Well, I’m not even surprised. It’s a running joke in the DC metro area and Northern Virginia that we live in a snow hole. It can snow all around us, and we’ll see nothing but clouds.
Let me back up.
See, about a week ago, the weather powers that be were predicting 1-3 inches of snow today. Not enough to cause major problems, but enough to coat the ground and look nice. And, living in Virginia, I’ll take what I can get in terms of snowy weather. But, as usual, over the last few days, predictions dwindled to perhaps an inch, then maybe a dusting, and now, nothing at all. Nary a flake nor flurry to be found.
Am I disappointed? Yes, I am. But there’s a lot of winter left, and I’m nothing if not an eternal optimist. This one’s a bust, but tomorrow is always another day.
In last night’s pajamas, throw together: Ambition, with a dash of anxiety. Just a sprinkle of focus, and a pinch of “I got this!” Add a cup of coffee. (Make that two, actually…) Shake and mix well. Serve with a side of “Oh, hell, I forgot about that…” The Monday Special: Order up!
Graham and I came back from Thanksgiving very happy (and very full of both love and delicious food), but also very tired. And we haven’t really had a chance to catch up on rest this week, but hey, that’s the holidays, right?
Seriously, though, it’s been a long week, but a good one, capped off by a lovely Christmas parade and celebration in the next town over (which we pretty much consider our second hometown, at this point).
The town wisely limited parking, so the crowd wasn’t as large as it has been in the past, but there were loads of people, all happy and smiling and enjoying everything this beautiful part of Virginia has to offer. I truly love to see it. And by yesterday evening, it looked like this:
Same spot, five hours apart. Crazy.
And it’s kind of crazy to think that we’ve only got twenty days until Christmas. But it’s exciting, and we know there are even busier days ahead. So we’ve taken this cloudy Sunday to rest, nap, relax, and generally do a whole lot of nothing. It’s been downright luxurious.
And for supper? Something decadent, I think. Pasta with a creamy, cheesy garlic sauce, bacon, and peas. Yes, perfect.
What a wonderful milestone to reach on this first Friday in December! I’m so grateful to each of you who read my work and keep coming back for more, and so happy to be part of this amazing creative community. I’ll be celebrating tonight with a glass of bubbly and some Christmas movies, and I’ll be back on Sunday with a new Sunday Supper post. So come back and visit! 😊
In the meantime, I wish each of you a very lovely weekend!
The last of the year, the shortest of days, a high bright moon in a new winter haze – December descends, the darkest of months, in stoic shades of white and gray. But there’s beauty in the spartan landscape and comfort in the cold air: a peaceful silence, a slant of light, a joy in rest and in the hope of fresh fallen snow, a gift in the season of giving and a spirit in knowing the season is fleeting. All things must come to an end, and in ending can begin again.
Inside the house, heat radiated from the oven in the kitchen. The old cast iron woodstove in the basement burned warm and steady. Outside, a thick layer of fresh, white snow had started to blanket the brown grass and the empty trees. It didn’t often snow in the holler before December, but this year, flakes fell wet and heavy onto the newly cold earth. The gray, bright light of a winter morning peeked through the windows, and from his perch at the kitchen table, still in his pajamas, a little boy sat cradling a half-eaten bowl of grits in his hands.
“You go on along and brush your teeth as soon as you’re done,” said his mother. “I know you forgot last night.”
“I did not,” the boy answered.
“Oh, yes you did, James Henry Cumbow. Your teeth’ll fall out if you’re not careful.”
James Henry shuddered. He liked his teeth right where they were, thank you very much, even if he did sometimes forget to clean them. He watched his mother brush a raw turkey with melted butter, and then sprinkle on salt and pepper. His mouth watered.
“After you brush your teeth and comb your hair, you can walk on down the holler and watch.”
“I did so brush my teeth last night,” he insisted. And added, “I can really go watch this year?”
“I reckon you’re big enough,” his mother said.
He jumped off his chair and ran for the bathroom. He’d never brushed his teeth faster. From the kitchen, he heard his mother yell, “And wear your old gloves! I’m not buying more if you get your new ones dirty.”
James Henry dressed in a layer of long underwear, and then faded blue jeans and a red plaid flannel shirt. From the top of his closet, which he could just reach, he grabbed an old wool hat and last year’s gloves. He made his way back out to the kitchen, and hurdled toward the front door.
“Remember, now,” his mother said, “by the time y’all are done, dinner’ll be ready and on the table. Don’t be late. Tell your daddy, too, when you get down there.”
“I will, Mother,” he said, and grinned at her as he opened the door and stepped out into the cold.
James Henry had seen eleven Thanksgivings, this being the eleventh. Every year, before anyone else woke up, he’d watched his father walk down the holler and join his uncles and older cousins and all the neighbor boys in a tradition he’d at first found frightening, but now thought of as fascinating and necessary. Slaughtering the hog would feed all of them for months.
“And well, too,” his mother would say.
“It’s messy work,” his father warned him, every year. “And it’s hard.”
“You’re not old enough to help yet,” his mother told him. “And anyway, it’ll scare you.”
He was scared, a little, as he made his way through the falling snow down toward the barn and the smokehouse.
He was scared, and his hands trembled in their threadbare gloves. But he was excited, too, and he could feel the electric zing of it all the way down to his fingertips. This year, he’d join the ranks of his elders, and he wouldn’t be just a kid anymore.
He spotted his father first, standing outside of the hog’s pen with his Uncle Virgil and with Larry, an older boy from up the hill. Beside them, there were metal buckets full of steaming water, and a table with knives and gloves.
“Hiya, James Henry,” Larry said.
James Henry elbowed his way into the circle to his father’s side, and said back, “Hey, Larry.”
“Isn’t he a little young to be down here?”
Larry hadn’t addressed that to James Henry, but to his father, who looked down and said, “Your mama let you come down here?”
“Yes, sir,” James Henry answered.
“She tell you you’re ready?”
“Yes, sir,” James Henry answered again.
“Then you can stay,” his father said.
“Yes, sir,” James Henry said, and smiled big and wide at Larry, who’d started to look down at the ground.
“Well, that’s your choice, Porter,” his Uncle Virgil said to his father, “but I wouldn’t let my boy down here quite yet.”
James Henry crossed his arms and glared right at Virgil. “I’m old enough,” he said. “And quit talking about me like I ain’t here.”
Virgil just laughed.
James Henry didn’t much care. Let him laugh at me, he thought. I’m still here. And then he felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see his father smiling down at him.
“You’re old enough,” Porter said, “and you can stay down here as long as you want to.”
With that, Porter walked toward the barn, and James Henry followed him.
“Daddy,” he asked, “how old were you your first time?”
“I reckon I was about nine,” Porter replied. “Maybe younger. Times was different back then. Little ones had to grow up fast.”
“How about Mother?”
“Your mama didn’t grow up in the holler,” Porter said.
“Where’d she grow up?”
“Philadelphia,” Porter said, “and then she moved down here for me, after the war.”
“What did she do before then?”
“You’ll have to ask her,” Porter answered, “because I ain’t got time to answer all your questions just now.”
James Henry was quiet.
“You ain’t done anything wrong, James Henry,” Porter added. “We just have to get to work if we want to be done by dinner.”
“Oh,” James Henry said. “I see. Can I help?”
“You’re just watching this year. But you can stand right over there while I get things ready.”
James Henry nodded, and wandered over into a dark corner of the barn. He watched for a while, as his father gathered up some extra knives and a couple of saws, but Porter always worked in silence.
“Yeah?” Porter answered, but didn’t turn around.
“Can I go outside for a while? It’s not started yet, right? I won’t miss anything?”
“As long as you’re at the pig pen in about ten minutes, you won’t miss nothing.”
James Henry said, “I won’t go too far,” and then jogged out of the barn and towards the smokehouse. He took a moment to stop and scratch one of the barn cats on the head, and then kept on moving, over to the hog’s pen. Larry and Virgil weren’t there anymore, and so he got to take a good, long look at the hog.
He’d seen hogs before. They were fat and muddy, and didn’t move much, from what he could tell. But this hog – this one was special, because it was chosen for the slaughter, and it would feed everyone, and he’d never gotten to see one of those up close on the day before.
“I bet you’re scared,” he told the hog. “Or maybe you don’t know what’s coming.”
The hog sat in silence.
“I’m not scared,” he said. “I’m big enough to not be scared.”
Silence from the hog.
“I reckon you are, too,” James Henry added.
He reached out a hand to pat the hog’s head, but stopped when he heard footsteps behind him.
“It ain’t a pet, James Henry,” Larry said. “Stop fussing over it.”
Behind Larry were Porter and Uncle Virgil, along with a few other men and older boys. Robert, who helped with the stalls, and Tilson, who was only two grades above James Henry. And his Uncle June, too, carrying a rifle.
James Henry shivered. He knew what came next.
Porter walked up behind him and said, “You don’t have to watch if you don’t want to.”
James Henry stood right where he was, and kept his eyes open.
“Suit yourself,” Porter said.
When the shot came, it was quick.
Porter put a hand on James Henry’s head, rubbed at the top of his wool hat and said, “Why don’t you go on back to the house now?”
James Henry watched what was going on around him. The snow fell, and the wind picked up. The men moved fast, methodical. James Henry thought they looked a lot like the bands he saw sometimes on TV, like each man had his own part and his own instrument. It looked a lot like work. Like when mama cut up a chicken for dinner, or when daddy brought home a buck to clean.
James Henry stayed, and his father didn’t try to change his mind. He stayed and he watched, and once the job was mostly done, he walked back up the holler.
When he opened the door, his mother greeted him, told him to go change and wash his face and hands. The house smelled like meat and gravy, and the woodstove still burned away down in the basement. He stood in the doorway, staring out into the room.
“You doing okay?” His mother stooped down and put a hand to his chin. She turned his face right and left, and wiped a smudge of dirt off his cheek.
“I thought…” he started, but didn’t know quite what to say next.
“What did you think?” His mother moved back to the stove, stirred at a pot of green beans.
“I thought I’d feel different,” James Henry said, once he finally found the right words.
“Oh, honey,” his mother said, “it’s just what we have to do to live. It ain’t all that special.”
“Then why’d you make me wait so long?”
“Because,” she said, and sighed, “part of being old enough and big enough and grown enough is understanding exactly what I just told you.”
“It was messy,” he said. “And it smelled bad.”
“I remember the smell my first time, too,” his mother told him. “And I got sick. I didn’t grow up on a farm like you and your daddy.”
“How old were you?”
“Twenty-two, and you were in my belly.”
“You got sick?”
“I did. And I didn’t eat bacon again for two years. You like bacon, right?”
James Henry nodded, and then walked into the bathroom. He washed his face and hands, and changed into clean clothes. When he came back in the kitchen, his father was home, and his mother was setting the table.
And when they sat down to dinner together a little later, James Henry got to say grace.
Thank you for reading! This is the eleventh of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.
Here are the first ten stories, if you’d like to read them:
We got our first snow flurries of the season this morning! They didn’t last long, and it would have been pretty impossible to get a picture anyway, but they were enough to put me in a very happy mood today. So, here I am, musing about winter, and working on November’s short story. It’ll be posted tomorrow, so stop by then and give it a read.
And in the meantime, I hope you’ve been having a good Monday, too. 😊
I mentioned in my post on Friday that it’s been a busier week than I expected. And the truth is, it’s also been a not very good week. Bad news, coupled with busy-ness, and also not feeling great after my flu shot and COVID booster, and I’m seriously ready for a few good days with family and food. But in the meantime, Graham and I took back a little bit of control this weekend, and put up our Christmas decorations. Let’s make some happiness, y’all. Haul out the holly!
Yes, I decorated for Christmas yesterday. I have no regrets.
Let me explain.
I grew up in a household that put up Christmas décor after Thanksgiving and took it down before the new year. No judgement here. Honestly. But as I’ve made my own home, I’ve made my own schedule. And I like a Christmas tree. (To see more about my decorations, look here and here. I have lots of beautiful heirloom pieces, and whenever I decorate, my family feels close. It makes my heart smile.)
So, here we are. Our Christmas decorations are up, Thanksgiving (for the U.S.) is coming, and I’m in my cozy chair, drinking some champagne in front of the fire.
I firmly believe that champagne is appropriate for every occasion. Sad? Have a glass of champagne. Happy? Glass of champagne. Questioning humanity’s very purpose? Champagne. Putting up Christmas decorations? Well, I think you know.
I hope that the week to come is better. But in the meantime, champagne. And what’s for supper? Roasted zucchini and yellow squash with kielbasa over rice. Easy, tasty, not super unhealthy.
A quick note, I’ll be taking a break from posting in the coming week, but I’ll be back on Monday, November 29th. I’ve got a short story in the works, and plan to share some of my favorite cold weather recipes. I hope you come back to visit! And if you’re in the U.S., or you feel so inclined, I wish you a good week to come giving thanks and being grateful for the little and big things that make life wonderful.
I haven’t had much time to write today. It’s been a busier week than I’ve expected, and I’m really just happy it’s Friday. I’m hoping for a more relaxed weekend, putting up Christmas decorations and prepping for Thanksgiving. And speaking of Thanksgiving…
Do you think Annie’s excited?
(Picture’s from a few years ago. I wasn’t in the room when it was taken. I hear she was actually having more fun than she appears to be. With Annie, sometimes it’s hard to tell.)
I’d like to know the language of the grove, to understand the subtle conversation of the trees. To speak without words, to give and to take as they need, to sustain and support through heat waves and storms – there’s a special kind of magic in those ancient roots and rustling leaves.