by Steve Fitschen
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Hans immigrated to the United States after World War II. He settled in Baltimore and married a local girl. He worked in the local dairy back in the days when the milkmen still made their rounds every morning before dawn. They had soon started their family, but the demands of the job kept Hans away from home too much. The quest for the American Dream kept Hans from enjoying his American family.
The night the biggest blizzard in decades hit Baltimore, Hans barely made it home. And if he hadn’t put the chains on his tires the day before, he wouldn’t have made it. He collapsed into bed, knowing he would have the next day off—the foreman had already told the dairy workers and the milkmen that they would be out of commission until the city dug out. And that took a lot longer in those days. Hans knew they would punish him in his paycheck, but at least he would see his family.
Hans woke the next morning to a wide, white world. Cars were completely buried. Drifts nearly covered the telephone poles in some places.
An idea sprang into Hans’s mind. “Carol, do you mind if I give the morning to Petie instead of to you?”
Carol had dreamt of spending the day with Hans, sitting around the kitchen drinking coffee this morning, then starting a fire in the fireplace and snuggling for a few hours. Of course, she knew she would have to bundle Petie up several times for him to go play with his friends, but she had hoped to finally get some quality time with Hans. But how could she turn down his request? “Sure, babe, he misses you so much when you go to work before he’s up and come home after he’s in bed.”
So Hans headed into the back yard to get started. “Send Petie out as soon as you get him dressed. Bundle him up tight; we’re going to be out here a while.”
By the time Petie made it outside, Hans had compacted a large area of the snow. “Hi, Daddy! What are you doing?”
“Hi, Petie!” Hans gave him a big hug—even though Petie couldn’t feel it through all the clothes.
“We’re going to build an igloo.”
“What’s an iggoo?”
“Ig—LOO. It’s a snow house where Eskimos live. Do you know about Eskimos?”
“No, Daddy. What’s Eskimos?”
“They are people who live where there is weather like this all the time, and they don’t live in houses like ours. They make their houses out of big blocks of snow. And we’re going to build our own igloo today. Let’s get started.”
Hans and Petie worked hard. Hans included Petie in the work even though it slowed things down. First they rolled big balls of snow, big enough for the bottom of a snow man. Then Hans chopped them into square and rectangular blocks with his shovel. This was the hardest part until he got the hang of it. He ruined the first few, but eventually he learned to shape them without destroying them.
“OK, Petie, now we have to stack the blocks until we get a nice round house. But we have to leave a hole in the front so we can crawl inside the igloo and we need a hole in the top so the smoke can get out.”
“What do you mean smoke, Daddy?”
“You’ll see, Petie.”
When the igloo was done, Hans went inside to get some dry wood from the wood box beside the fireplace. That’s when he caught Carol at the window. She had been watching Hans and Petie for hours. She gave Hans a quick hug and quickly turned away to wipe away a tear of happiness that had snuck up on her.
Hans made a couple of trips back and forth and then crawled inside the igloo. “OK, Petie, hand the sticks to me.” Once Petie had handed all the wood to Hans and Hans had organized it inside the igloo, Hans told Petie to crawl in.
“So, what do you think Petie? Did we do a good job?”
“Oh, yes, Daddy! This is so neat!” Petie literally pounced on Hans and wrapped his little arms as far around Hans’s winterized frame as he could. Father and son grinned from ear to ear.
“Are you hungry from all this hard work, Petie?”
“Yes, Daddy, I am.”
“Well, there’s just one more job and then we can eat. Help me build this fire.”
“A fire, Daddy?”
“Yes, Petie, a fire. Remember, I told you we needed to leave a hole for the smoke to get out? We’ve going to cook these hot dogs right here in our igloo!”
Petie’s eyes grew wide as Hans pulled the pack of hotdogs out of his coat pocket.
Hans showed Petie how to build the fire. They kept it small—just big enough to roast their hotdogs on a couple of sticks.
“Daddy, these hotdogs taste better than any hotdogs I’ve ever eaten.”
“I agree, Petie. They’re the best ever.”
Petie pounced on Hans again and they rolled around, wrestling and giggling on the igloo floor.
Peter looked down at Hans in the casket. “Dad,” he whispered, “you were a great father.” His mind was fifty years in the past. “It doesn’t matter that you weren’t around as much as we wanted. I know you were working to make a living for us. I know times were different. Even then you were a better father to me than I was to Petie, Jr. and Susie when they were little. The things you did were so amazing. You—”
Peter’s voice chocked. He was thinking of hotdogs in an igloo.
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