lenny were fearless fine ones. They thought at least. Until this Christmas Eve in the year of 1925.
 
To spend the time busy, until the desperately expected presents were given, both of them went for one of their excursions into Westfield-Wood. It was a cold day and the blizzard the night before had turned the landscape and the beach into a white Christmas scenery. And at this Christmas Eve too, it was a Thursday, again scattered showers of snow passed the Erie coast of New York.
 
But unimpressed by the partly bad visibility our two heroes started, trying to follow animal tracks before they got covered by new snow, leaping into high snowdrifts at the edges of the fields, finally throwing snowballs from the cliff onto the beach.
 
But at one of these pitches something was different. While usually the landing of the snowballs couldn’t be heard – due to the now calming blizzard nothing was to see anyway – this time there was a reaction: “Hey, what’s that?”, a deep voice seemed to call up from the beach.
 
Gary and Lenny stopped surprised and dropped the rest of the snowballs. Very slowly they dared to walk forward to the edge of the cliff, to see who on such a day at such a time in such weather might be down on the beach under the Westfield-Wood. Fishermen, that was clear to them, couldn’t be.

The snow storm now calmed down end they recognized – first just the silhouette, then more details – what there was down at the beach. And although not looking terrifying, both of them got goose bumps and had the idea to run away immediately. But curiosity kept them at the cliff.
 
Because down there in the snow on the sand there was a sleigh, tied to seven reindeers. On the sleigh sat a fat man – maybe he just appeared so fat because of the furs he was wearing over and over – and behind him sacks were piled.
 
As white as chalk the boys looked at each other: “Santa Claus!” they whispered at the same time, then to run home faster as they originally could have done. Fortunately, the blizzard had stopped completely in the meantime, so there was no danger to lose the way.
 
First they came to the house of Gary Smith: “We have seen Santa Claus!” they puffed entering the cozy warm heated living room. Disbelieving smiles there. “Yeas. Come with us, we show him to you,” they yelled loud into the confused silence, and Lenny Miller added: “I quickly run over to our house and tell it to my parents too.”
 
And by this, ten minutes later a group of about a dozen persons – the mothers stayed at home – started to walk the beach at the Specter-Wood. Sleigh, reindeers, Santa Claus? Nothing was to see there. “And for that you lure us in this weather on Christmas Eve out in the cold,” Lenny’s father shouted mad to his boy, “for this you will feel my belt…”
 
“Stop,” suddenly Gary yelled, “here are the tracks of the sleigh and the reindeer.” And right, they came from the water and followed the beach. The group walked following the tracks towards the Barcelona Lighthouse. Here, at the end of the forest, where the cliffs vanish, was and is a way up to the land. Now the tracks went inland, then heading to the path on the cliff towards Westfield.
 
Again, the group followed. All the way through the Specter-Forest. Until the tracks reached the house of Gary’s parents. When they entered the house, they found the mother in the midst of a mountain of Christmas gifts. So many, the poor fishermen’s family never could have afforded.
 
“You won’t believe it,” Gary’s mother said with a sly smile, while hastily taking off a fur cap, and hiding it behind her back, and closing the top button of her blouse, “but Santa Claus was here and brought all that. All these gifts, his long switch and outside the sleigh with the reindeers. The first one even had a red nose.”
 
Confused the group now was curious, where to the tracks went on. As expected: The house where Lenny was living was the next stop. Here the same: Gifts over gifts. And a likewise smiling mother, whose cheeks seemed to be red by the cold, and who just adjusted her dress.
 
A further pursuit of the sleighs’ and reindeers’ tracks ended about a quarter of a mile behind the house. It looked, as if the sleigh with its engines got airborne here and vanished into the sky.
 
“Of course, we first thought that our mothers had been behind all of that,” Gary Smith remembers today, “but how should they have done that? Where did the sleigh and the reindeers come from and where to did they vanish? If our mothers would have had the deer somewhere – they couldn’t have covered that up!”
 
Lenny Miller too doubts the obvious explanation: “Gary and I at last have seen the sleigh with the reindeers and the fat man. And all others found the tracks for several miles. How should our mothers have made that? Although they have been alone at home, while the others followed the tracks together.”
 
Of course, the two gentlemen asked their mothers in their lifetimes time and again, what had happened at Christmas of the year 1925. But beside mysterious smiles they never got an answer. And so many Christmas gifts they never got again.
 
Just one common thing happened following these days: End of September 1926 both mothers again gave birth to kids. Obviously, the Christmas Eve of 1925 with the search for Santa Claus in the cold, had found a cozy final when the spouses returned to both of their homes. And Gary and Lenny each got a baby brother nine months later. Concerning the names, the mothers retained the upper hands. No chances for the husbands to have their ideas get through. Gary’s brother was called Nick. Lenny’s brother got the name Claus.
 
Both boys became as best friends as their older siblings were. They went to school together, had a preference for clothing in red, graduated at the high school in Fredonia and started to study geography at the Humboldt-University in Germantown. What happened to them later on nobody knows. Because in the year 1969 both of them vanished on a geographic expedition in the northern part of Greenland.
 
© Mig Phoenix 2007
 
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