Evening Descent

The only other sound’s the sweep
Of downy wind and snowy flake. —Robert Frost

I sit on a wooden stool by the window in the kitchen, watching the snow come down. Across the street in a yellow cone of lamplight tiny flakes swirl about as though encased in a snow globe. Each one in its own time descends to rest against the frozen earth.

Forty years ago after the last bell of the day, I sat on a similar stool in a high school classroom, listening to my teacher reminisce about his boyhood. Outside the second-story windows snow lay along the sills in fluffy mounds, muffling the sounds from the street.

“I never had much direction in life,” my teacher mused, taking a sip of coffee from his thermos. “Maybe that’s why I eventually ended up following in my dad’s footsteps.”

He was a tall man with reddish-brown hair that hinted at his Scotch-Irish ancestry.

“My dad was raised on a small farm across the river. My grandfather continued to live there after my dad left home. When I was a boy we would visit my grandfather on the farm. It was tucked away back in the hills off a winding blacktop road. You turned off onto an unmarked dirt lane and followed it a quarter mile to the farmhouse.

“My grandfather was a big man. He and my dad didn’t always see eye to eye. When things went well, the two of them would sit on the porch and talk. Sometimes they took a leisurely stroll out to the orchard, leaving me behind to play in the yard. When they had words, my dad would quietly walk me to the car; and we would head back out the dusty lane to the road.

“One winter day we made the trek to the homestead. The fields lay buried beneath a thick white blanket of snow. It started to snow again shortly after we arrived, and by late afternoon it was coming down heavy. My dad decided we had better go before the roads got bad, so we headed out in the old Chevy down the lane. The plow had already gone by, throwing a big mound of snow at the entrance. We couldn’t get through, and we couldn’t turn around.

“My dad left me in the car with the motor running and the heat on and walked back down the lane to the house. After what seemed a long time, he appeared with my grandfather. Each of them carried an old coal shovel. In the yellow beams of the headlights I could see them working together to clear the pile of snow from the end of the lane.

“When they finished, my grandfather reached out his hand for the shovel my dad had been using. My father hesitated, then surrendered it. Together they disappeared into the darkness through the swirling snow.”

My teacher stood quietly by the lab bench, thermos in hand, staring out through the high vaulted windows. I shifted on the stool. “What happened?” I asked.

“It wasn’t long before my dad came back. He dusted himself off as best he could and slid in behind the wheel. He gave it the gun and we broke through onto the plowed road.”

After a brief moment of silence he said: “That was the last time I saw my grandfather alive. The darkness had swallowed him up; he disappeared into the falling snow forever.”

Although he was a chemistry teacher, we had been talking about writing, how to craft a story, an impression. He was very interested in writing and had managed to produce several stories and the beginning of a work of science fiction.

Somehow I managed to find the words: “Maybe one day you’ll write that down, just like you told it to me.”

Sitting on the stool by the kitchen window this evening as the snow swirls down in the light across the street, I wonder if he ever had.

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5 comments on “Evening Descent

  1. Mr. D says:

    I probably sat in that same chemistry lab. Did I know the teacher?
    My grandfather also lived off a small two lane road in Lancaster Co. His farm was at the bottom of a winding dirt road about a quarter mile long. One of my only memories of that farm was driving up that lane in a one seat car, hoping we would get to the top through the driving snow and snow drifts, the lights of the car trying to see through the heavily falling snow. By the time I was 6, my grandparents had moved from the farm and my grandfather died when I was in first grade. It was the first time I saw my father cry.

  2. another Mr. D. says:

    I guess I can also say I visited the same farm. I really have no recollections about it , however. I certainly remember the ride in the coupe either seated between my parents or on my mother’s lap.( no seatbelts or laws about 2 kids on the front seat.). I think of my grandpa every time I drive on that road to or from the farmers market each Tuesday. Was that Mr Hankins? I had Mr. Bomberger in that room.

  3. td says:

    It’s not too surprising that we all share similar memories, considering we all grew up in the same town, with only 10 years apart …

  4. […] although I posted a piece about him on this blog sometime ago, I doubt that he ever saw […]

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