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Story listed as: Fiction For Adults | Theme: Love / Romance | Subject: Love / Romance / Dating | Published here : 11/26/2017
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The First Snowfall. 
 
By Kevin Hughes
Born 1951, M, from Wilmington NC, United States
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The First Snowfall.
It was the second week of December, cold, crisp air that would snap if it could, but still no snow. Oh they had had a few light dustings, but those didn’t count. Only the first real snowfall counted. It had to be a snowfall that left six inches or more to count as the First Snowfall.

She looked out the window again, and it looked promising; low hanging clouds, rain and sleet yesterday, and that heavy wetness in the air that almost always signaled a snowstorm. And then…it began, giant flakes at first, then more, then even more until the sky, the ground, and the air blurred into that crazy muffled whiteness that took away bearings, sounds, and direction with equal aplomb. Her heart soared.

She knew he would come in from the barn now to hold her hand and look out the window with her. Later they would make hot chocolate and look out the big front window, their chairs pulled together until they could hold hands comfortably with one hand, and sip their cups of hot chocolate with the other. There would be few words, many smiles, and tons of memories. For it was the First Snowfall they celebrated every year, and every year brought back that first actual snowfall:

She was only thirty, bone thin, worn to wire like tautness by time, five children and desperate poverty. She had five children by the time she was twenty one, and now at thirty; she could see clearly that marrying that bastard was the biggest mistake of her life. One that all other hardships in her life would be descended from.

She was sixteen, pretty, and gullible. He was tall, good looking, a bit of a drinker and a bit of a bad boy- she was in love, he was in lust- and by the second child she knew the difference. By the third child she realized that what she mistook as confident cockiness was really nothing more than the mask of an arrogant bully- and the drinking grew worse.

She had kicked him out of the small cabin her father had left her. It was never meant to be a home, just two rooms to enjoy the lake in the summer time. It had only a wood stove, an outhouse, and an outdoor picnic table to gather at in the Summer or early Fall. When it had belonged to her Dad, it was filled with laughter and good times.

When it became her home with the masked bully, well… some things are better left unsaid. The bully had taken her life, her dreams, and every month he stopped by to take the small check that came from the fund her father had left for her and the girls. The girls always hid in the forests around the lake when he came on check day. And that is all you need to know about that.

She never really noticed the slender man when she and the girls walked into town. He seemed to always show up just about the time she got to the grocery store. Like her, he seemed to be a lot older than his years. It wasn’t his body that looked as old and starved as hers, but his eyes had that same look in them as hers. A look that gave a glimpse into the nightmares that had killed all the dreams. She knew that look.

At first, she didn’t make the connection. She hated going to the grocery store and telling Mr. Miller that the Bastard (she had stopped using his given name when he hit her first child) had come on check day- again. Could she have credit for another month?

Mr. Miller was a decent man, and like many mountain men, knew how tough times could get. But he had a family too, and everybody had problems in the hills, so he told her that if she didn’t pay at least half of what she owed now, he couldn’t extend any more credit.

She would have cried, but tears, like what little fat she had on her as a young girl, had dried up and gone away a long time ago. Her spare frame just shuddered as she raised her head to thank him kindly for what he had already done. She would stand tall and proud and walk to the food kitchen to see what they could give her to make it through the month.

It was then she heard his voice for the first time. It was a strong male voice, but one that was seldom heard. He spoke little enough to anyone around these parts, but watched everything. He knew what was happening to the lady and her children, but she was married, and he was not. It wasn’t his business. Being mountain bred himself, and no stranger to hard times, he kept his own counsel.

He heard the iron in her voice give way to the brittle realization that hope had died. He had been there. It wasn’t poverty but war that brought him to that point. You go on, but that is all. There are still signs of life, but not many of living. He was as surprised as her, when he heard himself say:

“Done and done. I will pay half of what she owes, and you give her credit for todays groceries. Write down what she owes you, and I shall write you a check now.“

The quiet slender man did not want to embarrass the woman and her five kids with a total given out loud- she noticed that with his quick direction to write down the amount. He was sheltering her from both knowing how deep in debt she was, and from public knowledge of that debt too. It made a part of her that had laid hidden for more than a decade smile. It was the part that remembered gratitude.

“Thanks.”

That was all she said. But every ounce of thankfulness she had left was crammed into that one word. It carried the full weight of ten years of desperation, deceit, and denial being erased by a single act of kindness. It was the kind of thank you that only a true apology can rival in power and purpose. It was meant.

She looked him right in the eyes when she thanked him- and that look was as strong as any handshake could be. It sealed the deal. He was thanked, and she was welcomed.

He nodded to her, tipped his hat, and with a growing red flush on his neck and face, walked out of the store. His stride was strong, his head held high. He felt … good. It was the right thing to do, and it had been a long time since he felt he knew what the right thing to do was. For the first time since before the war- he whistled.

The next month the Bastard showed up again. He took the check, but she had put up a fight this time. The Sheriff had taken her and the children to the clinic to patch her up. There wasn’t anything anyone could do since the checks were made out to both of them. The Bastard had convinced her young self that it was more convenient for both of them. There was no divorce because the Bastard threatened to take the small cabin from her. And so it went.

She went to the grocery store from the clinic. She was a practical woman. They were already in town- and they always “shopped” on the day after the check came, so she took them all to the grocery store. Mr. Miller took one look at her face- he knew what had happened. Today, her groceries would be free.

The young slender man who had paid half her tab was there too. He also saw her face. His darkened. She noticed him staring and noticed his darkened features. He motioned her over, out of earshot of the kids and Mr. Miller.

“Miss, he needs to go. You need to stop him. I could do it. But…you need to know you can do it without me, or any other man. You are strong enough. All you have to do is two things.”

She hardened inside at his words. He didn’t have five kids to worry about, or where they might live if she lost everything to the Bastard, maybe even her life. But he had steel in his voice, and something else too…something she hadn’t hear in a long, long, long time. The truth.

“What are those two things, might I ask?”

Her words, spoken softly, whipped like razors in the wind: sharp, cutting, deadly.

“Do what is right and believe in yourself."

With that, he tipped his hat, smiled at her and the girls, and walked out the door.

Next month, the Bastard showed up for the check, expecting the usual futile feminine resistance. A few slaps, the hint of wanting sexual favors, and she would wave the check in surrender. He smiled at how easy it was to cow women. As soon as he opened the door he knew that the cow would no longer put up with bull of any kind.

He barely had time to partially duck the first blow, never realizing it was a feint. She had her father’s blackjack in her hand. Her father had taught her how to use it, and use it well.

“It is better than a gun for close up fighting, and more effective than a knife.” He used to tell her in their practice sessions. She would listen and smile that innocent smile she used to wear all the time: “Dad, this is silly. I am never going to need this stuff. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be willing to use it!” She laughed.

She wasn’t laughing now. She was determined. The Feint worked. Few people think of a black jack as a stabbing or thrusting weapon- and just like the Bastard, they were wrong. That allowed her to hit him directly in the solar plexus taking all the wind away for a moment. The second thrust- to his throat- made replacing that wind almost impossible.

Then she beat him methodically, without mercy. Each blow precise, concentrated, and carrying the weight of ten years of fear and submission with them. Her Father had told her that there is a line between a beating that will stop someone and one that will cause them to seek revenge. She knew that line because the Bastard was a bully, she took her beating to the exact edge of that line. A line where threats are not empty rage filled impotent words but powerful statements of fact.

He was beaten within an inch of his life. She let him know that that last inch was forfeit if he ever showed up in the Valley again, or if he touched any of the kids. She would file for divorce on Monday, and he would sign the papers as soon as they showed up at his Mother’s house. With blood dripping from his nose and mouth, swollen fingers and eyes trying to block out anymore blows from the blackjack in the hands of this mad woman - he agreed.

“Get out of my house. You don’t belong here.”

Those were the last words the Bastard would ever hear from her. He was glad to hear them, for it meant she wasn’t going to kill him- at least not today. He ran stumbling like a drunk shriveled man to his car, wiping blood and tears away in equal amounts. His fear giving way to hope that she wouldn’t shoot him as he drove away. She had made it clear she would keep her words, so he had no choice but to keep his.

Ninety days later she was divorced. The Bastard was out of her life.

That didn’t make her life easier, just free from him. She still had five kids to feed, a mountain of debt, and no one to count on. First she would scrimp and save every penny she could to pay back Mr. Miller. Then she would pay back what the quiet man had paid for on her behalf. Only then would she start to use that money for herself and her kids. She didn’t get her dreams back, but she got her life, self respect, and future back.

She would have to thank the quiet man for believing in her someday. But she hadn’t seen him since that morning he had her told her the two things she needed to do. She had done them. He was right. She didn’t know why she wanted to see him again, maybe it was pride. Maybe it was to let him know she was anyone’s equal now. Maybe, just maybe, the woman in her wanted to see him, just because.

It was mid December. The snow was unbelievable, it was the first snowfall of the season and it was a record breaker. Six inches in the first hour. The five kids and her were huddled together on the bed under every blanket they had in the small cabin. They had run out of wood for both the fireplace and the wood stove days ago. Thank god that beans could be eaten cold and they had plenty of water.

The littlest had climbed out of the bed to see out the window. Everyone climbed out a moment later when she yelled out:

“Mommy! Mommy! There is a man coming in the yard. He is pulling a sled!”

“What? Who? Why?”

The words and questions were flung about like the covers had been a moment earlier. Sure enough there was a man pulling a sled that must have had a quarter chord of wood on it, some big bags, and if that wasn’t enough to make you think of Jeremiah Johnson the Mountain Man, he also had a ruck on his back that had to weigh at least 100 pounds. (She wasn’t surprised later to learn it was closer to 140 pounds, impressed, but not surprised.)

Six sets of eyes watched as the snow covered ghost like creature and his sled became more solid, visible, and believable. The man creature stopped his sled at the edge of the small porch. He waved at the girls and the woman looking through the window. Turning slightly to take the ruck off of his back, he straightened around and knocked on the door.

The knock brought the five girls and the woman out of their stares. They bounded to the door as one huge gaggle of femininity with a mystery to solve. It was the woman who opened the door, with five little girls spilled out around her with the same look of wonder aimed at the snow covered visitor.

He spoke first:

“I noticed there wasn’t any smoke from your chimney yesterday or today. I thought you might need some wood. (He wiggled one arm in the general direction of the sleigh.) I also heard that you let your man go, and if it is alright with you, I would like to court you.”

If God himself had showed up on that doorstep and said: “Heaven is open to you,” it wouldn’t have opened up her heart any more than the words that quiet slender man said to her. It had been so long since love of any kind had shown itself to her, that it was like Heaven. It is what he did next though that made the Choir sing.

“Where are my manners? Come in, come in!!!”

The quiet man turned out to be named Mikah. He introduced himself to all six of them. There was much giggling, squealing, and delightful peals of laughter as he unloaded his ruck sack. There was meat, and bacon (bacon!) sugar, cocoa, cookies, oatmeal, milk, juice, even potato chips. Potato Chips! A treat they all could only dream of.

They roared with laughter when he produced two Cast Iron Skillets and told them he could even make pies in them. And he did. One apple and one Cherry - to this day two pies get made in a skillet on the day of the First Snowfall: one apple, one cherry.

But everything grew quiet when he went back to the sled and got a big heavy bag and brought it in the cabin. As he untied it he told them a story:

“I was in the store the first time I saw you all. You (and he pointed to the littlest one, the one that first saw him through the window tromping towards the cabin with sled in tow) had to put a dolly back because your Mom couldn’t afford it. (Every girl nodded. None of them had ever had a doll- the Bastard took every penny for himself, so food, not toys, were all they dared hope for.) I saw your face when you put it back on the shelf.

Then I heard you (and he pointed to the eldest child, who was all of ten years of age) say: "It’s okay, Darla. Someday I will make you a doll.”

[Author’s note: Darla did make her a doll, many of them- but they were only paper cut outs, and never lasted long, even though they were loved and cared for their whole short lives.]

"Well, it took me six months, but I made you each a dolly.”

It must have been amazing to witness: Five girls and one woman, none of them breathing. Eyes gazing into a sack with a fierce determination to see their dollies - right through the cloth. Each dolly was wrapped in its own blanket. The blankets themselves were works of art, and worthy of being a gift all on their own.

Five girls, five dollies. When those five blankets were opened to reveal five individual dollies, each with its own character and personality, beauty was everywhere. Each girl fell in love immediately. He had taken care to make sure the dolly fit the girl, and he was right.

I can’t tell you about the real human hair he used to make their locks come to life, or the intense detail that showed in the porcelain fingers and faces, a porcelain that he had fired and painted himself. The dress, petty coats, and blouses, all hand sewn and designed by him, fit the dolls to perfection. Years later the five girls would be offered thousands of dollars for their dollies, and every time they would refuse. Love cannot be bought, only shared.

The mother stood silently watching her world explode with joy and possibility. She had drifted over to the quiet man and was holding his hand as she watched her brood tease out the first few strands of a childhood. A family. A future.

She didn’t know when she took his hand in hers, but she knew she would never let go. But just a moment later after giving her hand a quick squeeze of reassurance that: “We have time…” he let go of her hand to reach into the sack one more time.

Dollies clenched to their chests, five girls watched as yet another blanket wrapped object was pulled from that magic bag of miracles. A moment later and the woman’s hands fluttered to her chest to stave off the miracle in front of her- to no avail.

She removed the blanket from her dolly, gently pulling at each fold of the blanket to reveal a Mommy Dolly. In this world there are famous Art Works: The Mona Lisa, the Pieta, the Venus De Milo, and then there are objects that transcend mere artwork. This doll was one of those.

She looked over at the quiet man, ten years of desperation wiped out by a single doll, a sled load of wood, and eyes that carried all her hopes and dreams with ease.

He said:

“All dollies need a Mommy too.”

Oh, they got hitched the normal way. A small church wedding later in the Spring of the following year. But their anniversary was always celebrated on the First Snowfall of the Year.
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