Two little boys on a cold January afternoon
This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.
Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.
It was a clear, crisp January afternoon, cold, and the woods and fields were filled up with snow that had a hard, glazed crust and glinted in the lowering sun. Two young boys sat stiffly in the backseat of a station wagon, bundled up to their eyes in snowsuits and boots and knitted mittens, itchy flannel scarves, like tourniquets, around their necks and faces, and each had on a red woolen hat with a tassel on top.
“All right boys,” said the mother behind the wheel, slowing the car to a halt by the side of the road. “Here we are.” The boys climbed out and got their two sleds out of the back. “Have a nice time. I’ll be back at the end of the afternoon to pick you up. Be sure you stay here on the hill, and keep bundled up; it’s cold out.”
It was cold. Both boys watched the station wagon drive off. Then they climbed over the stonewall beside the road to look down the hill, which was a steep field, bordered by dark green, snow-filled woods. The shadow from the woods was already halfway across the slope. The boys jumped on their sleds and rode a weaving track down the hill. A biting breeze reddened their cheeks and noses and blew the soft dust of their trails across the slope as they got a good taste of speed on the icy crust. They dragged their sleds back up to try it again. It was fun. But it was really cold. Another hurtling trip down the hill brought new color to their faces, which by now were redder than ever, and with each trudge back up to the top and each ride down again, the shadow from the woods grew longer and longer, and the sharp tingle of the January afternoon crept into their fingers and toes.
The sun went down beyond the woods. Then darkness fell, and the boys could no longer ignore the cold and the bite of the wind. They quit their sleds and watched for the station wagon, hopping up and down on the side of the road and patting their frosty mittens together. But it didn’t appear, and it never came. Maybe she forgot us, they whimpered, and then they began to worry.
Way down the road, they could see a light in the window of a lonely house, and though they knew they were supposed to wait on the hill, they finally decided to walk toward the light, for it was getting very dark, and they were miserable now.
It was a long walk, dragging their sleds. When they at last made a mittened knocking on the door of the house, it opened, and there stood a little old woman with a shawl over her shoulders and her white hair in a bun on the back of her head. “Why you poor boys!” she said as they blurted out their story. “You come right on in here by the cookstove, and we’ll get you all toasty warm.”
The little boys needed no further encouragement, and they happily accepted the invitation. The old lady sat them down on chairs in front of the warm, black stove. Then she opened the oven door and told them to put their feet in, boots and all, which they did. And she gave them each a hot, molasses cookie.
There they sat for a long time, still bundled up, their feet in the oven, silently munching their cookies. The old woman busied herself quietly. It was a warming scene, and the two boys gradually recovered the feeling in their hands and their feet.
At last there was the sound of a car, and a forgetful mother appeared at the door.
That is all I remember. I was one of those boys. I’m sure my friend, Peter’s, mother had a mighty worried look on her face at the time. But then it could have been worse; we might have frozen solid on our sleds. It was mighty cold out that day.
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.