How a Good Turn for a Neighbor Made Christmas
It happened one winter in the 1930s. The wind howled and the inland bays froze between Maryland’s Worcester County mainland and Assateague Island southward from the inlet that cuts between present-day Ocean City, Md., and the remainder of Assateague Island.
From Eagle’s Nest Farm southward, past Public Landing and South Point all the way down to Franklin City, the ice along the shore was thick enough to support the weight of an adult cow. On the old Purnell farm, the ice extended up the creek from the bay toward the farmhouse, where the Samuel Hudson family lived. The Hudsons rented the farm from the First National Bank in Snow Hill, Md.
During the long cold spell, a prize black Angus cow, belonging to Mary Elizabeth Powell of Eagle’s Nest Farm, wandered away from the herd and out onto the ice. Disoriented, the cow traveled the frozen bay until she finally turned inland at Martin Bay, following the creek that emptied into Purnell Pond toward a cedar knoll thicket behind the Hudsons’ farmhouse.
Exhausted, she tried to climb onto dry land but the ice on land and water made it impossible. Alerted by her cries of frustration, Sam Hudson found her there, stranded. She continued to slip and slide as she tried again and again to climb the slight rise onto solid land. He quickly summoned help. It took three men, Hudson and a couple of his neighbors, to rescue the exhausted cow and lead her to warmth, food and safety in his barn.
The cow’s appearance was the subject of much comment on the farms in and around the tiny hamlet of Stockton, Md. Where could she have come from? Nobody nearby had black Angus cattle.
The Hudson family was poor and it must have been tempting to remain quiet about the cow, but the farmer asked everyone he knew or came across about who might be raising black Angus cattle. It was nearly spring before someone finally mentioned that Mrs. Powell at Eagle’s Nest Farm had a few black Angus cattle and was slowly building a herd of them. It was hard to imagine that the cow could have traveled nearly 30 miles over the ice, including a stretch of what would have been open water if it were not frozen solid.
But Sam Hudson telephoned from the nearby general store, the only place there was a telephone in the 1930s, to get word to Mrs. Powell about their barnyard guest. When things began to thaw, she came to take a look at the animal. Sure enough, it was one of her cows, now very pregnant. They decided that the cow should remain where she was until she delivered her calf. Then, Mrs. Powell arranged to come and take both of them back to her farm.
The following Christmas, Sam Hudson heard from Mrs. Powell. She wanted to express her thanks for caring for her cow by bringing a Chincoteague pony for the Hudson’s two boys, Edward, age 4, and Junior, age 6, the Christmas of 1934.
On Christmas Eve, Hudson’s daughter, Frances, kept her brothers occupied while he and his wife, Daisy, got the pony bedded down in the barn to wait for Christmas.
Somehow, they managed to get the boys to bed after a supper of oyster stew without the secret getting out. At 13, Frances was old enough to help her parents make Christmas for her brothers. While they slept, she and her parents trimmed the tree, decorated the picture frames in the sitting room with crow’s feet — an evergreen that grows like a vine in the woods — and sprigs of holly and mistletoe. Frances set plates on the table and her mother filled them with an apple, an orange and an assortment of nuts — the traditional treat from Santa Claus in the days when he didn’t bring toys. When everything else was ready, Sam brought the pony from the barn and tied her to the newel post at the bottom of the stairs and they all retired to bed.
They hadn’t even fallen asleep when the pony began to stamp and snort. Even she must have known it was Christmas. It didn’t take long before she awakened the two sleeping boys who probably weren’t sleeping soundly anyway. They were certain that it was a reindeer they heard. And they soon had everyone up and trooping down the stairs to check on Christmas. Imagine how they marveled at the wonderful pony that Santa Claus had brought!
They were so excited that there was nothing to do but get them dressed warmly so they could take a ride on their new pony. Hudson lit a kerosene lantern while Daisy and Frances wrapped the boys in hats, mittens and scarves. At 4 a.m., by the light of the lantern, they rode around and around the barnyard as their father led the pony. They must have resembled the holy family fleeing to Egypt in the dead of night to escape the wrath of King Herod.
No one remembers for sure how they came up with a name for the pony the next day. But since “Mary Elizabeth” was Mrs. Powell’s name, it was probably Daisy’s idea to name the pony after her. For many years after, this thank-you gift to the poor farmer who rescued a cow was a cherished playmate for Sam Jr. and Ed.
Good deeds are always rewarded, sometimes at Christmas.