Cold tickles my face as I look through a frost rimmed window pane at the thickness of the snow that covers my Grand Fathers barn’s slanted roof. Soon, my eyes are drawn from the barn to look down at a wisp of snow that the wind had blown through a crack onto the wooden window sill. I was happy now that now the wind was calm after a night of frigid blast, then blowing blizzard conditions that had rocked the house. Looking up, I admired the sun as it shone brightly against a totally cloudless bright blue morning sky. As bright as the sun was it had not gained the strength yet to melt the eight inches of fresh white powder. The snow was so deep and the snow drifts so massive that they completely covered my grandfather’s ‘42 Chevy, which had been setting up on blocks in the side yard for years. If the old orange tractor had not been sticking out above the snow drift I would have thought the hump that the car made was just another huge snow drift. The outside world now was a winter's wonder land right out of a Norman Rockwell Painting.
Losing interest in the snow drifts, I began staring at two sets of foot prints in the snow that lead towards the little timber. The parallel tracks were made by my older my cousins John and Tony. Following in family tradition, they have taken John’s single shot 22 rifle on a hunting excursion. Or so they say, more likely they are just going target shooting since, I saw them stuff their pockets with several discarded green bean tin cans.
My eyes squint as I follow the tracks from the shade of 4 large snow covered oak trees out into the sparkling snow covered lane, passing through the now dormant wheat field, that lead to the little timber. I am brooding with disappointed that I am still in the house left behind. More than anything I want to be making a third set of track in the thick snow. But, being only 8 years old I have to say in the house.
As I wipe my runny nose with my shirt sleeve my Aunt La Rue walks up behind me to give me a big hug. Looking over my shoulder to see where the hug came from La Rue said, “Get away from that window Alan…you’ll catch you death of cold standing by that leaky old thing. Looking at her I said, “Aunt La Rue, you are my favorite aunt because you look like my mother.”La Rue smiles and gives me a kiss on the cheekily Rue said, “Come on to the front room, Pa Pa is going to light, a fire.”With some trepidation, I allow myself to be pulled by the neck away from the window and ushered in the correct direction.
The kitchen now behind me, I walk through a tobacco smoke filled dining room. One cannot help to notice the heat of the black oil stove off to my right. As I side step around my grandfather’s tan recliner, I take a quick a look to the left towards the living room, called by every one, the front porch. I take comfort in seeing my father looking through his black rim glasses watching the Army and Navy football game playing on a Black and White TV.As always, he notices me as I pass by him. I smile, as we have a moment together, as I pass by and he gives me a wink and a smile with his kind brown eyes.
Impatient with my shuffling, Aunt La Rue gently pushed me from behind into the front room of the white clap board Missouri farm house. All ready in the room are my grandmother, Aunt Alberta, Cousin Glenda and my mother as they watched my grandfather place wadded up newspaper under several logs to start at fire. Satisfied with the paper, he took out a yellow Zippo lighter with an imbedded trout fly in the handle to first light a home rolled cigarette then the paper kindling for the logs.
I run ahead of Aunt La Rue to my mother. She sat next to my grandmother on a silver couch. In my mother‘s arms, I give her a hug and a slurpy kiss. Still hugging her, I notice that In between my grandmother and mother on the couch laid souvenir pillows either made or purchased by member of the family. My mother did not stop talking as; she gave me a hug back then gently pushed me towards my Cousin Glenda sitting on the floor by the now roaring fire. Next to Glenda set a bag of marshmallows and two sticks.
“Glenda,” I asked, “Can I have a marshmallow raw?” Not taking her eyes off the stick she had just pick up and was sharpening with a black pen knife to a point Glenda ask, “Why would you want to eat them uncooked? We are going to roast them over the fire.”Crossing my legs as I sit down to then rest my chin on my two fists I said, “I don’t like them all burnt and runny.”Always nice to me, Glenda opened the bag to hand me a marshmallow to eat. As I stuffed the Marshmallow all at once into my mouth, I listened to my mother, her mother and two sisters’ in conversation.
Mother said. “Did you see the boys coming back yet?” La Rue replied, “No, no sign of them yet. I didn’t expect them to be returning so soon anyways.” After a pause, Mother said, “I hope they are not walking on the pond, I’m afraid they may fall through the ice.”Alberta chimes in, “Oh Marjorie be quite. Its 10 degrees out there. That water’s got to be frozen solid. And, even if they did fall through the ice that pond can’t be over 2 feet deep.”La Rue said, “What would they want to walk on the ice anyway.”Mother replied, “Well, I don’t want them to get soaking wet.”
My grandmother spoke to my grandfather. “John you better go out and get some more wood. As fast as it’s burning that little bit you have there won’t last long.”Grandpa finished arranging the logs for a better fire with a metal poker before he left the room without comment. I could hear his foot steps creak as he walked to the back porch and out the door to the wood pile. As he returned Grandpa gave a loud sneeze that could be herd for miles. Grandma said, “Did you hear that? I don’t know what I’m going to do with that man.” Grandpa arrived to lay his arm full of split wood in a cardboard box by the fire place. After standing up straight he took out a white handkerchief from his back pocket to blow his nose loudly. Ignoring the women watching him he exits the room pulling the door shut behind him, I presume he shut the door to not have Dad, Uncle Bob and Uncle Jay and his’ football game interrupted.
With the fire raging and comfortably warm, I stretch out on the floor watching Glenda cook herself a marshmallow. Through the door I hear Grandpa’s recliner open and muffled words spoken In Grandpa's voice. Taking my eyes off the mesmerizing fire, I gaze around the room at wall paper that looked like corn stalks, to finally settle looking at my mother as she looks abruptly at the dining room door.
A knock and scraping sound had come from the next room.La Rue said, “You think that was the boys? Are they home already?”Alberta said, “No that’s just Arnold leaning back in that old chair again,” while snapping shut her brown cigarette case to then light another cigarette.
After inhaling and exhaling her cigarette smoke Alberta smiled mischievously and said, “Do you remember when Uncle Chester used to bang his cane on the floor in the upstairs room when we kept playing that same record over and over on the phonograph?”My mother said, “What was that song, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah?” After a brief pause with the sisters looking back and forth at one another Alberta responded, “You think we could remember. We must have played it a thousand times.” Alberta continued, “We would crank the Victoria up all the way to make it play real fast then not wind it up when it was at the end of the record and it would play real slow.”La Rue laughed then said, “When Chester used to bang on the floor we would get mad then let the record catch on the skip to play over and over the same line. Uncle Chester used to get so mad he would come down stairs and chase us with his cane?”
Grandma said, “Poor old uncle Chester. You kids tormented him so. You were so terrible. After all he was a disabled World War I veteran.”La Rue asked, “What happened to him during the war?”Alberta said, “Didn’t he get gassed or some thing like that?”Grandma said, “I don’t know. All I remember is he had trouble walking and breathing.”
Before grandma finished, La Rue got up from her chair to walk over to the black painted mantel over the fireplace to retrieve her cigarettes. Taking one out of the pack, she set pack back down to walk to the door that lead to the houses’ front foyer. After she shut the door behind her Alberta said, “She’ll worry herself to death about those two boys. She’s in the North bedroom right now looking for them. My mother said, “Should we send Pa Pa out to look for them?”Grandma said, “Oh! Margie, let them be. They’ll be ok.They’re almost grown men now.”Alberta said laughing, “I guess they are smart enough to come home before they freeze to death. “My mother said, “I wish that they hadn’t taken that old gun with them.” Alberta said, “John knows how to be safe.”
With out a word being said La Rue walks back into the room to sit in back in her chair. The fire cracks and sizzles drawing everyone's attention for a moment. After an awkward pause La Rue said, “Didn’t our first radio only have head phones?’Alberta said, “That’s right. It only had two head phones and I remember we use to fight all the time to see got to wear them. “Grandma said, “Mersey sakes, you kids were terrible, fighting over those head phones. I use to have make you just listen to one ear piece. That way 4 of you could listen to the radio at the same time.”My mother said, “La Rue, you and Wilfred were the worse. You two would fight all the time. I remember one time you got in a fight upstairs and rolled all the way down the stairs together.”Grandma said, let’s not talk about that. And, buy the way, Alberta I need to talk to you later about your brother”
While I eat another marshmallow out of the bag, Glenda makes herself one with her sharpened stick over the fire. Pulling the marshmallow off the stick Glenda looked over at my mother.
Mother said, “I’m afraid of John going a way to the Air Force after he graduates from Bradley University this spring. I don’t know why he has to go off to that old war in Vietnam anyway.” Alberta said, “He will have to go to boot camp and flight training first. It could be a year or more before he will be stationed over there. Anyway, he will be stationed in Thailand not Vietnam.”
Let’s hope, the war will be over before he even gets there.Le Rue said, “I know that we have to stop the spread of communism but, I have to tell you I will do everything I can to keep my Tony out of the war. I don’t want him over there getting killed for nothing.”Alberta scoffed, “For nothing? Where will it end? First China, Eastern Europe, Korea now Vietnam, where will it end? Do you want the communist marching down Truce Street?”La Rue answered, Truce Street? Do you believe that? Anyway they wouldn’t get much off of that street, anyway. Tony is my only son and his father’s only blood line, he shouldn’t have to go to Vietnam.
Alberta said, “Next thing you know you will be telling Tony, when he turns 18, to burn his draft card like those fools out at Berkeley. You know the one that took over that building. What was it called Sprout’s Hall or something? They took that building and held it for 3 days. I’m glad that those 7 or 800 kids got arrested. They need to lock them up and throw away the key. They are no better than your common traitors giving aid to the enemy.” My mother said, “Quit it you two. I wish you wouldn’t talk about such things. Your own boys may have to go over there and if that war is not ended soon maybe Alan will have to go. I don’t want to think about that.”
‘Mother can you hear me?” A voiced calls out. Alberta said, “Is that Johnny? They must have come in the front door.”I set up to look at the front of the house as both Alberta and La Rue sprang up to help our now freezing wet returning hunters.
I could hear Aunt La Rue say, “You two are soaking wet. Go into the north bed room and take off those wet cloths while I get you some dry ones. You are going to catch you death of cold.”While Alberta waited outside the door La Rue went to gather some dry cloths.
Grandma said, “Well, I’m glad there back. The football game will be over soon and the men will want their dinner. We better get in the kitchen,” as she arose from the couch my mother did as well and followed her.