When I was a little girl, summer lasted an eternity. I thought school would never start again. Once school started, I looked for snow.
Before I went to bed, I knelt in front of Mom and her part-knitted mittens going round and round on four needles for the next kid who poked a thumb through last year’s. Mom was a knitting maniac.
Way away in the spring I was gonna make my first communion, so I practiced the Act of Contrition kneeling down in front of Mom and her knitting. The Act of Contrition is the prayer I had to say after I confessed all my sins and had my soul scrubbed clean for Jesus. It’s a special prayer to say you’re really sorry for all the bad things you did or might be planning to do, and you promise with all your heart to keep away from sinning and not to even think about it. Prayers say things fancy for God. I had to say, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended thee,” instead of just “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, God.” I guessed God likes fancy words.
My friend Beth got to pray with her own words. She was Methodist. If I could do that, I’d pray for snow, that’s for sure. Anyways, I had to say fancy words like “I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishment.” Being Catholic sure was good for the vocabulary. Mom said God knows what everybody needs. No sense in bothering him, if he already knows everything. He’s different from Santa, who only knows whether I’m naughty or nice, and needs a list of things I want. Plus, Santa’s not in the business of wiping the slate clean, or forgiveness, or eternity. A year at a time is how Santa works, plus he’s kinda bad at keeping track, if you ask me.
Deanna pointed that one out to me when she said, “Dougie and Nancy get lots of presents every year, and they’re way naughtier than we are.”
I woke up early every morning and looked out my bedroom window, hoping, hoping for snow. Lots of times the ground got covered in white. For sure it snowed. Me and Bonnie got on our barn coat, right over our pajamas. We put our boots on with no shoes or even socks ’cause we just had to get out there.
Drat! Nothing but frost. No fair.
Bonita’s hair fell out from under her hood and her brown cow eyes got all sad-looking.
“Maybe our sleds will work just as good on frost,” I said. “It looks almost like snow.”
I bent one knee and boosted Bonita up so she could pull our sleds off the nail in the garage. ‘Course the sled went banging down on the ground, but we couldn’t help that. Besides, our sleds were super strong, made of wood with big steel runners. Nothing could break those sleds. Santa made them.
We took the sleds to the yard between our house and the Little House; we could sled down the hill there, easy as pie, ’cause our boots already slipped all over creation. I gave a run and belly-flopped onto my sled. The runners squeeeeaked loud in my ears, and my coat slid right across the wood ripping at my coat buttons and landing me with a face full of frosty grass. It hurt. And I felt like a dodo bird.
Bonita laughed her head off. “You looked so funny,” she said. “You should have seen yourself.” Bonita flailed her hands around showing me what I looked like.
I spit and snuffed ’cause of all the frozen leaves and grass left over from fall stuffed up in my nose and mouth, and even stuck in my ears. Just looking at Bonita laughing away like some sort of hyena, made me laugh too. I probably did look pretty hilarious.
I pulled Bonita on her sled, pretended to be a horse snuffing and whinnying. Bonita’s sled trailed on behind her. It was pretty easy on the grass.
“Get those sleds back in the garage,” Mom yelled from the back porch. “You’ll dull the blades pulling them over the grass like that.”
Bonita hopped up and high-tailed it across the sidewalk which went between the back porch and the clothesline. The sleds made a horrible screeching, scratching sound on the cement.
“For Pete’s sake,” Mom said covering her ears and pulling her eyebrows low on her face. “Pick those sleds up. That sound is setting my teeth on edge.”
That made me think of Grandma and her false teeth and how she liked to run her tongue underneath after she ate stuff like raspberries.
Over the river and through the woods,
To Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way,
To carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow.
I started singing, and Bonita joined right in.
Snow would be here soon. It had to come by Christmas. It just had to. I had faith. And nothing could dull my spirits: not even a mouth full of fall leaves, not even a mother with her teeth on edge which was probably another sin I had to keep track of until my spring-soul-cleaning and my first official Act of Contrition.
Hurray for the fun,
Is the pudding done?
Hurray for the pumpkin pie.
When I talk to my grandchildren about the Old Days, they don’t know what a sled looks like and they don’t know the Over the River song. Maybe some of them know what an Act of Contrition is. Instead of heavy sleds with runners, they have saucers and toboggans and big blow-up tubes that fly down hills, even on wet grass. They still make lists for Santa as the Elf on the Shelf keeps track and reports back to the North Pole.
As for me, I’m still making my lists and trying to keep my soul scrubbed clean. I’m busy making pj, sweaters, and hats, candy, and cookies. I never did get the hang of mittens. I still need that sincere act of contrition. More times than I’d like to admit.