Winter swept away the remnants of fall’s golden visage and howled though the barren maples and dancing willows, encasing them in an icy grandeur, as the tiny New England town slept on that early December morn… 




         Matty awoke from his Saturday slumber and stretched his long arms, grabbing the bed posts and yawning , his warm breath crystalizing in the cold bedroom air.
        “Lord, it’s cold!” he muttered to himself, mostly, since his younger brother was nowhere to be seen, likely buried under the giant pile of quilts and blankets that adorned the bed across the room.
         The 15 year old boy grabbed the white Bvd’s off the bedside chair and, as an afterthought, the heavy sweatpants and socks as well, and pulled them under the warm blankets. Today, he would get dressed out of sight, not because he was modest, but because the temperature in the upstairs of the red Cape Cod house was approaching the freezing point, and the practical thing was to conserve his body heat, until the morning sun could reach through the double windows and warm the oak floor with the blue area rug to a more bearable degree.

        So, he tented the heavy bed coverings with his bent knees and struggled into the clothing. He looked around, and spotted the red plaid robe, hanging on the open closet door where he had left it the night before. ‘Not the best plan’, he thought. Of course, even he hadn’t expected the cold to be so pervasive this morning, but, something had obviously changed, during the night. He had not looked outside yet, and felt no urgency to do that. He glanced at the radio alarm clock with the built in lamp and noticed the time… 6:25 … ‘Too early’, he muttered, and rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, luxuriating in the notion of laziness, at least for the next hour or so. Maybe, with a little luck, the sun would heat the tiny Cape in the meantime, to a more civil level and the robe that he lusted after wouldn’t seem so far away…
          It was perhaps, an hour before the noises from the downstairs kitchen slowly seeped into the consciousness of the 15 year old lad. Even with his head buried between two pillows, Matty could hear the noisy latch of the bathroom door and the clanging of metal on metal as the parts of the steel coffee pot came together in the kitchen. 
        At first, he tried to shrug the clamor away, but soon, the whistle of running water in the pipes and the muted conversation of his parents could not be filtered out of his slumber, so, he yawned loudly and peeked out from the crevice between the down pillows, and tentatively tested the frigid air. It was still cold, but, now the sun was starting to stream through the separation in the drapes that covered the two, southern- facing windows, so the boy threw the covers back and vaulted out of bed. He pulled the dark blue, insulated drapes apart to let the golden rays in, but, as he did, he was astonished to see that everything was distorted in the crystalline blur of the window glass. 
       It was almost as if the glass had developed a crazing, sometime during the night, so Matty reached out, and quickly discovered the reality of that condition. The inside of the window was covered with a thin veneer of ice! ‘Good God!’ he thought…’ This is a first!’  He scraped at the ice with his forefinger and carved his initials into the middle of the 6 panes, and shivered at the result. As a piece of ice fell away, a winter scene of inordinate beauty came into view. An overnight storm had coated everything with a soft white snow that clung to the branches of the nearby apple tree like cotton and filled the air with each gust of the winter wind forming a silver mist that billowed and spun, glistening in the golden morning sun…It was beautiful, but chilling to look at!
      He had seen enough, so, he slipped into his cold, tan moccasins and grabbed the plaid robe from the back of the closet door, and opened the door to the dark hallway and the staircase to the first floor. As he rounded the corner and grabbed the railing, he heard the conversation between his parents a little more clearly, but it was still hard, because they seemed to be talking about something that they wanted to keep private. That, of course, made the teenager even more curious, so he carefully made his way down the creaky staircase, keeping his slippered feet to the very outsides of each tread, purposely avoiding the most noisy treads by using his long legs and the support of the stout railing to lower himself to the nearest quiet tread, until he was only a few from the bottom. 
      Now, he was within earshot of the quiet conversation, so, he carefully sat down and focused his attention the best he could… What he heard, was quite disturbing….


      With Christmas just a few days away, pop had drawn a pink slip from the builder he was working for… Now, the family would have to live on the proceeds of the only funds available once again- the unemployment compensation that lately seemed to be his dad’s most frequent source of funds. And, with his oldest sister attending her first year in college, scholarship or not, there were still extra expenses that strained the family budget, and could now tip the balance from marginal existence into poverty…. 
       It was an unnerving reality that the boy was trying to absorb- life had just gotten even harder for the family of nine, and, without decent work, the Christmas holiday stood to be the first to feel the effects… The more he listened, the more concerned he grew. Even the loan of the thousand dollars that Matty had extracted from his bank account in the early fall, didn’t seem to have had the necessary effect, as the family struggled with the awful burden of  the college dreams of the oldest girl.
       Matty had heard similar conversations before, but, most of the time, they weren’t laced with such despair, and he immediately understood why. This was, first and foremost, a hard working family, and the sheer size of the family required constant employment of the chief breadwinner. The problem, of course, was the inconsistent nature of construction work- sometimes, there was too much, and then, the work evaporated as a house construction was completed and the cold weather set in… But, usually, by the time winter hit, Matty’s mom had socked away a nice chunk of money in the savings account that could supplement the meager unemployment checks that  pop got, after a few weeks off from his job. Now, the added burden of an expensive tuition was decimating the savings that mom had squirreled away, and, at the absolute wrong time of year. Winter. Unemployment. Christmas.
       The teenaged blond boy slowly stood up and crept back up the stairs to the ice cold bedroom, before he was discovered. These were ‘adult’ conversations that the kids were sheltered from, but, in a house as small as the little red Cape Cod, there was little that remained confidential, unless you never spoke of it at all. Something Matty was an expert at….
       Even tho the room was cold, it was a place of sanctuary, so the boy softly closed the bedroom door and returned to the double window, and watched the swirling snow tumble from the edges of the roof and form into little drifts across the yard next door.
       He was deep in thought, so his brother’s question didn’t register at first.
       “Matty….MATTY! “
       “Huh? What’s up?”
       “Why are you standing there?” the 12 year old, asked…
       “Just thinking, looking…”
       “About what?”
       “Oh, nothing much… It snowed last night… It’s beautiful… really neat!”
       “Really? Lemme see!” Gerry struggled out from under the massive pile of blankets and emerged, dressed in sweat pants and hoodie…
       “Geezz!  Where’s your boots?” Matty exclaimed, laughing.
       “Hey, it’s so freakin’ cold, I should have worn them to bed, too!” Gerry retorted.
       “Yeah… well.. maybe. Uh, by the way, stop using that word… ‘freakin’… It’s too close to the real thing. Mom and pop don’t want us talking like that, around here.”
       “OK, Matty… sorry, I forgot. It’s just that I use it when I’m talkin’ to Billy and my other friends…”
       “Yeah, I know… Just try to remember, OK?”
       “WOW!! Cool!! Look at all the snow!! Man, They didn’t say anything about this in the weather forecast yesterday!! As a matter of fact, they said it would miss us!!”
        “Yeah, I know… Hey, that gives me an idea!!  Listen, if we get out there pretty quick, we can make some money!! You know, before every kid on the block figures out what happened!! Old lady Gorski and her neighbor, what’s her name, might pay us like 10 bucks if we hurry up over there!”
         “Uhduh.”
         “What?”
         “Uhduh!”
         “What the heck are you talking about?” Matty queried.
         “The next door neighbor… Uhduh…”
         Matty sighed… “I heard you the first and the second time! What are you talkin’ about?Uhduh…”
         “That’s her name… Uhduh… At least, that’s what I call her…”
         “OK… I’m almost afraid to ask, but, where did you get that name? I mean, that’s not her real name… At least, not what I remember.”
         “Naw… I call her Uhduh, because she stutters all the time… When I had my paper route, I would ask her to pay me for  the month, and she would say, “Uhduh.. uh, uh, uh…”
          Matty rolled his eyes… “Good grief, Gerry!! That’s just mean!! You mean, you go around calling her ‘Uhduh’ because she stutters? What if she was… I don’t know… let’s say she only had one leg, or something. What kind of a name would you call her then?” 
          “Eileen.”
          “Huh?”
          “Eileen… get it?  You know, because with one leg, she would lean…”
          “SHUT UP!! That’s awful…”

           But, as awful and cruel as the notion was, both boys looked at each other and started to laugh. It was just silly and foolish, teenaged banter. Neither of them took any of it to heart…. It was not the way that they were raised.


           It was a half hour before the two boys were dressed and fortified with a cup of hot chocolate each, Matty insisting on the Ovaltine concoction, and Gerry sticking with the tried and true version with the Nestle’s Quik.
          As they exited the house through the snow laden hatchway, a snow squall blew through the back yards and filled the air with a silver fog that pelted off the teenaged faces, and coated the tops of the knitted hats that the boys wore.
         “It’s starting all over again!” Gerry shouted, from beneath the plaid scarf that covered his mouth.
         “Naww!! Just a passing snow shower,” Matty responded, trying not to inhale a lung full…


         So, they struck out for the 2 houses that sat across the street from the Polish American Club that their grandpa had founded, many Christmas’ back, when the community was in it’s infancy and the light in the harbor shined across the Atlantic, beckoning it’s promise to the poor and disenfranchised… It took only a few minutes to get there, walking down the snow covered street that the town plows were just starting to tackle. 
        “Watch out!!” Matty warned, as a plow approached, shooting huge piles of snow onto the curbside retreat where the boys had run…
         “He’s not slowing down! “Gerry yelled. 
         “That’s Mr, Michaud!! He’s a lunatic!! Head for the back of that tree!!”
          Both boys struggled through a virgin snow drift and barely reached the relative safety of the big oak, as the avalanche of snow belted the stout trunk and the giant plow raced by. Matty peered around the ancient tree and saw the laughing face of the ‘crazed’ man from the backwoods of Maine, as he piloted the huge diesel-driven truck, increasing his speed, if anything, once he spotted the 2 boys.
         “He was trying to get us!”, yelled Gerry, above the thunderous rumble of the monster machine.
         “Of course he was!”, replied Matty. “That’s what passes for fun in his life! He’s nuts!”




         But, to be truthful, only once had the burly town worker actually ambushed the boys successfully, and, that was during an evening snowstorm, when the boys were clearing the driveway in the front of their home, in anticipation of school the next day. And, after annihilating them and the freshly cleaned driveway, he had returned on the opposite side of the road with his window rolled down, and yelled his apologies to them, and, with a wave of his arm, continued on his way. Both boys were skeptical of his apparent remorse, mostly because of the extra work it entailed to remove the heavy, sand filled snow from the apron near the road. But, he had made the gesture…




          In the next hour, Matty and his younger brother successfully shoveled out the sidewalks of the two older ladies, and were duly rewarded with $10 each and 4 cups of hot chocolate– Not bad for an hour’s work!! But, by then, the streets were starting to fill with boys of the same age, all carrying snow shovels and sporting warm hats of every description… One had a huge raccoon hat in the tradition of Daniel Boone, one of Matty’s favorite iconic frontiersmen, and both boys spotted him at the same time… 
         “Matty, is that Bobby?”
         “Yup! That’s my buddy! Wearing my favorite hat!” Matty giggled… The hat and the ski parka that the boy wore, just didn’t fit together, but, that wouldn’t have bothered the boy with the giant grin one bit!! 
          “Bubba!! Is that you?”the boy shouted, as he approached.  “Oh, you and your pain in the butt brother!!” The exuberant teenager laughed and hugged the younger boy, patting him on the head…”So, you guys cleaning up?”
           “Yeah!” responded the younger boy. “We just made 10 bucks apiece and we’re heading over to the bank where Matty has his money! Maybe they’ll hire us for loads of money to do their sidewalks!!”
           Bobby looked at his best friend and raised his eyebrows. Matty returned the glance and put his finger to his lips, and shrugged off any question. The raccoon- capped boy caught on immediately. After all, both boys knew each other’s minds, often finishing sentences for each other…
           “Well, good luck with that!! I just got done with my sidewalks and now I got to head over to my aunt’s house and do hers!! And, she’s so cheap, I’ll bet the only thing I get, is a cup of hot cocoa or something!”
           “We already had 3 cups each today!!” Gerry offered excitedly.
           “Wow! Good for you, squirt! Speaking of that, good luck getting your ‘johnson’ out of those freakin’ snow pants when you need to pee!! He looked at Matty and laughed.. I guess I’d better get over there, Koles… Maybe when you get done, give me a call… I want to ask you something ’bout Christmas.”
            “OK Bobby, we should be home in an hour or two. I’ll give you a call after that…”
            Matty smiled at his friend with the sparkling eyes, and the boys went their separate ways, but not before peering back at each other, several times as they walked away…
            “Matty… Why do you always look back, so much, when you and Bobby say ‘bye’?” 
            The older boy reddened a bit, but tried to seem nonchalant… “Oh, I don’t know. I guess just because we’re best friends…”
             “Huh?”
             “Oh, never mind… let’s get over to the bank, before some other kid gets the same idea!”



              So the two boys walked, side by side, when they could, down the back streets of the little town, with their shovels perched over their shoulders, greeting the various kids and happy dogs along the way, and on, to the center of town, where the little bank stood…Where the savings of the farm boy were safely stored, earning 2 cents on every dollar held for one year… And, where part of the blond boy’s plan was starting to emerge, unbeknownst to anyone else…
          
Continued in Part 2…




            
       

Advertisements