Today's offering by Addison W. Ward is one of our favorites. Since it hailed here a couple of days ago, and the plum trees are blooming, the timing is right.
In looking through the box, Andrew found this lovely calendar, drawn by brother Peter in second grade, to illustrate the story. Surely Addison would approve.
The Snowman's Holiday
by Addison Werner Ward
In a shrill northern land there lived a snowman with a Latin temperament. A group of boys had built him after the year’s first snow, fitting him out with a carrot for a nose, two lumps of coal for eyes, and broomstick arms. They dressed him in an old coat and hat and ran off to play, leaving him to stare out across the wintry countryside.
As the days passed the snowman listened to the chattering of the birds flying south for the holidays, and understood that he was doomed to live in an alien clime. He dreamed of sunburnt mirth and Provencal song, of sandy beaches, orange trees, and scented breezes bearing the soft evening sounds of guitars and throaty laughter; he sighed for a warm passionate life, luxurious, calm, voluptuous, in a land of bright colours. But when he looked about him he saw only the barren hills, the heavy sky and the nervous little winter birds pecking primly at the snow. The harsh gutteral cries of the boys at play grated on his ears, and his own body with its bulges and its stiff broomstick arms became an object of horror to him. The very word “snowman” seemed to have a chilling sound, and in his secret thoughts he spoke of himself as l’uomo di neve, cooing over the syllables as if to find in their warm music a refuge for his tawny soul.
One day a large crow flew down and perched on the snowman’s shoulder. “Hello,” he said, “my name is Jaspar. What marvelous flashing coal-black eyes you have, so different from the icy blue eyes of the boys who made you!” The snowman’s heart melted within him. In ten minutes he was sharing with his new friend all his hatred of the guilt-ridden northland, its cheerless code of duty and its dark, haunted imaginings. The crow shifted from one claw to the other as he listened. He was a creature of limited imagination, and the snowman’s eloquence disturbed him in ways he could not understand. To tell the truth he was having a hard winter of it himself; his neck was scrawny and his feathers lacked their usual gloss, for food was scarce that year. “I don’t know,” he muttered at last. “I’m not saying you’re wrong. But I’m used to it here; this is where I belong. I know where I stand here, and it’s not such a bad life, after all.”
Jaspar could stand no more. “All right,” he croaked, “when do we start.” The snowman sighed piteously. “You may start when you will,” he said, “but I have neither wings nor feet. I shall grow old in a land my soul abhors.” There was a moment’s silence, then it was the crow’s turn to speak scornfully. “I see,” he cried. “All talk. The pleasures of self-pity: if you can’t do anything about it, at least you can be miserable! That’s what you call a winged soul. Well, enjoy it while you can. I was going to tell you, before you got going on all this, that the boys are talking of pulling you down to make a snow fort.”
The snowman stood under his friend’s contemptuous gaze. Then all at once he threw his left shoulder forward with a violent thrust. His heavy body tipped, rotated forward through a half-turn, and rocked upright, leaving a patch of bare earth behind it. “I can do it,” he panted in joy and amazement, “I can move! The bright land lies ahead; it is calling me. Oh, Jaspar, come with me!”
Together they planned their journey. The snowman was eager to start at once, the more so because of the rumour about the snow-fort. Jaspar, being incomparably the swifter traveler, would spend four days putting his affairs in order before following. They arranged a meeting-place, and after a brief period of practice under his friend’s supervision the snowman set off in his peculiar rolling gait, calling gay farewells over his shoulder and muttering to himself of the new life which lay ahead.
At the end of the second day the snowman was in better health and spirits than ever before in his life. He was indeed almost fat, for the lower portions of his body were swollen with the wet snow which stuck to him as he rolled his way across the fields. He had learned to move with some speed by keeping his body in constant motion from one side to the other, and he was confident of reaching the rendezvous by the appointed time. “Even this is enough,” he muttered as he rocked along. “To have started, to have set out is enough.”
On the third day he noticed that patches of brown grass were beginning to show on the white hills, and by the late afternoon the snow had entirely disappeared and the grass was almost imperceptibly turning from brown to green. A few of the trees had leaves on them. A wild joy possessed him. “Even this is enough,” he cried aloud. “To have seen the first faint signs of life stirring under the crust is enough.” At the same time he noticed that walking was more tiring than he had thought, and he was forced to stop and rest from time to time. This was a nuisance because getting into motion was by far the most difficult part of the process, and the most dangerous as well. During one of those rest periods he glanced back over the field he had crossed and was mildly perplexed to see a broad dark trail of moisture on the grass leading to the place where he stood.
On the fourth day the snowman saw his first flowers. They were round and shaggy and deep yellow in color, and they blazed at him like little suns. The snowman wept for so much beauty. During the last two days he had often been on the verge of tears, and now he let them come, weeping long after the emotion had passed. The drops continued to course down his cheeks as he set himself in motion. “What the birds said is true,” he though. “In the south laughter and tears come easily and feelings find instant expression: a kiss, a blow, a cry of joy or grief. Even this is enough. To have learned that what the birds said is true is enough.” And he lurched onward, weeping to see the green foliage on the trees around him.
Later in the day, when the sun stood high over his head, he stopped in weariness and bewilderment. After some hesitation he shook off his hat and coat, and shivered with delight as the warm rays played up and down his body. “Thus I cast aside my former life,” he cried, still weeping. “Naked and innocent I go to the land of pagan joy. Even this is enough. To have cast aside one’s former life is enough.” Glancing down he fancied that already he was slimmer and more graceful, and he bent his head over to look more closely. There was an abrupt thump, and a carrot lay on the grass immediately in front of him. He gazed at it in vague curiosity, trying to arrest the memories that floated through his head.
As he rolled on ever more lazily the snowman knew a happiness gentler yet more intense than he had believed possible. Was it today that Jaspar was to meet him? Or tomorrow? Or perhaps yesterday? One day was very like another: they flowed together, gurgling softly as they swirled from shadow into sunlight and back again to shadow. To move in such a world was to stand still, rocking drowsily from side to side, while the sun’s soft persuasive voice cooed the liquid syllables of a once forgotten name, making the sound a plea for its healing passion. On all sides the flowers crowded in to offer their hot sucking kisses, and his Latin soul was slipping out toward them, exulting and expanding in the bright southern air while the warm breezes laughed like orange trees.
As Jaspar flew south to the meeting place that afternoon his sharp eyes spotted the discarded coat and hat in the middle of the field. Circling down for a closer look he saw the carrot and then, a few feet farther on, two lumps of coal in the center of a pool of water draining slowly into the earth. He circled the scene once, and then turned back in the direction he had come from. He was not an unfeeling bird, but he had lived through a number of winters and had learned not to form uncomfortably deep friendships with snowmen. Even those who stayed north seldom lasted beyond the first spring days.