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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Once in a Blue Moon (01/06/11)

TITLE: An Early Winter
By Carol Slider
01/12/11


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When the distant jangle of the kitchen phone woke me, I saw a dull white light at the window curtain. I crept from under the coverlet and into the clothes Bessie had laid out, my cold fingers fumbling with buttons and shoelaces. If I hurried, maybe she’d sprinkle brown sugar on my oatmeal. Maybe she would even smile.

I’d been born an orphan, days after Iwo Jima. Mama went into labor when she got the War Office telegram, and the doctor saved me but not her.

I lived with the Abilene aunts until my brother grew up and married Bessie. Just a few weeks after the wedding, he brought us home to the ranch house where I’d been born.

Bessie was a northern girl, pale and white-blonde, with watery blue eyes. I could have loved her, but at six, I was just the wrong age for her: too old to be a daughter, too young to be a sister or friend. Two years later, she still me called “the girl” or “George’s sister”—something separate and apart, to be tolerated, not loved.

Bessie worked relentlessly, waking early to make breakfast for George, never sitting still. But when I reached the kitchen, she was at the window, her face almost against the glass. Then she looked at me, and her pale eyes smiled.

“Miss Dalton called... Your school’s closed for the day. Come here...”

She held out her hand and I took it, marveling as the long fingers curled around my smaller ones and drew me to the window. I gasped.

A white blanket covered the ground, and little caps of whiteness crowned gate, barn, and outbuildings. White outlined the trees, as if an artist had traced each branch.

I’d read about snow in books, but I’d never seen it before—not here, in this part of Texas.

“Run upstairs and put on your coat,” she smiled—a playful, girlish smile. “Gloves, hat, and scarf, too.”

I’d never run so fast, never dressed so fast. Bessie waited for me at the back door, dressed like an arctic adventurer in knee-high boots.

She opened the door and held my hand as I put a tentative foot on the step. Under the sole of my oxford the wood was slippery as a fresh-waxed floor, but Bessie’s grip was firm.

“Careful, baby girl,” she said. She’d never called me that before.

Sharp wind drove into my face, but Bessie laughed and scooped up a handful of snow. She patted it into a ball, then tossed it at me. I understood the game at once, and gathered my own handful. Snow seeped through my ragged wool gloves, but I didn’t mind. I tossed my first snowball at Bessie, and soon we were dashing about the yard like playmates.

When we came inside, Bessie spooned brown sugar on my oatmeal with a dot of rich cream.

“Snow before Thanksgiving,” she said briskly. “That means a hard winter. We should start knitting.”

“Knitting?”

“Don’t worry, Janie-girl... I’ll teach you.”

Bessie’s needles flashed so quickly that I couldn’t tell what she was doing, but she was patient with my clumsy fingers. She taught me how to make a slip knot and cast on, and didn’t laugh when the yarn tangled.

Later, we cut up vegetables for stew. Bessie told me about winter in Minnesota, where snowdrifts covered doors and windows and blotted out the land for months. Her parents had a sturdy farmhouse on the plains.

“Would you like to see it?”

I nodded breathlessly.

“Maybe you and I could go, in the spring...”

She’d talked before of visiting her old home, but never about taking me.

In the afternoon, the sun seared away the clouds and everything changed. Water poured off the roof and dead grass sprouted through the melting snow. Bessie’s voice became sharper, more like the voice I’d known the past two years. By the time George came home, the sun had set on a world no longer magical—just ordinary and damp and cold.

“Does it snow like that very often?” Bessie asked, and George smiled as if she’d asked an idle question. But I knew it wasn’t.

“Not too often, here,” he said, “and not this early. Never that I can remember.”

Bessie’s lips tightened. She shooed me to bed early, and her pale eyes no longer smiled.

Long into the night I lay awake, wondering when it would snow again.

Soon, I hoped.


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This article has been read 765 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sarah Heywood01/13/11
This was masterful. I was so drawn into the story, hoping against hope, that Bessie's attitude toward the child had changed permanently. Alas, it wasn't! Excellent, excellent work!
Anita van der Elst01/13/11
This is a story that left me wanting to turn the page for more. Enjoyable read.
Lynda Schultz 01/15/11
I was left feeling so sorry for Bessie. Winter brought spring to her heart and she was so far from Minnesota. Great story. Needs a novel built around it!
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/16/11
I was so hoping for a permanent change in Bessie! Your beautiful story showed clearly how a rare snow can affect the emotions like magic.
Glynis Becker 01/16/11
So sad, but compelling. I want to know more!
Beth Muehlhausen01/16/11
When the attitudinal switch flipped I felt a surge of hope for the future....and even though the end of your story didn't promise continuing breakthroughs, I was left with that hopeful glow! This was enticing, a little glimpse into the reality of human emotion and relationship when the participants are living out the process of discovery....and the possibility of redemption.
Beth LaBuff 01/16/11
I didn't want the snow-magic that transformed her world to end. This is a beautiful story. It pulls on the heart-strings.
Mariane Holbrook01/17/11
Very, very nice job. You deserve big time kudos for this one!
Henry Clemmons01/17/11
I enjoyed the connection between bessie and the snow. Must be hard moving from minnestoa to texas. i can see why your mc wanted to see snow again.
Edmond Ng 01/17/11
Beautifully written! It's so nice to be able to feel the sweet innocence of a 'baby girl' looking at the snowfall with surroundings as if in a magical land. Enjoyed the read.
Beth LaBuff 01/20/11
Carol, congratulations on your Editor's Choice for this wonderful story!
Carol Penhorwood 01/20/11
This story tugs at my heart strings. So well written bringing the reader right into the story. Now I would love to read the rest...what happens next?
Henry Clemmons01/20/11
i'm very happy this one placed. I truly like it. Very well done.
Kim Hamlin01/21/11
Congrats Carol, great job!
Lollie Hofer 01/21/11
I like how you showed Bessie was homesick. You didn't tell me, you laid it out line after beautifully written line. Congratulations on your EC, it truly was a masterpiece.