THE LITTLEST SNOWMAN
ON ROUTE 66
Welcome to my blog space.
Periodically I will share work in progress or in this case, one of my favorite short stories which is included in The Wind in the Junipers and also Shorts & Briefs - an anthology of my best short stories.
I hope you enjoy this free sampling. If you do, please let me know.
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Following the premature death of his wife, Earl Garnett, a professional writer, decides to drive across America. Along the way, he discovers the country, as he never imagined it.
Soon, cryptic writings appear on his laptop, often coinciding with roadside memorials that lead him into the darker sides of the road. Ultimately, he must decide whether or not to follow the prompting of these haunting passages and accept the consequences.
This is primarily a work of fiction
based on real places and in a few cases fictionalized real persons.
Many instances, places and observations are based on an actual road trip by the author.
©2017 – J. Franklin Green
A READERS REVIEW:
I think this is one of the best mysteries I've ever read. From the first cryptic text which appears on Earl's laptop to the last, author John Green, builds the suspense until
a reader almost bursts with anticipation of what comes next.
This is one of those "can't put down" stories that makes one want to ignore daily tasks just to keep reading to the end. The descriptions of all the towns, cities, and countrysides along the famous Route 66 paint a picture of the country which a reader can easily visualize and identify with, especially because of the many excellent photos Mr. Green inserts periodically, giving us the exact locations of the events as they occur. This is one of those frame stories—many stories framed within Earl's cross country travels—which endears the characters to the reader and makes him care about their lives. Mr. Green's conclusion to Earl's dilemma doesn't disappoint either
with his trademark twist that pierces the heart of the reader in the last scene and leaves him wanting a sequel. This is one of those books I'm sure I'll read again. Highly recommended!
LULU review 7/21 -
John F. Green
John is originally from Guilderland, NY, but moved to Arizona in 1999 and is a retired graphic designer, advertising art director, copywriter and illustrator.
He spends half his time now at his 40 acre off the grid ranch in northern Arizona, occasionally joined by his lovely and forbearing wife Wendy. Many of his stories are written there during the quiet starry nights amid the howls of coyotes, hooting owls and things that go bump in the night.
"Like many authors, I draw from personal experiences and relationships but have deployed them in a fictionalized way. I have also asked several authors if they have ever liked or fallen in love with their fictional characters as I have. They are sometimes as real to me as some of the characters who are based on real people. I must confess to having fallen in love with one of the totally fictional persons. Who knows, you may too."
for the full story click onthe shield below.
To contact John
Please e-mail to:
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Complete list of books:
1. Young Readers:
- THE WIND IN THE JUNIPERS -
-LOLA, SAM & THE JACKALOPE-
2. Apocalyptic Fiction:
- THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM -
3. Science Fiction:
- ALIEN HEREDITY -
- AND THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT -
4. Historic Fiction:
SERGEANT BACHMAN -
- BOOZE & BETRAYAL -
- CONFESSIONS OF A GRAPHIC PROSTITUTE -
- EVERYTHING I NEEDED
TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE, I
LEARNED ON A
(Well, Almost) -
- A BABY BOOMERS HISTORY OF GUILDERLAND -
-THE OTHER TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE
Ash Fork, AZ -
7. Supernatural Suspense:
-ROADSIDE 66 -
-TOMMY POLITO'S TAVERN-
8. Anthology Short Stories
- SHORTS & BRIEFS-
Note that these are all 6" x 9" paperbacks. That makes page counts seem smaller than small trade paperbacks.
Quantity discounts available at slightly above my cost.
Depends on quanties.
Please call 480-694-1860
for questions or
e-mail to: email@example.com
John's best seller:
See more about the inspiration
for this book at this website:
A Baby Boomers History of Guilderland, NY
Written in Ash Fork, Arizona
to the howls of coyotes
and hooting owls.
For young and
See Ash Fork:
EXCLUSIVELY FROM LULU PRESS
LOLA, SAM AND THE JACKALOPE
Heartwarming tales of adventure, deep friendships and courage. For young and young-at-heart readers. (AGES 11-12 AND UP)
Two dogs, one from the city, the other from the wilds of Northern Arizona become best friends and share countless adventures.
After helping a mother jackrabbit they face grave danger and have an unexpected meeting with the mythical Jackalope.
As told from the dog Lola's point of view - Illustrated with real-life photos. Also contains a brief history of Ash Fork Arizona - "The other town too tough to die."
Expanded to Novella (short novel size) from the short story version contained in The Wind in the Junipers.
90 pages - ILLUSTRATED
covered now with lines and
creases, tickets torn if half,
memories of times
The town of Guilderland has a long, rich history dating even before its incorporation in 1803. This well documented. For those interested, Images of America – Guilderland, NY by Alice Begley and Mary Ellen Johnson is a good read.
For the baby boomer generation however, the town holds a different history, not covered in any textbook. We did not consider it history at the time because we were living in it. Places we lived, loved, learned, worked and played, taken for granted, as though nothing would ever change. Those days from the 1950’s to 1980’s, were times of great change, not only in the culture of America, but also as reflected in the town.
Dedicated to Carmen Baca,
author of El Hermano,
who encourages me and helps
me improve my craft.
J. Franklin Green
Paperback print versions
All Kindle Editions:
J Franklin Green
Please e-mail any comments
or questions to:
by Carmen Baca
A unique coming of age story
set in the 1920's in a small rural village in northern New Mexico.
It paints a vivid and heart felt picture of not only the times and place but a culture now long gone. Five boys aspire to become Hermanos, religious leaders and elders of the village.
See it on Facebook
OF THE AUTHOR -
A LONG TIME AGO
IN A GALAXIE
FAR, FAR AWAY:
THE LITTLEST SNOWMAN
ON ROUTE 66
My name is Dr. Wendee Goldman Sanders, a fairly well known scientist and a Professor of Physics and Chemistry at MIT. As a person of science I can say that the story I am about to tell you should be impossible and my learned colleagues would tell you that it absolutely is impossible. Surely, they will laugh at me, but I am going to tell it to you because it’s true, and because it really happened. It happened to me when I was just a little girl.
I was just eight years old when my parents moved from Ash Fork to Flagstaff. My father was a police officer in the Yavapai County Sheriffs’ Department and my mother worked as a waitress at The Ranch Cafe in town while finishing her masters and doctorate degrees at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She had started this work well before I was born and it took her a long time. Mom eventually got a job in the Chemistry Department at the University and my Dad left the police force to take a job as head of campus security. He didn’t mind because it was safer than police work, my mom had finally achieved her goals, and of course, he had me to think about too.
That was all fine and good for them but it wasn’t fine and good with me. I had a lot of friends in town and loved the small town life. I especially liked all of mom’s fellow waitresses and cooks at the Ranch Cafe. Fayrene Hume at the museum who was and is the town historian and “Saint Lucy” as everyone called her who had been just about everything in town in her time from a police posse member to postmaster were also important to me. Lucy was now retired and helped out just about anyone who needed darn near anything in town. My teachers were great as was our school and many of my classmates were fun, especially my best friend Marci. Now all of that was about to change because Flagstaff was a small city, not a small town and it was forty minutes away from Ash Fork on the freeway, Interstate 40. Now all of these details I am telling you now didn’t enter the mind of my eight year old self, all I really knew was that Flagstaff was a long way from Ash Fork and I would never see my friends and everything else that was “home” to me.
I was crushed. My parents said we had to move and I would surely make new friends, even more because we were moving to a big suburban neighborhood with lots of houses and the elementary school was only a few blocks away. “Baloney!” I said to myself at the time, and cried the whole way there in the car.
Our house was a lot bigger than our old shabby house in Ash Fork but that didn’t matter one wit to me. It was my house and I knew every nook and cranny including the weird animal images I saw in the knotty pine paneling and the imaginary secret portal in the back of my closet that led to a big old house with lace curtains, window seats and filled with toys. I could care less about freshly painted perfect walls, dishwashers and built in microwave ovens. The two car garage meant nothing along with the freshly paved neatly landscaped streets. I spent most of the month before school began arranging, rearranging and hating rearranging my room. My toys and books were all of the remaining comforting elements of home. Everything else was strange, foreign and a constant reminder that I was not home as I thought of home.
My parents were busy getting ready to start their new jobs. Dad was already away at the college campus most days setting up personnel changes and new procedures. Mom too, was prepping for classes and sitting many faculty and administration meetings. All of this I did not know or care about at my age. I only knew that they were too busy to spend much time with me and on days that both were gone, I was alone except for Mrs. Caruthers who was my babysitter. Most of the time she just watched daytime TV game shows or napped. So I arranged and rearranged some more and waited for school to start, with each passing day that it came nearer filling me with dread. I got a little tour of the school when my parents brought me in to register. It was enormous and brand spanking new, nothing like my old school. I was sure I would get lost and never be heard from again, but my dad tried to assure me that in a couple days I would be right at home there. “Baloney,” I said again to myself. It would not, and could not, be like my school at my real home. I tried to convince myself they were right but I just couldn’t. Why didn’t they understand?
Finally, the big day arrived. I didn’t get lost, well maybe once or twice and my teacher was very nice and didn’t once pull out a knife and fork and try to eat me for lunch or anything, but she wasn’t Mrs. Morgan whom I knew well, and was to be my new teacher back home in Ash Fork. Eventually, I would get used to her and even come to like her but I sure didn’t feel that way quickly.
Recess was a nightmare. I had been introduced as new to the school to all the kids on the first day but most of them already had their group of friends and apparently didn’t have any interest in adding anyone else. From overheard conversations, they weren’t interested in the same things I was. Most of it seemed to center around things they had or cool things they were going to do, or cool things they were going to have. As bad as the ones who ignored me were, the ones who didn’t were worse. A lot worse.
First of all - I was a “hick.” Just a country bumpkin from a tiny little “hick” town who dressed funny and talked funny too. A lot of my clothes had come from the Family Dollar, The Virtual Closet second hand store, or were sewn by my mom or Mrs. Gunther our old next door neighbor. L.L. Bean, JC Penny and Sears were not where I got my clothes. I had a few outfits from a store down in Prescott but not many.
Second of all - I was just plain “the new kid” and they needed to push at me to see how far they could go so they could figure out how I would fit, or hopefully not fit in, with them. Most of them were upper middle class city kids and many of their parents, like mine, worked at the University. The fact that mine did also didn’t count. I was still the “hick” with the weird name. In short order I became Windy, Wendy Bird, like in Peter Pan, or Goldie or Goldilocks even though my hair was dark brown.
My last name was Goldman, which of course which had led to the latter of the two names, but in addition to that, I was Jewish. The only Jewish kid in the class and as I later learned one of only five in the whole school. We weren't Orthodox, wearing black and yarmulkes and traditional dress or anything like that, and in thinking back on it, anti-Semitism really had nothing much to do with it. Eight and nine year olds don’t really think in those terms, except as they might have caught a hint of it at home. The point was that I was different in yet another way. Had I been a hick and a Hindu or Buddhist or believed in the Norse Gods like Odin and Thor it would have been all the same. I was the new kid, from a hick town who had a different religion. Three strikes before I even came to the plate. Had I been more mature, worldly wise or been more self assured, I could have coped with it. But what eight year old is any of those things?”
So I suffered through fall and because as before, my parents were still absorbed in their new jobs and getting assimilated themselves, I suffered alone. As I think back, my mom might have been going through something similar to me because she too was a “hick” from a small town. My dad not so much. He was a cop after all, and had dealt with a lot worse stuff in his life. Suffering may be a bit of a strong word but “alone” is a big word - a powerful and scary word. If you can’t cure alone by finding friends, you retreat further into “alone” until it almost feels comfortable. You hate it but you become used to it and it sinks in. It sinks in deep.
Winter in Flagstaff was very different. What snow we got in Ash Fork was dry and quickly blown away by high winds. The snow that came that first winter in Flagstaff was deep and wet.
“We were at least 2,000 feet higher in elevation,” my father told me. The boys called it “good packing” snow, ideal for snowballs and snowmen. Snowballs didn’t excite me because I was sure I was going to be considered a moving target by most of the boys. The girls in the neighborhood mostly ignored me but some of the boys were mean. They teased, called me names, and delighted in shooting spitballs and rubber bands at me in school or on the way.
After a particularly big snowfall, as I watched the neighborhood boys building snowmen from our living room window, I decided so go outside and look at them. I have no idea what I was thinking at the time – not thinking was probably the answer, because as I was looking in wonder at the huge snowmen they were building, one boy, who always seemed to delight in tormenting me called out to his fellow, “Hey, look, Windy Wendee came out in the big bad snow.” There followed a barrage of taunts, snowballs and laughter, so I retreated to the house and went to my room.
Still in my winter coat, I sat disconsolately and fuming on my bed looking about my room aimlessly, when I saw a Mr. Potato Head toy sitting in pieces on the floor of my closet. Even he seemed to mock me with a raised eyebrow and misplaced features. What I really wanted to do was smack the crap out of the neighborhood boys, but they were too big even for a tomboy hick from little old Ash Fork, but a weird and admittedly warped idea took form in my hurt mind.
Gathering up “Mr. Mocking Potato head,” I went through our kitchen, stopping at the utility drawer and went into the back yard where nobody would see me except maybe “Miss Kitty,” the neighborhood cat, who seemed always to be pouncing on some sparrow or bluebird. Her I could handle, and in the mood I was in, she would not be a happy cat. Finding a nice open snowy spot I started to build a snowman. Just a little sucker, not some big thing like the boys out front were busy making. I wanted one only about a foot high for my purpose. My chest was heaving with anger and frustration as I started to build it, which didn’t take overly long. When the snowballs were made and stacked, I used the Mr. Potato head eyes, nose (stupid moustache and all), ears and arms, sticking them in the wet heavy snow in place of the traditional buttons, carrots and sticks. When that was done, I pulled out a plastic funnel from my pocket, the one purloined from the kitchen, turned it upside down and plopped in on its head. A Tupperware dunce cap it was, and it fit perfectly. That stupid little snowman just incontinently sat there in the middle of our small back yard with no idea of the fate I had in store for it. It had no idea, none, no clue, but I sure did. The whole time I was making it, tears were streaming down my face, dripping on my coat, scarf and the snowman. I had never heard of a voodoo doll, but in my mind this inanimate snowman represented all the boys (and girls by proxy) who seemed bent on making me miserable.
Clearing a path in the snow down to the brown sleeping grass as I went, I backed off about five feet and scuffed my boots to clear them of any sticky slippery snow. As I did this, I looked up and saw “Miss Kitty” sitting on our fence watching me with that smarty pants cat look on her face and twitching her tail as though mocking me in her own hateful way. Snuffling back the ooze from my runny nose as I bent over, I made a small, compact and very hard snowball. My dad took be to a baseball game one time in summer, but I swear that no pitcher that day threw a ball harder, more accurate and fast that day than I threw at that cat. Of course, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but that snowball smacked the fence right below the cat and she made herself scarce in a big hurry.
“That’s for the little bluebird you killed last summer you stinker,” I yelled. Then I turned toward the little snowman, scuffed my feet again, and got ready to run forward and placekick him into smithereens. I could already see the funnel sailing toward the goal posts that were really a pair of barren saplings, and Mr. Potato Head features flying in all directions like pieces of a piñata at a birthday party.
Leaning over and clenching my fists preparatory to starting my run, I saw the moustache twitch and the Mr. Potato head eyes, pop off and land in the snow in front of the snowman. In their place, two eyes opened, clear, large and bright blue, sparkling in the sun. Stunned and curious, I walked forward slowly, all thought of field goals and kick offs evaporated.
“I like the moustache,” it said. “Can I keep it?”
I was speechless.
“I’m not sure about the hat though. Something with a wider brim would keep the hot sun off of my head.”
The first thought that came to me was maybe I had fallen asleep in my room and was just dreaming this, but my nearly frozen toes argued against that hypothesis. My mouth went dry and my palms began to sweat. “What… where did you… who are…” I stammered.
“Let’s start with ‘who’ if you don’t mind,” it said. “You can call me ‘Frosty, Snow-Boy, Billy-Bob, Jimmy John’ or whatever you please, but not ‘Bogus.’ That name is already taken. Maybe you saw the movie with the big goofy Frenchman and Haley Joel Osment?” A smile popped out beneath the Mr. Potato Head nose and moustache. “Personally, I rather fancy ‘Bernard’ – a nice name don’t you think?”
“Bernard?” I said, still rather confused and not a little mystified.
“Bernard W. Allman, if you wish to be formal, but not Bernie please.” He winked as he said this and I sat down hard in the snow.
“Now as to your other queries, where I came from I have no clue really but the why is very simple. Your tears brought me. You are hurt, lonely and need a friend – so… here I am! But if you want me to stick around for a while, you better get me a broader brimmed hat and get me out of the sun. Maybe it would be better under the eaves next to your dad’s shed? The sun never hits that spot.”
My eight year old brain was befuddled, scared and massively confused, so I turned and ran into the house and upstairs to my room. I sat on my bed for a moment shaking. As I did I saw an old doll of mine with a big straw hat on its head, sitting on a shelf. “What are you waiting for,” it seemed to say. There was no wink, no moving lips, and no nod of the head. If there had been I might have gone screaming to my mother and this story never written, but instead, I pulled the hat off and brought it outside. Replacing the funnel on Bernard, the snowman’s head with the hat, I then picked it up, or him rather, and carried him carefully to the shade under the eaves.
“Thank you, he said, “Much better here.”
“Now what?’ I asked.
“First we have to get to know one another. All I know is that you are hurting inside but that’s about it. Please tell me why.”
An hour later, near dusk, I had finally told him everything about myself, from my home and friends in Ash Fork to this horrible life in Flagstaff. Just getting it out in words lifted a great weight. Until then I had kept it all bottled up inside except a few times I tried to talk to my mother and father about it. They had been kind, but told me that “these feeling would pass in time,” and “I would see it differently later, blah, blah, blah…” they didn’t understand how I felt from my point of view which was now, not in some distant, non-existent future. Kids are not very good at the whole “put it in perspective” thing. They only understand and feel how they feel and think that day, or that minute. It as just like when I had my first crush on Jimmy Sanders and he moved out of town with his folks. I was devastated, but all they could say, that it “wasn’t important now because blah, blah, blah, I would get over it soon, blah, blah and more blah.” I was sad then and it was big to me then.
Bernard said none of those things. He just listened and asked questions from time to time between my sobs. Before I knew it, I heard my dads car pull up, my mom was already home, and knew I would be called in for supper soon. I looked toward the back door and started to say…
“Yes, supper time. Just a thought or two for you to chew on while you’re chewing and that pepperoni pizza your dad brought home with him.”
“What other people think about us is none of our business. What we think of ourselves is what counts. Hang on to the good and toss out the rest. Just sitting in your own lonely poop and being angry might seem comfortable because it is, after all, your own poop, but it still stinks. Reach out to find friends. If they don’t respond, try again or move on. Until they do, you have me, and I think you are a bright, pretty, sensitive and thoughtful girl, just like Fayrene, Lucy, your teachers and friends in Ash Fork did. Hold on to that if you need to until you find your own self. Now get on to supper before it gets cold. I like cold pizza, but I bet you don’t!”
As we ate supper, my daddy was watching the news. When it was over the weather forecast came on – cold and cloudy for the next week with the possibility of more snow. Mom and dad weren’t happy about that – but I was!
A NEW BEGINNING
Everyday after school I spent my afternoons with Bernard. On Wednesday, I told him I looked at the fourth grade class list to find out if there were any other Jewish kids on it. There were two. Irene Reiff and Maya Rodich. I found both of them on the playground at recess and invited them to Friday night Shabbat at my house. I had asked my mom’s permission, of course. Maya politely declined, but Irene said that even though her family wasn’t all that religious, she would ask her dad. All Bernard said about it was, “Good start kiddo.”
Friday night came and Irene and her dad drove over. My dad invited her dad to stay also if he wished, but he had to go to a basketball game – his son Brandon was on the eighth grade team. Afterward, I brought Irene out to meet Bernard, but as I figured, he said nothing. She did however compliment his hat and moustache. As we were going back into the house, I glanced back at him and he winked at me. That was the beginning. Many of the other frustrations, teasing and ostracizing from the “in cliques” continued and they hurt my feelings – but not as much. Not nearly as much. I had at least one friend and of course, I had Bernard.
The following Friday, Irene’s whole family joined us. My family was not very religious either, but my Mom and Dad maintained some Jewish traditions, especially for keeping the family close. Eventually my dad, and Irene’s father, Marc became friends too, but all I saw that night was Brandon. He was four years older than me, but a crush is a crush is a crush. He was tall and gangly but had this huge smile and most importantly didn’t talk to me like I was some hick from Ash Fork. He even asked some questions about my hometown, which I was more than glad to elaborate on. My crush on him lasted until I got Mr. Finnegan in the fifth grade. He was way cool!
The only disturbing thing that night was the weather report. A warming trend was in the forecast with highs in the low 60’s in the day and 40’s at night. All I could think about was Bernard. All my mom could think about was the fact that the ice cube trays in the freezer were frequently not frozen. I emptied them as fast as they froze, and put scrap plywood and anything else I could find around Bernard and dumped the ice cubes around him as soon as they were ready. I saw with dismay however, that he was getting smaller every day. He kept talking to me right up to the end and assured me he would be back whenever I needed him and it was cold and snowy enough. I raced home from school Wednesday after the bell rang, but Bernard was gone. Only his hat and the Mr. Potato Head nose, moustache and ears were there, sitting in a puddle of water. That puddle got a little bigger, as my little girl, tears flowed and flowed with the anguish of losing my best friend, the one who had changed my life and started it off in a better direction. Arizona was in a long drought at that time, and the rest of the winter was mild with no snow. Dad said the ski resorts like the Arizona Snow Bowl were really hurting, but I am here to tell you they weren’t hurting like I was.
BACK TO BACK
I thought about Bernard almost every day but I remembered his advice and comfort always. Through the spring and summer, I made a few more friends and joined two clubs. The Junior Scientists Club at school and an Okinawan Karate club at a Dojo near the University. One fueled my head, and one fueled my confidence and kept me trim. It also offset my penchant for Hershey bars and Doritos. Slowly the thoughts of Bernard faded, and I only thought of him when I had a crisis, loss or run in with the school bullies. I thought the bullies would leave me alone as I advanced in my training and earned higher-level belts, but for some of them it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Some moron was always wanting to see how tough I really was. I talked most of them down or just refused to fight unless I had to. That is what my training said to do and most of the time it worked.
Summer ended abruptly with the coming of 5th grade and Mr. Finnegan. My crush was deep, but what kept it going was the fact he was also the advisor for The Junior Scientists Club. Maybe that was why it started! Who knows? It faded in time but my interest in science didn’t as you can guess from the preface to this story. Things were in general going very well and I rarely missed Bernard. But as the saying goes, all things come to and end and the only certainty in life is change.
The two things happened back to back.
Billy Moran was in the Science Club, but mostly only because his dad was in the science department at the University. He had been pressured into it but he wasn’t really into it. What he was into was being a bully and throwing his considerable weight around. Apparently, Ho Ho’s, Ding Dongs and Hostess cakes were his best friends. One afternoon he was being his usual obnoxious self, so most of us ignored him, but the more we ignored him the angrier he got. When my pal Tanner got in his way while he was cleaning up the lab, Billy gave him a shove and he stumbled over into me. Tanner was short, skinny and wore Coke bottle bottom glasses. An easy target for a guy like Billy.
I got a little annoyed and said, “Knock it off Billy, do you feel good picking on someone half your size?”
“How about you little Miss Karate?” he shot back.
Here we go again, I thought to myself, but only said, “Forget it Billy, I don’t want any trouble.” And neither do you fat creep, I thought to myself. As though he was reading my mind, Billy came right up to me and without warning smacked me in the face with his open palm. In Karate, this is often the prelude to an attack, so my training stepped up and I gave him a kick push to the chest to get him away from me. Now a kick push is just that – a push, but using your feet. Billy started to bluster and threaten, but neither of us had seen Mr. Finnegan enter the room. He saw the entire exchange and was obliged to haul us both down to the Vice Principal’s office. The long and the short of it was that Billy got a lecture and I got SUSPENDED for a week. Why, was all I could ask myself, Billy was the aggressor and I was just defending myself.
My dad wanted to know why too, and went to the school to inquire. As an ex-cop it made no sense to him either. As it was explained to him, the issue was the use of the feet. The rules were specific and inflexible (no doubt written by some desk jockey my dad said later). Kicking was kicking and carried a mandatory one week suspension. Slapping and threatening was apparently okay. The only saving and ironic grace to the absurd affair was that a blizzard hit Northern Arizona that night and all schools were closed for four days – most of my suspension.
I was still upset and fuming about this when I thought of Bernard. The first time I had thought of him in a long time. So I gathered up the Mr. Potato head things, his straw hat and headed out back right after breakfast the following morning. As quickly as I could I built a snowman, the littlest snowman ever built on Route 66 I reckoned. Attaching the eyes, nose, ears and arms, I plopping the straw hat on his head and waited. Nothing happened. Bernard had promised to come back. He promised. Deeply disappointed, I sat in the snow and tears welled up in my eyes.
“omber a bif” I heard. “Omber ambnt telb inchs.” What the heck? I thought. Then I understood and moved the snowman twelve inches to my left to exactly where he was last year.
“That’s better,” he said as the Potato Head eyes popped out and fell revealing his crystal blue eyes. “I forgot to tell you that I would always be back for you but only if you built me in the same place. Your tears are part of the ground where I sit. They always will be.”
Now I really cried. I cried with relief and joy. Bernard and I sat for hours until I was nearly frozen and he suggested I get myself back in the house. When I told him of the events of the past year he laughed and told me I was the quickest learner he ever encountered. About the suspension, he said little except to tell me that there are always things in life that seem or are unfair that was just how life is, if you’re not a little snowman. “Build a bridge and get over it,” he said, and “Move on.”
The winter was a long and cold one and Bernard stayed around until early March. I had many friends by this time, but I vowed never forget to Bernard again, and I almost never did again until…
ALWAYS AND AGAIN
Every winter after that, I built Bernard in the same spot whenever the snow came. He was with me through Junior High and right up to High School Graduation and beyond. Whenever I had a problem, a question or a joy to share I shared it with him. Boyfriends, career choices, losses of loved ones, achievements, disappointments or just plain catching up each year, I shared it all with Bernard. When I left for college, I made a point of returning in the winter at least once.
That almost ended when in the summer between my junior and senior year, my father retired and my mom took a job at Arizona State University in Mesa, Arizona in the biochemistry department. I visited them that winter but took off for a day “to visit and old friend in Flagstaff” I told them. I watched the weather reports and knew they had snow. Sneaking into the back yard, I spoke with Bernard for what I feared was the last time, but he told me soon I wouldn’t need him anymore. I asked him why but he wouldn’t tell me, he just winked that knowing wink of his.
I got busy at graduate school and didn’t get a chance to get back home for several years, but one winter after I had just broken up with my fiancée, I flew back and drove north to Flagstaff and there I was crushed! The new owner of my parent’s house had expanded the kitchen back and the new room covered over where Bernard had to be built. When I came around front to get in my rental car, the owner pulled up. He looked vaguely familiar but it was hard to see him clearly through my tears.
When he saw my flooded eyes, and red running nose, he asked, “Can I help you?”
“Not unless you have a jackhammer,” I replied through my sniffles.”
“Now you have my curiosity piqued. Is there a story behind the need for a jackhammer?”
“It’s silly, unbelievable and a real long story,” I said to him. “You would never believe it anyway.”
“Why don’t you try me,” he said. “I’m a professor of literature at the University and a writer when I have time. It might make a good story. Come in please, I’ll make some coffee and I have some Krispy Kreme doughnuts in this bag.”
Why I trusted him or took him up on his offer I don’t know. Maybe it was the oddly familiar face, or the fact that I had travelled a long way to talk to Bernard and needed to vent. Whatever the reason, we sat in his living room for three hours as I told him the whole story and the reason for my tears. He never once doubted me and only a couple of times asked a question or two to clarify what I was saying. This surprised me not a little.
“I’ve been here for three hours, ate four doughnuts and downed three cups of coffee,” I said. “But I don’t even know your name.”
He smiled winningly and said, “My name is James Sanders, but you used to call me Jimmy when we were little. I had a little crush on you back then and I thought you had one for me too, but we were only eight years old when you moved away. I never knew where or why until today.”
We had a light supper in Old Town that evening, but as I got in my car to drive to the small motel room I was staying in, he leaned on the door and said, “I know you are driving back to Mesa tomorrow, but if you don’t mind would you stop by on your way. Please?” I told him I would stop by around eleven, and he said that would be fine.
I pulled into his driveway and James Sanders was indeed waiting for me on the front porch. I got out and as I approached, he said nothing until I got to the steps.
“Please, come in. I never showed you the new dining room I added to your parent’s house. I think you might like it.”
I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to see the addition, especially because of what it covered. “He should know that,” I thought. But he seemed so nice and sincere about it I decided to humor him. When he opened the new French Doors, I found it hard to breathe for a moment. The room was empty of furniture, all the windows were wide open and there was a pile of snow in one corner. There was a big hole in the concrete floor and a jackhammer leaned in the other corner.
He stepped back and said, “I’m pretty sure Mr. Potato Head and a straw hat is in that oversize bag you’re carrying. Take your time. I’ll have coffee brewing in the kitchen when you’re done.”
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it regardless of any skeptics reading this.
--- Dr. Wendee Goldman Sanders ---