sleigh

The arrival of an authentic sleigh at the entrance of the Savannah Pines retirement community triggered memories of Christmases past for residents such as Fern Taylor (left), 93, and Jessie Nickeson (right), 98.

DENNIS BUCKLEY PHOTO/NEIGHBORHOOD EXTRA

Santa arrived right on schedule at the Savannah Pines retirement community last weekend.

The most obvious piece of evidence? An honest-to-goodness sleigh – an elaborate and beautiful Christmas display greeting residents, staff and visitors at the entrance of the retirement community west of 40th and Pine Lake Road.

The festive carriage complements the attractive Christmas display at Savannah Pines, and has been made possible by recent move-ins, Bob and Natalie Grossman.

The trail of the sleigh

The Grossmans’ story of their sleigh discovery goes back nearly 20 years to a treasure hunter’s paradise in Ashland, Neb. Natalie Grossman recalls driving by the treasure trove and having her curiosity piqued by a “large wooden curved piece resembling a shepherd’s crook.”

Her curiosity got the best of her. The proprietor said the conversation piece was part of a sleigh whose pieces he had purchased from a friend in Kansas.

Negotiating a purchase price, the Grossmans bought the components, took them home, and the sleigh was on its way.

Once constructed, it was used as a lawn ornament and has spent many years in a storage barn. When the couple moved to Savannah Pines and were dazzled by the retirement community’s elaborate Christmas display, they approached management and proposed sharing the sleigh with their new neighbors.

Memory lane

Having been brought back to life, the sleigh has served as a centerpiece of Savannah Pines’ festive holiday atmosphere. It’s also resurrected older residents’ memories of childhoods in rural communities and many a winter’s ride in a horse-drawn sleigh.

“The sleigh brings back wonderful memories,” says Jessie Nickeson, 98, who has fond memories of riding in her uncle’s sleigh. She said the carriage conjures up thoughts of a simpler time growing up in Leshara, Neb., a hamlet north of Wahoo, and of horse-drawn buggy rides across the Platte River.

Jessie moved to the retirement community 18 months ago to be near her children. Reflections of her childhood resurrect memories of the generosity of an aunt and uncle who made Christmases merry.

The native Nebraskan, whose husband Paul died in 1998, survived a bout with scarlet fever as a child.

Effects of Depression

Fern Taylor, 93, didn’t grow up with a sleigh, but her family did have an old buckboard farm wagon pulled by horses.

Times were tough in those days, complicated by lingering effects of the Great Depression, she said. Christmas meant simple gifts in her stocking such as oranges and peanuts. Her parents’ belt-tightening usually led to the late arrival of a Christmas tree.

“We never got our tree until Christmas Eve because my parents couldn’t afford to pay full price,” she said.

Raised on a southwest Iowa farm near Red Oak, she said her parents grew much of the food they ate. Her mother had an avid vegetable canning schedule and churned butter. Fern moved to Savannah Pines four months ago following the death last year of her husband of 72 years, Bill Taylor.

“The sleigh triggers a lot of memories of the old days,” she added.

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