Friday, Dec. 19, 1986
I woke up that morning without Mom making repeated trips into my room to poke, prod, and jostle me awake. Of course, I was so incredibly excited about the Christmas concert; it wasn’t hard to imagine I’d wake myself up.
Laying in bed, I thought about yesterday’s rehearsal. Remembering how fun and exciting and different it was. Hoping everyone else felt the same way. Imagining how perfect tonight would be.
I stared at the ceiling and realized my room was much brighter than it should have been at 6 a.m. Then I heard the front door open, followed by the stomping of barn boots and the sound of Dad’s voice.
“Boy oh boy! That’s a helluva lot of snow out there, Jewel. I earned my breakfast this morning. Pretty sure I’ll earn lunch, too.”
“Lots more than four inches. That’s for sure,” Mom said. “Guess Stuart got the forecast wrong this time. Morning milking go ok?”
Morning milking was done? Oh no! I’d overslept big time. And now I was late for school. I grabbed my She-Ra watch – a Christmas present from last year – and saw that it was 8:49. Not just late for school. Late for making concert decorations with everyone else. Why had Mom let me just lay there sleeping all morning?
I leaped from bed, grabbed the first clothes I found on the floor, and got dressed quick as I could. I was still buttoning my jeans as I ran down the hallway and into the living room. Mom and Dad were at the kitchen table eating eggs and bacon, sharing a cup of coffee like they did every morning. They looked at me like I’d just told them I was dying.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why’d you let me sleep so long? I need to be at school, working on the concert stuff.”
“Come sit down, La La,” Mom said, patting my spot at the table between them.
I walked in slowly, confusion growing, and sat down.
Dad took a sip of coffee and nodded toward the window behind me.
I turned and pulled aside the old, flower-patterned curtains that were several years older than me. I blinked involuntarily, stunned by the brightness and the transformation of the landscape. When I went to bed the night before, there was just a bit more than a dusting of snow on otherwise bare ground. Now there was much, much more.
“Yeah, Pumpkin,” Dad said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Why? I love snow days. Later on I’ll get a bunch of us to go over to get the decorations made, and everyone will be nice and rested for the concert.”
Dad sighed and looked at Mom.
“We got over a foot of snow, sweetie,” she said. “So there –”
“Can I have Kim and Dave and Heather over after the concert to go sledding and have hot chocolate? And Nashville could come too and you guys and even Dave and Kim’s parents. We can have a sledding party. Fill up the Thermoses and –”
“La La, listen. There’s not going –”
“Or we could do it tomorrow afternoon. Everyone’ll be tired from all the singing tonight. Plus, I could make us all cookies in the morning. Maybe –”
“Lauren,” Dad said, quiet but firm. “There’s no school today. And you know that when school’s cancelled, all school events are called off. There’s not … the concert won’t happen, Pumpkin.”
My vision got all muddy for a second, and I smacked the table with my hand.
“That’s … that’s the stupidest damned thing ever,” I said. “The concert’s been my whole life since the start of December, and it’s cancelled because of snow? One of the main parts of Christmas gets the Christmas concert cancelled? I don’t even know … that’s bullsh –”
“Lauren,” Mom said. “Watch your mouth. We know you’re upset, but you don’t need to act that way.”
Act that way? What way? Like my work mattered to me? Like I cared about everyone being able to have fun? Like Christmas stuff is important?
I got up and hurried back down the hallway, stomping all the way.
“Where are you going?” Dad asked.
“To my stupid room! Where else would I be going?”
“Now see here, young la –”
I slammed the door and plopped onto my bed.
I didn’t cry. I was too mad to cry. But I seethed, and I huffed and puffed like the biggest, baddest wolf there ever was. What sense was there to anything, doing all that work and having it come to nothing? There wasn’t any sense, I decided. Stupid Ms. Van Fleet should have just planned her own damn concert, and Nashville should’ve kept to cleaning the floor.
After a few minutes of wallowing, I heard a gentle knock on my door. I ignored it. Another knock. More ignoring. And another.
“Can I come in?”
“Go away, Daddy. I wanna be alone.”
“If I come in, are you gonna throw something at me or bite me?”
“Good. Then I’m coming in.”
He stepped in, shut the door behind him, and leaned against it.
“Lotta snow out there on top of morning chores. If you’re around, I wouldn’t mind the help. There’d be some extra allowance for you.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Figured you didn’t. Thought I’d mention though, in case you change your mind. Awful sorry to see you so upset. So mad. Wish I could do something to make it better.”
“You think of anything, Pumpkin, you let me know.”
Dad turned to go.
“It’s just … it’s so mean,” I said. “You know? All this work, and it gets taken away. I wish there was some way to make it happen still. I mean, the concert’s supposed to be tonight. The snow will be done by then, and the roads’ll be cleared up. If I get over to the school to make the decorations, and you could plow out Ms. Van Fleet’s driveway, and …”
Dad came over and knelt by my bed.
“School policy is school policy,” he said. “You can’t change that. Believe me. If I could do it for you, I would.”
“Yeah, but maybe if I promise to spend the whole day working on getting ready, stay after to help with clean up. Maybe they’d let us.”
“Darlin’, you’re heart’s in the right place, but that’s not the solution. Now I’m not saying there isn’t one, but that ain’t it.”
I sat up and sighed, leaned my forehead against his.
“I hate this.”
“I know,” he said. “Me too. Come help out in the barn. Get your mind off of things for a bit. You can give the calves and heifers their molasses while I plow the parking lot before the milk truck gets here.”
If nothing else, Dad knew how to get me to do chores. Feeding molasses was my favorite job in the winter.
“Might as well,” I said. “No point to doing anything else.”
Dad already had the three buckets filled and sitting next to the tiny wood stove in the barn bathroom. The blackstrap molasses filled the room with a sweet, comforting scent. The calves had started bellowing when I came in, and that set off the older heifers to begging for the molasses, too.
Steam rose off the warm, sticky fluid as I walked along the manger, drizzling it on top of the hay that was shaken out for breakfast. The molasses incentivized eating the dried grass and gave a bit of extra energy to the animals during the winter when they were less active. The calves never stood so still in their stanchions as when they were enjoying that daily treat.
I was halfway through the second bucket when a profound sadness settled in me. The concert wasn’t going to happen. All the planning, the running around, the anticipation … it didn’t amount to nothing. And there was nothing I could do about it. I wondered for a second about maybe inviting Heather and Kim and Dave over to go sledding anyway, but why bother? Something would ruin it.
May as well just spend the day shoveling snow and doing more chores. Good practice for the future, I figured. If all the effort for the concert didn’t amount to a hill of beans, why plan for something like college? Why make plans at all?
I was getting the last bucket of molasses when Mom walked in.
“Hey, La La. Almost done?”
“With this? Yeah. Why?”
“Well, you need to come up to the house when you finish. Nashville just called and wants to talk to you.”
To be concluded …
THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMONT TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.