Solstice Stories - Let it Snow
Do you remember any “feel-good” stories from your younger years? Very quickly, my memory serves up:
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
“The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte
“The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams
Stories come in all forms; long and short, erudite and simplistic, rich and textured, blunt and caustic. But “feel-good” tales are another species, rare and human.
I am embarking on a new series of yarns that I’m christening “Solstice Stories”. Some are figments of my imagination, some are very close to true. As autumn turns to winter, and later, spring into summer, I will make a valiant attempt to write heartwarming, affecting, moving or uplifting tales. It’s a tall task, but let’s try, beginning with:
Let It Snow
It was still snowing when the doorbell rang its melodic singsong that his wife had loved so well. Oliver couldn’t see anyone when he glanced through the high set front door window. Pulling closer, he noticed a boy in a bright red parka, knit cap, equipped with a shovel. He pulled the door open and a young voice offered:
“Hi, Mr. Churcher. It’s me, Marcus, from across the street. Want me to shovel your sidewalk?”
“Well, hello Marcus from across the street. I didn’t know kids still shovel snow to make money,” Oliver said.
“I’m not. My mother’s making me do this. For Thanksgiving, sort of. She said I should do something nice for people since the world is so full of sh..” he stopped abruptly.
“Marcus! Were you about to say a swear word? I think you were going to say sh…” Oliver hesitated, then added, “Poop!” and he laughed.
Marcus joined in, laughing, “That’s right. I was gonna say poop!”
Oliver looked down, “How old are you now, Marcus?”
“Twelve,” Marcus answered.
“O.K., here’s the deal. It’s only three days after Thanksgiving so I bet it will probably melt, but come back when it stops snowing. Probably an hour or so. Shovel the walk and I’ll give you ten dollars.”
“No money please, but I’ll be back,” Marcus did a flip salute with his hand, kind of ‘no thank you’ and ‘see you shortly’ all at once. In an hour and half he returned.
Oliver pulled himself away from the always voluminous New York Times when he heard a shovel scraping the front steps. He donned a coat and stepped out to the front door.
“Hey, Marcus!” he called, “Can you shovel all winter?”
A moment passed. Oliver sensed the boy’s wheels turning. Marcus looked back across the street to his own house, then turned squinting back at Oliver.
Oliver said, “Here’s what we’ll do. You shovel snow when you can. If you can’t because of school or anything, that’s not a problem. Shovel when you can. I’ll pay you depending on the storm. Maybe 10 dollars, maybe 20, kind of depends, heavy snow, light snow. Every time you shovel I’ll put the money in an envelope with the date and how big each snowstorm is. When the winter season is over you take the envelope and do anything you want with it. But yourself something, or your mom. Give it to charity. Whatever you want. Deal?”
No hesitation. Oliver’s novelty found Marcus easily, “Deal!” Marcus shouted.
The days of December worked their way toward Christmas. It snowed, sometimes a fluffy inch or two. Sometimes much more. School was cancelled twice and Marcus never missed a day at Oliver’s house. After the second storm Oliver joined in with his own shovel. They toiled, driveway and sidewalk, up and down.
Oliver asked, “What are you doing for the holidays? Going to grandparents?”
“No, I don’t really have any, except a grandmother in Arizona who I don’t really see. But we’re going to my aunt’s in Great Barrington. I have cousins there. They’re fun. My uncle’s,…my dad’s…” Marcus stopped and looked directly at Oliver, “You know my dad died in April. He had a heart attack.”
“Yeah, Marcus. I know. I went to his funeral. I saw you there sitting with your mom. It was very sad,” Ollie snapped quiet, thinking he had said way too much, tried too many words that fell awkward and flat.
“It’s kind of a blur,” Marcus looked up, took a deep breath then slowly asked, “Mrs. Churcher?”
“Yes,” Oliver mirrored Marcus’s deep breath, “ she died two years ago. Right around this time of year. She’d been sick for a while.”
“Was she old?” Marcus asked.
“78,” Oliver replied.
“That sounds kind of old. Do you think that’s old, Mr. Churcher?”
Oliver stopped and rested his arms on his shovel, secretly stretching his back so Marcus wouldn’t see.
“You know that’s a great question, it is and it isn’t. Depends on each person and how they feel. Some days good, some days bad. Weeks can go by the same way. So, she was old, and she wasn’t. At the same time.”
“My dad was 43. He was out running,” Marcus allowed.
There was only one thing that Oliver could think to reply.
“I think you’re going to have to start calling me Ollie. First name basis for now on. O.K.?”
“Sure,” a moment, “Ollie.”
They shoveled into the New Year, past Martin Luther Kind Day, the Super Bowl and beyond Valentine’s Day. Their conversations, as well as the snow, ran from spirited and wispy, to light and deep.
In mid-January, from Marcus, “Does Churcher mean something about a church? Or do you go to church?”
“I used to go to church when I was a kid. Every Sunday, the whole thing,“ Ollie answered, “Your family?”
“I used to. When I was a kid,” Marcus laughed and Ollie laughed along.
In early February Oliver asked, “Who do you like in the SuperBowl?”
“I’m a Cowboys fan!” Marcus shouted dramatically.
“A Cowboy’s fan!? And you live in Massachusetts? How did that come about?”
“My dad was a Cowboy’s fan.”
And on, and on, shoveling and talking, talking and shoveling. Joking, telling stories, histories as each knew their own, lives; one beginning, one slowing down.
Two days before President’s Day it snowed 14 inches, drifting to 20. They looked at each other, nodded, and started in. A neighbor, two houses down, tunneled through the snow-drifted sidewalk with a snow bower cutting their job in half. Marcus’s mother, Annie, came equipped with a shovel, accompanied by Izzy, Marcus’s eight year old sister, loaded up with snowballs.Marcus and Ollie, against Annie and Izzy, everyone laughing.
As February faded, Ollie stopped Marcus as he finished clearing the front porch of a two inch snowfall.
“Marcus, it’ll be March 1st on Tuesday. We’ll probably have more snow, but I’m going to close the ‘Marcus snow fund’ on that day and give it to you. It’s amazing. There’s $237 dollars in that envelope, but to tell the truth I can’t remember where those seven dollars came from. What do you think you’ll do with it?”
“I have a couple ideas,” Marcus replied.
No snow in two weeks since March began, Marcus saw Oliver across the street and yelled, “Ollie? What are you doing on St. Patrick’s Day?!”
“Nothing. As usual,” Ollie called back.
“Well, you do now. Would you like to go to dinner with me and mom and Izzy? That steak place? Char cut a tree?” even Marcus laughed when he said it.
“Charcuterie!? Sure, I’d be happy to join you!” Oliver said.
St. Patrick’s Day proved to be cold and cloudy. When Annie pulled across the street in her Outback Oliver was ready. He wore a dark grey suit, white shirt accented by a Kelly green tie adorned with shamrocks. He hopped in next to Annie, thanking her, before Marcus hailed:
“Ollie, are you Irish? But the tie is cool!”
“Actually Marcus, I think I am one-eighth Irish, but what they say is, ‘Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!”
The meal, wonderful and presented paced and slowly, a restaurant trait his wife always loved, was splendid. Marcus reminded, several times, that he was paying. Filet mignon for Oliver and Marcus, porterhouse for Annie, and a cheeseburger for Izzy. Potatoes and peas, rolls and butter. Near the last spoonful of dessert, apple torte a la mode, Ollie asked Marcus:
“You know, the saying is, if you can trap or capture a leprechaun, he’ll grant you a wish. Maybe three! What would you wish for, Marcus?”
As soon as the millisecond slipped from his lips, Oliver regretted the silly myth that had escaped his lips and dropped into Marcus’s ear. There was a moment, Annie peering across at Oliver, Oliver locked on Marcus. Izzy turned to the window.
Marcus looked up at his mom, then to Oliver:
“If I had only one wish…just one…I’d wish that my dad was still alive. That’s kind of an easy one.”
“If I had a second wish then I’d wish for, like, ten million dollars. Or a hundred. So me and mom and Izzy can buy a mansion or something.’
Annie smiled across at Oliver, and he returned the same. Marcus continued:
“But if I had a third wish...” he wandered off, “…if I had a third wish,” it hung in the air, above the décor and linen, above steaks and cakes.
“I wouldn’t need it. Because…I think I would have asked for a grandfather. But I already have one.”
Oliver looked at Marcus and lifted his glass of water to hide the tear.
“Look!” said Izzy, “Look out the window! It’s starting to snow!”