Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
By Billy Coffey
Formats and Prices
Format:ebook $12.99 $16.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 11, 2010. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
With humor and a gift for storytelling, Billy Coffey brings you along as he spends his snow day encountering family, friends, and strangers of his small Virginia town. All have had their own battles with life’s storms. Some have found redemption. Others are still seeking it. But each one offers a piece to the puzzle of why we must sometimes suffer loss, and each one will help Peter find a greater truth–our lives are made beautiful not by our big moments, but our little ones.
Table of Contents
Some things in life are constants. Mountains. Rivers. Sky.
But not on that particular December day.
A glimpse at the world from my bedroom window had become an essential part of waking up. I needed to face a new day with a sense of permanence in a world gone wobbly. I needed to know that the mountains hadn't roamed away during the night, the creek was right where I'd left it, and the sky hadn't fallen just yet. It reminded me that while some things changed, the best did not.
The sense of stability I relied upon evaporated that morning. A peek through the shade by my bed revealed a world more foreign than familiar. The sharp edges of my reality had been rubbed smooth by some unseen hand. The mountains had been uprooted and planted elsewhere, the creek had disappeared behind a wall of white, and the sky had indeed fallen.
"Sweet fancy Moses," I whispered.
"What's the matter?" my wife murmured, rolling over on an elbow to look at me. Abby pushed back the blond locks that a night's worth of sleep had drawn over her eyes. She laid a warm hand on my shoulder and countered the chill of the glass. The same hand that had held my own through weeks of countless prayers and long talks, the one she would slip around me as we lay in bed trying to keep together what was unraveling. I loved that hand.
"It's snowing," I said. "Hard. Gotta be six inches on the ground already."
Abby smiled. "Thought Frank said 'flurries.'"
Frank is the local channel 3 weatherman. Just eight hours earlier he had dispensed the standard ho-hum forecast for December in Virginia. "We have a thirty percent chance of scattered flurries overnight, with little or no accumulation. No worries, folks."
With his usual confidence and an ensemble of green screen maps, Doppler radar, barometric pressure readings, and Accu-Check surface temperatures, it had appeared he knew what he was talking about. But as I lifted the shade to get a clear view of the snow piling up in the yard, I became convinced that Frank's scientific approach to weather forecasting involved a call to his aunt in West Virginia, who stuck her head out the door and told him what was on the way.
I smiled. "Well, I guess he was right. There's just a few more flurries that are a little less scattered. No way you'll have school. Why don't you go back to bed?"
She yawned. "Check on the kids for me?"
"Sure thing," I said.
"Be careful going to work."
"And call me right away if it happens."
I looked away and pretended to be interested in the snow while I searched for an answer. Promise? I wasn't sure I could. "It" could happen that day or the next or the week after that. It had become so big and scary I wasn't sure I could call her right away if It came.
I patted her hand. "Don't worry, Abby," I said. "I'm not worried anymore."
I know it's bad to lie. But this was the sort of lie that if discovered would get me a peck on the jaw as forgiveness, which was good. It was a lie I needed to be the truth.
I showered and dressed, then took a right into the next room.
The Disney princess lamp on the bedside table had been left on in order to keep the monsters out and the angels in. The plan had worked, too. The soft light revealed no ogres and one cherub. Sara was still curled beneath the blankets. Her favorite stuffed bear sat at her left shoulder, keeping vigilant watch with its never-blinking eyes.
"Bye, baby doll," I whispered, kissing her forehead.
"The red flowers are the best," she offered. Commentary on the dream I couldn't enjoy with her.
"No doubt about it," I answered, then gave her bear a tap on the noggin.
In the bed next door, my son, Josh, had managed to flip himself over and upside down, leaving half his body exposed over the edge in a daring display of balance. His blue blanket still lay tucked into the back of his shirt, a leftover prop from our Superman story the night before.
I scooped him up and secured him under the blankets. When Sara was born, I was convinced the most difficult task for any father was to raise his daughter to be a woman. But then Josh came along and I knew better. I knew it was much harder to raise a boy to be a man. Especially when I considered the rocky road I had traveled to get there myself.
I leaned close. "Have a great day, little bear." I felt a You, too, Dad in blissful exhale.
I left his room and hesitated at the magical spot in the hallway where I could look into the sleeping faces of all three people who occupied the better part of my heart.
As a teacher, my wife would be given a needed day off. Time to rest and recuperate from a world of whiny students and screaming parents.
But if snow days were made for anyone, it was Sara and Josh. They were about to receive twelve hours of uncommon perfection, of snowmen and snowballs and vast amounts of hot chocolate. Their day would be experienced with the completeness and vigor known only to children. And then it would be tucked away into their tiny memories to be recalled whenever a happy thought was required. God had granted them an early Christmas present—one of the everlasting kind.
I left my family to their minivacation, poured a cup of coffee, and opened the living room curtains. The snowfall was closing in on the second porch step and would likely make it to the third within the hour. Ten inches by then. Maybe more.
"Just keeps piling up, doesn't it?" I asked no one. When no one answered, I shook my head in response.
How would Frank explain away a forecast drenched in science with a result less reliable than "Red sky at night, sailor's delight"? I turned on the television as I gathered my boots and coat. Various names of schools and businesses flashed on the bottom of the screen, announcing their closings for the day. In the top section a commercial played, promising worldly success and women aplenty if I switched my brand of deodorant.
I peered back into the white, trying to glimpse the outline of the Blue Ridge. I couldn't. My mountains were missing that day.
"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed, my unfailing love for you will not be shaken," I recited to Someone. I took another sip of coffee.
I watched the fluffy storm fall, smoothing the uneven places of our yard and turning the trodden pristine.
My life was once as pristine as the snow I watched. Clean and clear and light. Made such by the simple needs of a simple man who wanted little more from life than a family to love, a home we couldn't wait to get back to each afternoon, and a job that would keep us fed.
I figured I still had two out of the three, an average that would have me bound for Cooperstown if I played for the Yanks. That other third… that was the real storm I was peering into.
My life dictated my career. My education covered the essentials but little else. I didn't have any mechanical skills. I didn't own a farm. It all meant depending on the factory to provide my living.
The long-sputtering economy had finally found its way to Mattingly, leaving a lot of good people in a very bad place. Rumors had been spreading for weeks at work, fueled by a recent memo from management saying an exciting announcement was on its way. Their words, not mine. They even italicized it and put three exclamation points afterward—Exciting Announcement!!!
They didn't fool anybody. Exciting announcements and exclamation points meant good news to the average person, but in factoryspeak it meant you'd better start looking for another job. The union said layoffs were coming.
A thirty-four-year-old husband and father of two is at the place in life to be settling in, not starting over. A layoff would mean losing three-quarters of our income. With a mortgage, a vehicle payment, school loans, and no one hiring within thirty miles, the clouds began creeping in. Specters of worry and fear and dread. The gloom of a storm from which there seemed to be no escape.
The commercials ended and the news desk turned things over to Frank, now banished outside with parka and cameraman for some onsite reporting. I decided to cut him a break. Anyone can fail to see a storm coming. I had a bigger bad forecast to worry about.
So as Frank explained the hows and whys of the storm outside, I prayed about the one inside.
"What's happened to my life?" I asked.
("The storm just came out of nowhere, and it's now stalled over the mountains.")
"Tell me how to face this mess at work."
("—advising you to take extra precautions and be careful, because you're gonna need plenty of traction out there today.")
"I just don't know what to think right now."
("If you're able, you should be thinking about changing your plans.")
"I'm trying so hard to believe and trust, but I'm not sure how much longer I can hang on."
("—won't last long and I'm predicting sunshine in the afternoon.")
"—just want to know what You want me to do."
("So just gather yourself, hunker down, and call in well.")
I blinked through the window, lowered my coffee, and turned to face the television. Frank flashed me a knowing wink and handed things back over to the news desk.
Huh, I thought. How about that?
I pulled the cell phone from my pocket and left a message for my supervisor.
"Sammy," I said. "This is Peter. Put me down for an emergency vacation. I'm taking a snow day."
I snapped the phone shut and stared out at the porch, where the snow had just kissed the lip of the third step.
How was I supposed to face the storm at work? The same way Frank said to face the storm outside. I just needed to take some extra precautions. I had to gather myself up and hunker myself down. Be aware. Find traction.
Call in well.
Bread and Milk
Abby stood beside me at the window and slipped her arm through mine. "'Snow day,' huh?" she asked.
"Technically it's an 'emergency vacation.' I guess with everything going on, you could say this is an emergency."
"I'll say," she offered.
"Truth is, I couldn't bear the thought of the three of you having all the fun today." Then, more serious, "Besides, I could use the break. I need a little time to gather myself and hunker down."
"Everything has its reasons," Abby said. "Maybe you'll find some of your whys today."
"No doubt about it. And if there are any exciting announcements with exclamation points, Sammy will call."
"Well," she said, "what do you say we try and push all of that out of our minds for today? You get the kids up, and I'll start breakfast."
Getting two children aged five and three out of bed was rarely a battle. One nudge and one "Good morning" was sufficient to send both into kiddie hyperdrive. Children bring out some of the best emotions in their parents—those feelings of love and pride and joy. They also bring out some of the bad ones.
Sara and Josh stood in amazement at the snow outside, whipping themselves into a tiny but violent frenzy at the thought of spending their day in the wet and cold. By then I was ready to join them, too. But first there came another little matter to tend to.
"You have to go to the store," Abby said, walking back into the living room.
"I what?" I asked.
"You have to go to the store," she repeated.
"But I just took the day off. To be with my family. Going to the store by myself in the middle of a snowstorm is not being with my family, honey. Not even a little bit."
"I know," she agreed. "I really wouldn't ask, but we're low on a few things."
"What are we low on?" I asked.
"Bread and milk."
"We're low on bread and milk?"
"Yeah. And we'll need them."
"Because of the storm. You know everyone gets bread and milk in a storm."
I replied with my usual answer whenever I wanted to end a conversation with her that made no sense to me: "As you wish."
"And maybe a few more things, too," she said, already halfway back into the kitchen to root through the cabinets.
"Snow, Daddy, snow!" Josh said from the couch.
"I know, buddy. I just have to run to the store. Won't take me long, and we'll go out when I get back. Okay?"
"Okay, Daddy," he said, then resumed slurping juice from his sippy cup.
The "few more things" Abby had in mind turned out to be a list of about twenty items, many of which couldn't be found at the local grocery. Which left only one option.
"I think it's gotta be Super Mart," she said. She sweetened the words with a peck on the check, which brought a chuckle from Sara.
"Super Mart? Really?"
"Shouldn't take you too long."
Another peck. Another chuckle from the little girl on the couch.
"But I'll have to take the detour," I said.
"It'll give you time to think. You know, gather yourself and hunker down?"
"Stupid weatherman," I mumbled.
Ten minutes later I was slogging down what I could only assume was the road out of our neighborhood. The snowplows were still hours away from reaching the back roads, so I was forced to estimate where the going side of the road began and where the coming side ended. With the blowing snow and my tired eyes, I had to squint just to make sure I wasn't taking a shortcut through someone's backyard.
I pulled over at the gray Cape Cod near the end of the street. In the driveway was a petite lady bundled in a ski coat that looked three sizes too large. Perched on the front tire of her Jeep, she waved a broom back and forth along the windshield, scraping away a night's worth of flurries.
"Mornin', Mandy," I called, rolling down my window.
She pushed the toboggan cap up from her eyes and waved a gloved hand. "Hey, Peter. How are you?"
"Fair," I said. "Yourself?"
"Oh, I'm good. Just trying to get all this mess off my vehicle. Don't see how you people manage to survive between November and March."
I laughed. "You'll get used to it again."
"I suppose," she said, jumping from the tire and walking my way. "I've gotten used to everything else. Might as well get used to winter again, too."
"I didn't think you'd be heading for work," I said. Mandy was the secretary for a local surveying company. Since there was so much snow on the ground, I figured there wouldn't be much call for surveying that day.
"Davey already called and said I had the day off. You?"
"Snow day. Figured I deserved a break."
"I'm sure. Heard anything yet?"
Like most people in town, Mandy had kept up with the news about the factory.
"Nope. Knowing them, they'll probably tell us Christmas Eve."
"Well, don't you worry. Sometimes God lets us hurt a while so He can show us what really matters in life."
"I suppose," I said. "Where you going if you don't have to go to work?"
"Oh, I was just getting Jack ready to go to the store. Need some bread and milk, you know. Because of the storm? I haven't forgotten that."
Bread and milk again. Because of the storm again.
"Well, I'm on my way to Super Mart," I said. "No sense in you and little Jack going out. How about I pick you up some and drop it by on my way back?"
"Oh, thank you. That'd be great. Not much snow down in Arizona, you know. It's pretty to look at, but I'm not crazy about driving around in it. Especially with the detour and all."
"No problem. I'll see you later," I said, rolling up my window and waving.
The drive to Super Mart took much longer than usual, and it didn't have anything to do with the weather. The Department of Transportation had decided that the road connecting our neighborhood to town was a flooding hazard. No big deal, they said. Shouldn't take more than a week.
By the day of the storm, it had been a month.
Though our neighborhood consisted of people who lived by the easy-does-it mentality of country life, our patience was wearing thin. The detour set up to keep drivers away from the repair added at least twenty minutes for any trip into town and had become yet another blight on my once shiny life. I hated that detour.
But there is a bright side to everything, and on that day the detour provided me a little time to ponder what I was doing and why.
Abby was right. When a bad storm hit, everyone around here stocked up on bread and milk. There wasn't a loaf of bread left in the entire county during the snowstorm of '96, and two old ladies literally came to blows in Food King over the last gallon of Shenandoah's Pride. Saw it with my own eyes. It took three people to pull them apart. They knocked over a display of bottled water and four cases of soda in the process.
The excesses of modern times are tempered when the weather rages, reducing us to our primal selves. We are highly advanced, twenty-first-century people. We have computers and cell phones and combustible engines. But dump a foot of snow on the ground and suddenly we think we're in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. This is especially true when it comes to provisions. We have in our kitchens enough nourishment to last weeks—bananas from South America, fish from Alaska, beef from Texas, oranges from Florida. The bounty of the world lies no more than a few steps from our living room. And I was sure Mandy's pantry was similarly stocked. And yet there I was driving all the way into town for bread and milk.
Jimmy Buffett had just begun another song about warm breezes and sunny beaches when my thoughts settled on Mandy.
She and Jack had come to the neighborhood alone. Transplants from the Grand Canyon State. Not too many people move to Virginia from Arizona. More often it was the other way around. A fact I had mentioned to her shortly after they had moved in.
"I'm not moving as much as I'm running," she replied. She clarified that it wasn't so much what she was running from as what she was running toward.
Mandy had been born and raised in a small house near the railroad tracks not too far from where she'd been standing. The wrong side of the tracks, mind you. At eighteen, she decided to follow her bliss over the mountains to Arizona State, where she met the love of her life in a lawyer whose wealth was transcended only by his violence. Mandy endured under the false assumptions that an abusive husband wouldn't necessarily become an abusive father and that the comfort in her life was worth the pain in her marriage. When he raised a hand to Jack in a drunken rage, she took their son and left. In the end, she found that the very mountains she always thought had kept her hemmed in now protected her and Jack from their past.
It hadn't been easy for her. Mandy confessed to Abby that there were times when the bills were paid late and the money was short and she wondered if she'd really made the right choice. But those were the times when she would look at her son and her God and see just how better off she was.
She doesn't have the stuff anymore—the fancy cars and big houses and high teas with the country club wives. And that's okay, because the stuff never made her happy anyway. Mandy didn't need a rich life of fine wine and filet mignon. Not when a simple life of bread and milk would be better. She had weathered her storm by finding the constants of her life. She had people to love, a God to lean on, and a reason to face every day. How could any dream be better than that?
I realized then the real reason I'd taken off work. I needed to search for my constants. For my own bread and milk of my life that would sustain me if life at work unraveled.
So as I drove I prayed for what Mandy had. I asked God to help me believe that if I lost what means much, it would be so I could find what means more.
The Superman Costume
There were those in this world who possessed the economic wherewithal to avoid the experience of having to shop at Super Mart. I was not among them. Ambivalence was not generally a part of my personality. I loved some things, loathed some others, but rarely did the two emotions converge on one point. Super Mart was one of those points.
The parking lot was just as busy as usual. Not even the snowstorm could keep people away from a deal on detergent and 10W-30 motor oil. I found a spot about a mile and a half away from the entrance. The snow fell so fast and the store itself was so far away that I found myself praying for God to send me a Sherpa so I wouldn't get lost.
After what seemed like an hour's walk, the doors appeared through the blowing snow and slid open. On the other side I was met by an elderly man wearing so many layers of clothing that his arms were trapped in a T, as if he were preparing to dive into deep water. There was a layer of snow and ice on his beard and a What-did-I-do-to-deserve-this look on his face, but that didn't stop him from offering me a good morning and a shopping cart. I took both.
I glanced at Abby's shopping list. "Stocking stuffers."
As I approached them, I could see Super Mart's toy aisles were even busier than the grocery section on the other side of the store appeared to be, in spite of the fact that the day's events required more in the way of practical shopping than indulgence. The seven aisles of baby dolls and action figures and whatnot were just a step or two below a brawl. Particularly the girls' section.
I rolled my shopping cart around the outside of the girls' aisles, waiting for an opening. After five trips, I still hadn't found one. I decided then that Sara had been pretty well taken care of as far as presents went. It was a selfish notion, and I knew it, but the thought of wading through a crowd of apprehensive, stressed-out mothers made me a little squeamish. I would concentrate on Josh's stocking stuffers instead. The boys' section of toys seemed a little less congested and a little more civil.
It's tough to find toys for a three-year-old. Josh was too old for rattles and the teething toys, but too young for action figures and Hot Wheels. There wasn't much in the middle.
Inspiration struck when I spotted the rack of Superman toys. Little boys love Superman, and my little boy was no exception. Everything you could have ever wanted in a Superman toy was hanging on those racks. Action figures, play sets, games. The trick was going to be picking out which to buy.
- On Sale
- Oct 11, 2010
- Page Count
- 208 pages