Burt Snowball

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 27, 2017

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Submitted: November 27, 2017

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Burt Snowball

Nobody could do it like Burt Snowball. He was just so likeable, so special. And he was my Dad. Crumpled hats and funny faces made children everywhere love him and everyone called him ‘Pa’.  And the stories he told! I’ll share with you his favourite, and mine too, ‘cos it has the most surprising ending. And I’ll tell it just like he did!

“Back in the forties,” he would say, “a little girl called Lucy who survived polio comes in a pony cart to our workshop. Her old, steel leg braces are broken and her iron crutches are buckled. Gently, I lift her out of the cart and place her on a bench outside my smithy wall. She’s so little and fragile, probably nine or ten years old. But when she spoke, oh, my! She had a lot of fight in her!”

“Mr Snowball,” she says, “There are idiots what call me names because I’m crippled. Don’t let that bother me, but the old man has shot through and my ma works in the city laundry. She’s often sick and don’t earn much. I can’t walk unless you fix my braces. We ain’t got no money to pay you but everyone tells me you got magic.”

“Oh, no,” I say to her. “Not anymore. Old Mr Magic – he got up and ran away years and years ago. Don’t recall him showing his nose anywhere near hereabouts for a long, long time.” I look all around the yard. “Can’t see any magic, can you?”

Lucy folds her arms and juts out her jaw. “So, that’s it? You’re saying you can’t help me?”

I smile. “Well, let’s see, shall we? Hang on a minute.” I gently remove her leg braces, and picking up the crutches I disappear into the smithy. A quick examination of this twisted and broken mess tells me I’ve a tough time ahead of me. Before I begin the job, I return to that wisp of a girl on my white bench. She’s twirling and un-twirling the hem of her frayed pinafore dress and her eyes are so pleading as she looks up at me.

“Well, Mr Snowball, can you fix them? Please say you can!” She frowns and her lips press together. “I’m not leaving here until you do, you know, even if I have to wait here all week!”

I couldn’t help chuckling. “Lucy,” I say to her, “firstly you’d better call me ‘Pa’, ‘cos everyone else does, and secondly, while you’re waiting I’ve got something I need you to do. I’ve lost my best red handkerchief, so if you see it I’d be very grateful. I’ve looked everywhere but it’s gone and I really need it. Also, I’ve lost my lucky threepenny bit and I can’t do my best work without it. I’d appreciate you using your keen eyes to look around for it.”

“How long have these things been missing?” asks the little one.

“So long I can’t remember. Things haven’t been the same since they disappeared.”

I return to my smithy and stoke up the fires. I’ve been there barely ten minutes when a loud shriek makes me run outside. I find Lucy clutching my red handkerchief and giggling.

“I found it, I found it!” Her black eyes are as bright as buttons. “It was just here!” She swivels around and points to a dislodged brick and a small gap. “See! I finds this crack in your wall, I sticks my finger inside and here it is!” She frowns. “That’s a funny place to put your handkerchief!” Then with a shy grin, “Pa”.

I look at the wall shaking my head. “That’s odd. Don’t recall there being a loose brick in my wall before; never in the forty years I’ve been here, Lucy.” I shake my head again. “Looks like you’ve worked a bit of magic, young lady. Well done!”

Lucy’s smile fades and her forehead wrinkles again. “Your lucky threepenny bit wasn’t in there, though.” Her tiny fingers waft the hanky to and fro. “And it’s not in the hanky, either.”

“Right,” I say. I take a small wooden box from my jacket and hand it to her. Dainty lilac and gold flowers decorate all sides. “Slide the top off and tell me what’s inside.”

“What’s this? It’s so pretty!” Lucy eagerly removes the pretty cover and stares inside the box. She screws up her face at me then peers inside the box again. “Nothing.  Not a thing.”

“Well,” I say, “That’s a shame. I was hoping you’d see my threepenny bit. You see, its favourite place is in this box. Never mind. Perhaps if you shake the hanky gently it will fall out of there.”

“No, it won’t! I’ve already shook it a hundred times!” Her shoulders slump.

“Right,” I say. “Well, if you’re sure, stuff my hanky inside the box and slide the lid back on.”

Done in a flash, she thrusts the box at me. I screw up my eyes as if looking into the sun, turn the box over once and hum a little tune as I  drum on the lid. “No, lassie,” I says. “You take the box. Here’s a very important thing I want you to do. You hold this precious little box and dream as hard as you can about my lost threepenny bit. Imagine it’s close by. Think about it. With all your strength try to imagine where it might have gone.”

I go back into the workshop and do the serious stuff on mending and straightening the ironwork. There’s lots of whooshing of the bellows, and heating and hammering going on. While it’s cooling down I quietly scoot around the corner. Lucy, bless her soul, has the box clasped in prayerful hands.  I sit down beside her quietly, chin in hands.

“What’s up, Pa Snowball? You look so discouraged! Can’t my things be fixed?” Tears gather quickly in her beautiful, dark eyes. “Is it too hard?”

I sigh. “It’s so hard without my lucky coin. Have you found it yet? Anyway, how did you say you would pay for my work?”

“I told you.” Lucy sniffs. “Mum and I have nothing to pay with.” She turns out her empty skirt pockets and looks up at me with those big, dark pools of sadness.

“Do you think there’s any money in the box?” I ask. “Open it and see.”

Lucy stares at me, head to one side and eyebrows arched. “Have you forgotten? There’s only the hanky inside.” I get the impression she thinks I’m mad.

I smile at her innocent rebuke. “Have you been dreaming for me, Lucy?”

“Oh, yes! I saw threepenny bits falling from the sky like rain!”

“Well, then,” I say. “It’s time you opened the box!”

Lucy hesitates. She cocks her head to the other side. She sighs. One eyebrow is down, the other is up. I can see she doesn’t want to argue, but neither does she want to open the box and disappoint both of us.

“Lucy, you are about to discover the wonder behind these words: ‘Ask and it shall be given you, Seek and you will find, Knock and it will be opened for you.’ Go on. Don’t be afraid. Open it.”

Lucy slowly slides back the lid. Dead still, she stares. “Well?” I ask. “What do you see?”

“Nothing. I told you so. It’s just the stupid hanky!” She sighs the biggest sigh and opens her mouth to say more but I cut in: “Lucy, say this after me: ‘Ask and it shall be given you, Seek and you will find, Knock and it will be opened for you.’

While Lucy repeats these famous words, I see her delicate fingers doing the seeking. She squeals with delight. “I can feel something small! The threepenny bit, I’m certain! It’s here!”

“Really? Show me!”

She grabs the hanky, rips it out of the box, then freezes. Her jaw drops and for several seconds she’s speechless. Then she stutters: “W-w-wait! Look, Pa Snowball! There’s two coins!”

She shoves the box under my nose. “How did you do that, Lucy?” I says. “The old coin is my lucky one! It’s turned up at last! And look, that bright shiny one is a mystery. You’ve found my handkerchief and two coins all on the same day! Thanks to you Miss Lucy, Mr Magic has come home at last!”

Gently I take the box and hanky and coins from her and, leaving her beaming, I walk to the smithy doorway. I stop and turn around. “Miss Lucy, what happened today was sheer magic, and a magician never gives away her secrets, ok?” I wink, put a finger to my lips and enter my workshop.

At that moment George, my old partner comes by and speaks to Lucy. “Hello pretty miss! Pa Snowball doing some work for you, is he? He’s usually a quiet worker, but listen to him whistle today! What have you done to make him so happy?”

“I found his favourite red hanky and not one, but two lucky coins for him!”

“What? Not his threepenny bit? Oh my, oh my, oh my! He’s been looking all over for that! How did you do that?”

“I can’t say,” says Lucy shyly. “It’s a secret between Pa Snowball and me. I ain’t sayin’ another word!”

Inside the smithy, George and I exchange grins. He gives me a wink, saying loudly: “You’ve got a right magic worker out there, Pa Snowball! Ain’t that a fact!”

I take the walking aids out to Lucy and fit them onto her legs. “Oh, wow!” she squeals. “They’re shiny, like new!” And the new, soft, leather couplings are gentle on her spindly limbs.

“There you are, miss. Walk around a bit. How does all that feel?”

Lucy strides around the yard. She can’t stop giggling. “Wonderful! Just wonderful! Look how quickly I can go, now!” It’s not long though, before she scoots back and sits next to me with that fierce frown. “But Pa Snowball, how will we pay you?”

I crouch down and look into her troubled eyes. There’s something very special about this little one. “You already have, missy.” It’s all I can do to hold back my tears.  “You found my handkerchief and my lucky coin. That’s payment enough. And now, let me talk about the other threepenny bit; the shiny, mystery one. I’ve been thinking. You found it but it was in my box, so I’ll have to toss you for it. Heads you win, tails I lose, ok?”

Before she can answer, I toss it high and catch it. “And…….heads!” I declare. “You win!”

(Every time that Pa gets to this part of the tale, his voice goes shaky and tears run down his cheeks.)

I close her dear little fingers over the shiny coin. “Put this under your pillow every night and don’t be afraid to dream of what you want with all your heart. Remember: Ask and it shall be given you, Seek and you will find, Knock and it will be opened for you.”

At that moment Lucy was the happiest girl in the whole of Australia. Pa arranged for the ‘horse and cart’ man to come and fetch her and take her back home. Sadly, soon after this happy event we heard that her Ma got seriously ill and they moved far away.

We also went through some tough times. Pa got real sick for several years and couldn’t work. Me and my siblings had to leave school without graduating and take whatever work we could to keep us from going under. Unfortunately we didn’t entirely succeed. While Pa was still recovering the bank forced us to sell. It didn’t leave us with much and so we moved to a smaller town way down south. The housing was cheaper but the climate was colder and worse for Pa’s health. He’s rarely complained but all this bad luck has been punishing for Pa; I’ve seen such deep sadness in his eyes. After Lucy left town, sixteen years passed before the amazing conclusion to this story.

 

Late one summer afternoon I’m sitting with Pa on the front porch enjoying the sunshine. After a return to part time work for several years he is now retired. Sadly, Pa lost his dear wife and our dear mum four years previous in a flu epidemic. Three of my five siblings are now seeking work in neighbouring towns and due to all the upheaval only two of us has married.

Suddenly a shiny, red motorcar pulls up outside our house. A tall woman alights. We’re thinking this is trouble or perhaps she’s lost. She walks up to our small front gate. It’s hard to see her features; the sun is almost directly behind her. “Is this the Snowball residence?” she asks.

“It might be,” answers Pa. He has his usual broad grin. “Depends on who’s asking. Come into the shade so we can see how suspicious you are!”

She opens the small latch and walks slowly into the protection of our big, flowering lilac tree. It’s then that we see how beautiful she is. Long curly hair, dark eyes, slim and dressed in smart business attire.  We haven’t a clue who she is. Not from these parts, that’s for sure. She smiles. “Am I acceptable?”

“No,” says Pa. “Not yet. Depends on what you’re flogging! We set our guard dog here onto sales people.” He points to our old sausage dog, Issabelle. “Go bite her, Izzy!” Izzy gets up slowly, waddles down her ramp and sits in front of the visitor wagging her little tail.

The lady laughs. It sounds more like a giggle. “I’m not in sales. Well, not today anyway. I’ve got something that I believe belongs to you and I’ve come a rather long way to return it. You were very hard to locate.”

I jump up. “I’m sorry. We have been most rude. Please come and join us. What did you say your name was?”

With a gentle smile, the lovely lady shakes my hand and climbs the small stairway. She looks intently at Pa for several seconds.  “My name is ‘Ask, seek, knock’. Do you remember me?”

Pa freezes and his wrinkled eyes grow very wide. He tries to smile but his old jaw trembles and tears run down his weathered cheeks. He doesn’t notice that the lady is handing him something with her elegant hand, but she reaches out anyway, takes his wrist gently off the rocker and places a small coin in his palm. His eyes are lost in hers. “Hello, Pa,” she says. “I’ve been longing to meet up with you again for a very long time.”

Lucy stays with us for several days and for most of our waking hours she chatters and giggles. Except, of course when we all tell the sad parts of our journeys. It’s then that she takes Pa’s hand and strokes it lovingly while looking into his sad, old faded blue eyes. “You know,” she says, “I took that little threepenny bit and did what you suggested for ten years; every night without fail. Drifting off to sleep, my hand clasping it under my pillow I said those magic words: ‘Ask and it shall be given you, Seek and you will find, Knock and it will be opened for you.’ And I wished and I dreamed and I hoped for all kinds of miracle things to happen, and do you know what? They did!”

And what a wonderful story she told us. Sadly she lost her ma two years after moving from our old town, but she was placed in the care of a surgeon who soon discovered that polio was only a minor factor in her ailments.

“He is a clever man, Doc Johnson. He saw very quickly what other doctors missed. Early polio masked birth defects in my feet and legs. He did several operations with bone grafts and so on. Recovery was slow and painful. It was in the middle of all those excruciating nights that I clung to that coin so hard. I just kept remembering your kind blue eyes and the certainty with which you said those magic words to me.”

When Doc Johnson and his wife moved overseas to a posting in New York, she of course went with them, attending college and university and becoming highly qualified in the medical sciences. Lucy was now a very successful co-inventor of equipment that sped up operations and thus increased life expectancy.

“Pa, I’ve got something I want to do for you. I can see that things have been very hard for you.”

Pa cuts in: “Now listen, my love. You don’t owe us a penny! Just to see you again is so satisfying and to hear your story fills my soul with such joy.”

But he is no match for Lucy. Those black eyes fire up. “Don’t be silly, Pa. Why, if it wasn’t for you I never would have prayed and hoped and wished and dreamed. I know it made all the difference!” Her voice softened. “Please let me do something for you. I’ve taken the liberty of buying you a very comfortable home back in your old town where the weather is warmer and all your friends reside. All your children can re-join you and there’s lots of sheep and cows and vegetable gardens and chickens and goats and room for, well, grandchildren and whatever you like.”

When Pa had finished mopping up his tears of joy, he fished around in his jacket. Out came a well-worn, lilac and blue, wooden box. He gave the box to Lucy and at his request she very gently slid back the lid. She smiled. “Ask, Seek, Knock,” she said, and with eyes holding the gaze of Pa’s, her delicate, elegant fingers did the seeking. Out came the hanky and then, even more gently Pa’s old threepenny bit. She cradled them in her hands. “And what have you been dreaming for, Pa?”

“Ah,” says Pa with a very big sigh. “I have also put this little box under my pillow every night. I have wished and dreamed and hoped and prayed for you to be blessed as you have been and for my own children to be blessed as you have blessed them today.” Then he chuckled like only Pa Snowball could. “You’ve brought my handkerchief and two coins back together all on the same day! Thanks to you, Miss Lucy, Mr Magic has come home again!”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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