January 15th, 2003

His Journey Westward


The radio had predicted that snowfall would be six to eight inches throughout the eastern part of Ohio, and early in the morning of the sixth of January, 1930, Mike sat by the window and looked at the swirling flakes and the large, rounded drifts that had formed on the slope of the front yard.

In the kitchen his mother fried eggs and bacon and put slices of bread into the toaster. His father lumbered down the stairs, humming an indistinguishable tune. His sister, Jane, was either still asleep or pretending to be, the quilted cover up over her head.

"Once we eat," his father said to Mike, "We'll dispatch that mess out there."

Mike groaned. He wished he were not a skinny boy of 12. If he were tall and strong and brave, he'd ask his father: "Why shovel snow in the middle of a snowstorm? Why not wait until it stops?" And another thing. Why didn't his father ask Jane to help? Big sister Jane, Miss Bossy Boots.

"I'll get the shovels, okay?" Mike said.
His father grunted.

Mike put on the new bulky coat he'd gotten for Christmas, and the cap with woolly flaps that covered his ears. His mother warned him to be careful not to lose his new knit gloves. These were the third pair this winter. She’d threatened to sew on elastic strips and attach them to the sleeves of his coat, but Mike begged her not to. He could imagine what the kids at St. Xavier's would say if they saw something like that. Only five-year-olds went around with mittens thus attached.

The porch was clear but deep snow covered the steps. His foot sunk down into the light whiteness and instantly he slipped and tumbled down, feeling the shock of wet coldness on his neck and on his wrists. He stood up, brushed himself off, and headed left across the snow-covered yard toward the driveway. Thick snowflakes swirled, and stung his eyes.

He stepped with an exaggerated motion, raising and sinking one foot after another, and moved slowly through the drifts toward the garage. The doors were open. The car's rear bumper held a ragged-edged shelf of snow. Icicles hung from the top of the doorway.

Inside the garage he smelled motor oil and dust and tarpaper. In the summer's heat these odors were much more intense, especially the tar. Rich, black tar, which his friend Marty said was better than chewing gum. When the street crew came along and filled the cracks in the pavement, Mike fingered up a glob and put it into his mouth. It tasted just like it smelled. Like tar.

Shielded from the snow-swirling wind, the garage seemed still and strangely warm. He moved past the lawnmower, which still had a netting of pale, dried grass on its wheels. He found the shovels in the corner, one large, one small.

Mike propped the shovels against the wall to the left of the front door and was about to enter the house but he stopped, and grinned. Yes! He went back to the stairs and reached down. The snow was dry and wouldn't easily pack, but he finally squeezed hard enough to make a solid lump, which he slipped inside his large coat pocket.

His face was wet and burned pleasantly in the heat of the living room, and he smelled the bacon and the toast. He hoped his mother had some strawberry jam. But butter would be okay. He'd dip his buttered toast into the yolk, and sop up that yellow richness. But only after he'd eaten the peppered whites from around it. He liked a routine. He’d always eat the whites first, then the yolk, the best part of the egg. Then the crunchy bacon.

"Hang up your coat," his mother said. "And tell your sister to come to breakfast"
"Okay, ma."

As he headed toward the stairs Mike took the snowball from his coat pocket. He moved quickly, silently. Jane was still snuggled under the quilted cover. He yanked it aside, and thrust the snowball onto her white neck, above the ribboned collar of her flannel nightshirt.

Jane screamed, "AIEEEEEEE!" and leaped from the bed, barefoot. "Oh, I'll kill you! Honest to God!"

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