Saturday, Dec. 20, 1986
I woke up on my own that morning, which wasn’t unusual for a Saturday. My internal alarm clock always had me up by 7:30 so I could have breakfast with Mom and settle in for four solid hours of cartoons.
This wasn’t a normal Saturday morning wake-up experience, though. It was still dark out, just a little bit of shadow cast on my wall from the milk house lights. My She-Ra watch said 5:15, the time I normally got up for school. I didn’t consider rolling over to sleep more, though. How could I? I was beyond incredibly excited about the Christmas concert.
Laying in bed, I thought about yesterday’s emotional ups and downs. How angry and sad and depressed I felt, almost all at once, when I found out the concert was cancelled. The elation and relief that came with talking to Nashville and throughout the day as everything came back together again. And the exhaustion at the end of the day. The kind I’d only known from hours working in the hay field on hot summer days.
Yesterday was a snow day unlike any other.
After Mom had come to the barn and let me know Nashville called for me yesterday morning, I took my time finishing up. I let the molasses drizzle from the last bucket onto the hay, watched it get all stringy and globby as it rested on the chilly flakes of dried grass. Then I rinsed the buckets and went to see Miss Boo, the calf born breech a few nights before Halloween.
I scratched behind her fuzzy ears and let her lick some extra molasses off my hand. Watching her head bob up and down as she smacked her lips, happy at such a simple thing, I cried a little bit. Wished I could be like Miss Boo. Just a goofy little calf, pleased as punch by simple things. I gave her a peck on the forehead and headed back slowly to the trailer.
There was no rush. Though it’d be nice to have Nashville feel sorry for me and share in the greatest disappointment the world had ever known. I poured a glass of milk and made a peanut butter sandwich.
I picked up the phone receiver to dial, but there was conversation on the other end of the line. Valerie Rochester gabbing with someone. Stupid party lines! Why’d we have to share one with her family? The answer was always the same: “Because her family owns the farm and the trailer. You want a line of your own? You need to pay for it.” And that wasn’t going to happen.
“Valerie? I need the phone. Can you hang up?”
“Uh, hello? I’m, like, talking here,” she said. “ Can YOU hang up?”
“Come on, Valerie. It’s important.”
I heard whoever she was talking to giggle.
“Crying about the concert yet?” Valerie asked.
I saw red.
“What? No! Shut up. I need the phone right now, you jerk!”
“Stina, I’ll call you back,” she said to whoever Stina was. “The hired help’s daughter is having a hissy fit.”
They hung up, and I reset the phone to call Nashville.
“Hi, Nashville. It’s Lauren.”
“Hey, kiddo! How’s it goin’? You sound pretty glum.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, how do you not sound glum? No concert tonight. All that work just … I don’t know … flushed down the toilet.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s an awful lot of work to flush down the john. Probably clog it up worse than the third stall in the boys’ locker room. I swear, not a day goes by …”
“That’s really gross, Nashville,” I said, not sounding the least bit amused even though I was.
“That’s your wrong opinion,” he said and laughed. “Now I was talkin’ here with Heather, and we wanted to run an idea by you. See if maybe we can salvage this whole thing. I’ve already talked to the powers that be, but if we’re gonna pull this off, you and Heather have a lot of work to do.”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “I already know there’s no way to have the concert tonight. Dad told me all about it. So don’t waste your time.”
“I know the deal,” he said. “I’m the custodian. Remember? But didn’t you listen? I said I already talked to the boss and got stuff sorted.”
“The main boss. Mr. Wodrick. I don’t know what’s come over him lately, but he’s awful nice to me lately.”
“So I thought maybe we could push the concert to next week Monday or Tuesday, but he said with basketball Monday and someone renting the gym for a party on Tuesday, we can’t get the gym then, but –”
“Great. So what’s the plan? Have a Christmas concert in January? That’ll be a hit.”
“Good golly, Miss Molly. When you get in a funk, you really get in a funk. Come on now. Just listen. We can’t have those nights, but we can have the gym tomorrow night. I called Ms. Van Fleet, and she said she can be there.”
I felt a spark of hope, but I realized the hard part.
“But how do we get everyone there? There’s no school tomorrow to let the other kids know.”
“Right, and that’s where you and Heather need to do the work. You’ve got one of those school phone books with all the parents’ phone numbers, right?
“So start calling. Split the alphabet with Heather. Each person you call, have them call two other people. It’ll be done before you know it. Ms. Van Fleet said she’ll call the teachers.”
“But some people won’t be home. And probably a bunch of folks’ll be out Christmas shopping and going to parties tomorrow night. And –”
“And a million other things, kiddo. But we’ve got the gym. We’ve got Ms. Van Fleet. And I’ve got the band ready to go. Ain’t gonna be perfect, probably, but it’s better than not having a concert. Right?”
Was it? It wasn’t the original plan, but under the circumstances …
“Yeah. You’re right. Ok.”
He gave the phone to Heather, and I gave her the second half of the alphabet so I didn’t have to talk to stupid Valerie Winchester again today. And Mom agreed that Heather could come over in the afternoon to help make a poster to hang in the general store to let folks now the show was still on. On the way to the trailer, Nashville stopped by the school with Heather and grabbed the decorating supplies Ms. Van Fleet got for the show.
We had the poster done before afternoon milking, and Dad drove us over to put it up.
“You tell Walden the concert’s tomorrow night, you probably won’t even need the poster,” Dad said. “He’ll add it to his daily gossip and tell every customer himself.”
Heather thought that was the funniest thing ever.
“He does enjoy distributing the news and rumors of the day,” she said.
Dad squinted and nodded slowly.
“Yeah. That’s … that’s what he does, I guess.”
Walden was excited to hear the show would go on despite the weather, and he insisted on hanging the poster right by the register so he could point it out. He also gave Heather and I each a free pint of egg nog for all the hard work we were doing.
“Now you go get those decorations done,” he said. “And I’ll stay here and spread the words. Maybe even find a date for the big night out!”
Heather and I grinned at each other and giggled, imagining Walden asking a lady out on a date.
“Well, good luck,” I said. “And thank you for putting up the poster and for the eggnog.”
We hopped back in Dad’s truck and spent the rest of the afternoon making decorations at home. Since we had a guest, Mom got out the Chef Boyardee pizza kit and made a special dinner for us. Around 7:30, Heather called Nashville to see if she could stay over since we were being so productive. He said yes, and we made snowflakes, construction paper chains, and snowmen well into the night.
I wondered now about the day ahead. Decorating the gym. Seeing who would be at the show. Hoping we’d sound ok after being a day out of practice. Heather snored on the floor by my bed. This was her first sleepover, and I felt special, knowing she felt so comfortable around me and my parents. Like my home was her home.
I rolled over to face the wall, blankets pulled up tight around me. I worried I’d be too tired tonight, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d get back to sleep. Next thing I knew, Mom was waking us up, and it was almost 11.
She made us take it easy until going to the school around 3. Dad had to do milking with one of the other hired hands, but Mom took Heather and I over. We met Nashville there, along with a few other parents who somehow got word that we’d be decorating. They even had a bunch of decorations they’d made. I asked Mom how they knew to do that, and she just shrugged and said it must be a Christmas miracle.
The rest of the Comfort Rockers showed up to do something called a sound check around 4:30, and we got a free preview of the extra songs they’d be playing at the end of the show. Ms. Van Fleet got there partway through the soundcheck, along with two other ladies, each of them carrying an autoharp.
Nashville sat on a bench, doing something to his guitar.
“Why’d Ms. Van Fleet bring her weird band?”
“Oh that,” he said, chuckling. “I just thought it’d be nice of the Mistresses of the Chorded Zither could join the fun, too. No sense in Ms. Van Fleet doing all the hard work while we get to play. We added a little intermission so they can do a couple of midwinter folk ballads or somesuch. Cool?”
I wasn’t sure.
“Sure,” I said. “Cool.”
By the time kids were showing up to sing, we had the place decorated, and we were enjoying more pizza, compliments of Walden and the general store. I’d never had pizza two nights in a row, and I imagined this must be how billionaires live.
Ten minutes before showtime, Ms. Van Fleet took Heather and I aside and held one of my hands and one of Heather’s. She looked sort of weepy.
“Girls, I can’t even begin to thank you enough for this. When they called a snow day yesterday, I thought it was over. And I don’t know if you understand this sort of thing, but after the awful time I’ve had with my back problems, trying to get back into my teaching with so much of the year done, and knowing the effort you put into this … thinking that the concert wasn’t happening … it just about did me in.”
I was ashamed at how self-absorbed I was yesterday. I hadn’t considered Ms. Van Fleet or anyone else, and there she was, feeling bad about me and Heather.
“Then when Mr. Nash … Nashville,” she said, smiling, “called me and suggested all this, it was like hearing a Christmas angel singing. He made sure I knew that this was up to you to get started, though, and you did it. Again. Thank you. Can I give you girls a hug?”
We both nodded, a little weepy at this point ourselves, and we wrapped our arms around each other.
The concert was set to begin at 6:30, and by 6:10, I could see almost every student and teacher somewhere in the gym. I was surprised and pleased.
Just before Ms. Van Fleet sent us off to our classes to get ready, Walden entered the gym with a woman on his arm. It was his mother. Of course it was. There was no more dedicated son in all of Franklin County than Walden Brosseau, and he’d be damned if he let that 86-year old woman miss the show. I caught a glimpse of Mom and Dad, too, Dad having slipped in a little while ago after finishing chores. He even had on a new flannel shirt.
Heather and I took our seats in the classroom and grinned like maniacs.
“We accomplished our goal.”
“Merry Christmas, Lauren.”
“Merry Christmas, Heather.”
Down the hall, I heard Ms. Van Fleet on the microphone, welcoming the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Parents and friends. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Comfort Rock Elementary & Middle School Christmas Concert.”
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.