by Dr. Olson Huff
Sixty Second Parent shares this Christmas short story written by Dr. Huff with you and your family. The story, written in five parts, will be posted each week between now and Christmas Eve. Make sharing this poignant story about a resilient boy who lives in a coal community a part of your holiday celebration this year.
Wind, cold and in a hurry, tossed aside the tops of tall pine trees, and quickly pushed through the valley. Low black clouds, set in relief against a gray sky, ran before the wind, a promise of rain or snow in their midst. Leaves, stirred by the wind, swirled around the figure of a boy, who trudged along a rutted path that bordered a meandering creek.
“Jack! Where you at? Come on boy, c’mere!”
A black and brown dog of no particular breed bounded from a thicket of sumac bushes, looked inquiringly at the boy, then fell into step behind him.
“Ain’t much further, Jack.” The boy shivered as a new gust of wind slapped at the front of his well-worn coat. “Wish it would snow and cover up some of this ugly mess.”
He stopped to shift the partially-filled burlap bag he carried from one shoulder to the other. His dog, obedient, waited. Before them, just where the path curved sharply to the right, was a coal tipple, thrust up into the overhanging cliff, its outline black and prehistoric against the threatening sky. Coal dust, driven from its timbers by the searching wind, fogged the air, and all the ground around it, and the creek too, was filled with the grime and silt of its produce.
“Black Diamond number nine. You look like one of them dinosaurs I seen in the encyclopedia at school. Trouble is, you ain’t extinct.”
The boy tossed his head back in defiance of wind and the unmoving monster, and resumed his journey. His steps quickened as he became more aware of the rapidly-fading day. Skillfully he picked his way around half-frozen potholes, eagerly noticing the distant flicker of light when finally he came into sight of the small mountain cabin that was his home. And none too soon. Freezing rain rapidly turned to snow, as the restless clouds opened to their task, and the last bit of day’s light vanished. His footprints, and those of the scraggly dog, filled with white; all around, shapes changed, bare branches fluffed with sudden cover, and behind them, now unseen, the ugly outline of number nine tipple softened and disappeared. The world of the boy’s small mountain valley turned white, and, as if mindful of the need for respect, the wind quietened and the pine trees stood still.
Nathan, for that was the boy’s name, stopped short of the cabin door. Flickering yellow light spilled through the window, and he watched the falling flakes dance in its shadows. Once again he threw back his head, this time to open his mouth to taste the fresh cold gift that surrounded him.
“Look, Jack, ain’t it like new? Don’t you wish it could be like this forever?”
Ole Jack whined, twitched his nose, and looked hopefully towards the unopened door. Nathan ignored the dog; instead, in spite of the chilling cold, he continued to stare into the flying snow. There was a mixture of feelings in the somber reflections from his dark quiet eyes. No pain could be seen, although a certain degree of hardness was there which, unlike the harsh gouged earth rapidly being covered by a blanket of white, resisted the magic of the snow to erase it. Finally Nathan heeded the dog’s whimper and pushed open the cabin door.