Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Snowman

At first, Miles had thought about building the snowman first and then putting it in something to move it, but he wanted to build a big snowman, one that would be too big for him to pick up and carry. The first snowball would be the hardest, since it was the biggest. If he could figure out how to move that one, the rest of it would be easy.

There was a tray in the garage that they had put their TV set on before they got their entertainment center last year. They did not use it anymore, but it was still in the garage because they had not thrown it away. But when he looked at it, he knew it would not work because even though it had wheels, it was not big enough. Miles wanted to build a big snowman.

Next he went to the shed in the back yard. There were lots of tools in there, but they were all for gardening and painting and working with wood, so they could not help him build a snowman. There was a wheelbarrow, though. Normally wheelbarrows were used to move dirt and stuff like that from one place to another, but there was no reason they could not be used to move snow. It had wheels and a big bucket kind of thing–Miles thought that was the barrow, but he was not sure–and it even had handles. He could use those to move it around in the snow, and he could also tip it down and roll the first part of the snowman in that way, in case it was too big for him to pick up.

He had planned to build the snowman in the front yard, but when he was rolling the wheelbarrow out of the shed, he looked around and figured out that there was more snow in the back yard, so he decided to build it back there. And since he had the wheelbarrow, it did not matter where he built it. The snow was thick and wet, which is the best kind for building snowmen. Miles knew that snow is really just frozen water and so all snow is wet, but some kinds of snow feel wetter than other kinds.

Before he started building the snowman, he walked slowly from the shed, which was at the very back of the yard, toward the house. Next he walked from one side of the yard to the other. He counted his steps as he went, because he knew that the farther he rolled the first snowball, the bigger it would be, and he wanted to make the biggest snowman he could. It took him 26 steps to walk across the yard and only 21 to go from the shed to the house, so it seemed like that would be the best way to go. When Miles thought about it some more, though, he figured out that if he started in the very back corner of the yard, rolled all the way past the side of the house, and kept going into the front, he would have a really big snowball, a lot bigger than if he just stayed in the back yard. He counted 53 steps from the back yard to the front. He hoped he would be strong enough to push the snowball when it got that big.

Finally confident that he was going to make the biggest snowman he could, Miles started rolling. He gathered up the snow in the back corner of the yard and started packing it the way his dad had shown him, and he soon had a snowball that was big enough to start rolling. He did not understand exactly how it worked, but when he rolled his snowball, it picked up the snow from the ground in front of it and got bigger. He thought that maybe the little antler parts of the snowflakes in the ball caught the antler parts of the snow on the ground and took them along for the ride, and then those new flakes caught even more from the ground, but he was not sure that was how it worked. He reminded himself to ask Mrs. Campbell, his teacher, if she knew when he went back to school. Mrs. Campbell was a good teacher and knew answers to lots of questions like that.

The snowball was as tall as his knees by the time he got to the middle of the house. It was heavy, too. He had to push hard with his legs while his arms kept the snowball going straight, because there was not much space between the house and the neighbor’s fence, and he did not want to hit either of them.

When he got to a good stopping place in the front yard, the snowball was up to his waist. He had barely been able to roll it the last few feet, and he was not sure if he could get it onto the wheelbarrow, but he had to try. Once the wheelbarrow was in place and tipped forward, he pushed the snowball for what he hoped was the last time, but it just moved the wheelbarrow along with it. He needed something that would stop the wheelbarrow from sliding, and so that when he pushed the snowball into it, the wheelbarrow would tip right-side-up and the snowball would be sitting on top of it.

In the shed he found a roll of the black plastic they had put under the gravel by the house, which would help, but it was not enough by itself because it would roll too. He looked around for another minute before he remembered that he had left the gardening tools outside. There were two little gardening shovels, which his mother had told him were called spades, sitting on the ground. Those would work perfectly.

Back in the front yard, Miles stuck the black plastic roll in front of the wooden bars on the bottom of the wheelbarrow, and then he dug the spades into the ground behind the plastic. His plan was to have the plastic make it easier to tip the wheelbarrow back up, while the spades would keep the plastic from rolling. He took a deep breath, put his shoulder into the snowball, and pushed as hard as he could.

His plan worked just the way he hoped it would. The plastic made it easy to tip the wheelbarrow, but it almost worked too well; when he was done pushing, the wheelbarrow tipped back and forth like a rocking horse, and Miles was scared that it would fall over the other way. But it stopped after rocking back and forth a few times, and the hardest part of building the snowman was over.

He started another ball of snow and rolled it around in a circle in the front yard. Before long the middle section was as large as he wanted it to be, but he had a problem now, because he would not be able to lift the second snowball on top of the first one. He was not tall enough to do it. Miles now had to decide whether he would make the first snowball smaller so he could put the second one on top of it, or to try to figure out some other way to get the snowball up there. The first one was just the size he had been hoping for, maybe even a little bigger than that, and he really liked the way the second had turned out, too. The way he looked at it, his only real option was to figure out some way to make himself taller.

Nothing in the shed would help, because all of the tools and things in there were for working in the ground, and Miles needed to work in the air. He needed the ladder from the garage. He had used it when they repainted the house last year, and he had gotten comfortable balancing himself on the ladder while holding a paint can in one hand and a brush in the other. He picked up the second snowball to see how heavy it was. It would be hard, but he was pretty sure he would be able to hold it steady long enough to get it on top of the first snowball. He would only have to climb to the second or third step to reach it.

After he made sure the ladder would not slide on the snow, Miles positioned it next to the wheelbarrow, picked up the second snowball, and got on the ladder. He had to go up backwards, but it was not hard to keep his balance and it was not long before the snowman was two-thirds complete. He picked up some short sticks for arms and stuck them into the snowman. All he had left to do was make the third snowball, put a face on it, and take it inside.

Since it was the smallest one, the third snowball did not take long to make. Once it was in place, Miles looked around for things he could use to give the snowman a face. He broke off the end of a branch from the neighbor’s pine tree for the mouth, found two nuts on the ground for eyes, and broke off an icicle from the bumper of their car to use for a nose. After adjusting the eyes a few times to make sure they were even, Miles sat on the ladder and looked at the snowman. It looked just the way he had pictured it in his mind.

The only thing he had left to do was to measure how tall the whole thing was, including the wheelbarrow. He had to make sure it would fit through the door beforehand, because it would be a disaster if the head was knocked off while he was pushing it inside. It would probably fall in his own head, but worse than that, the snowman would be headless, and he had worked too hard to bring a headless snowman inside.

The snowman and the wheelbarrow together were almost four feet tall, which was a few inches taller than he was, but there was still plenty of room to spare. He was not sure why he had been worried. His dad walked through the door every day, and he was a very tall man.

The ramp had been put in that summer. It led straight up to the front door, and it was there so Emmy, Miles’s older sister, could get in and out of the house with her wheelchair. Miles usually did not think about the ramp much, but he was glad it was there now, because he could not have rolled the snowman inside without it. If Emmy had not been using a wheelchair, though, he would not have needed to bring the snowman inside.

Miles’s parents had told him about the disease Emmy had, but he had not understood most of what they had said. The only part he really understood was that his sister was too sick to play with him, especially in winter when it was cold and there was snow everywhere. But Miles remembered how much fun they had when they built snowmen last year, and if she could not come out with him, he was going to bring a snowman to her.

It was warm inside the house, and the snowman was going to melt quickly once he got it inside, so it had to be big if it was going to last until he got it to Emmy’s room, which was all the way at the back of the house. He had not told his parents about his plan because he wanted it to be a surprise. Emmy did not get many surprises anymore, at least not good ones, and Miles knew that she liked being surprised.

The wheelbarrow was heavy, but it was not hard to push once he got it started. He slowed down once he was inside, though, because he wanted to be careful and not bump anything. He could hear his parents talking upstairs.

Emmy’s door was open, and Miles had to peek around the snowman to make sure she was in there. She was sitting on her bed, but her eyes were closed and he could not tell if she was asleep.

"Emmy? Can you hear me? I have something to show you."

Emmy laughed when she saw the snowman. It was not that she thought the snowman was funny; she was just so surprised to see one in her bedroom that it was the only way she could react. It was melting and starting to drip into the wheelbarrow, but was still a good snowman. Miles was proud of it.

"Miles, did you do this by yourself?"

"I built it for you, since you’re sick."

She motioned for him to come over and give her a hug. While she was holding him, she whispered, "It is cold?"

Miles could not figure out if she was asking this as a joke. "It’s a snowman. It has to be cold. It melts if it’s not."

"Could you bring a piece of it to me?"

"But you’re sick. I thought cold was bad for you."

"Too much of it is. But just a little bit is okay."

He scooped a chunk out of the snowman and brought it to her. She held it for a moment, enjoying the feeling of cold wetness in her hand. A drop ran down her arm and onto the sheet, and she threw the slushy ball at him. Miles, who had not been expecting her to do anything like that, gasped and looked around, as if an explanation were hiding somewhere in the room.

"You know what the best part is?" Emmy said. "You can’t get me back until I’m better. And I bet you’ll have forgotten all about it by then."

"No I won’t. I’ll write it down to make sure I won’t." He paused. "When are you going to be better?"

"Well, I’m not really sure about that, but it probably won’t be for a while. I think you’d better take it back outside before it starts melting all over the floor, though. I don’t think we need to tell Mom and Dad about this, either. It can be our secret. But thanks a lot for doing this, Miles. I didn’t think I’d get to feel snow this year. Come back in here once you’ve taken care of your snowman, okay?"

Miles carefully turned around the wheelbarrow and rolled it back outside. He dumped it out in the front yard, put the ladder back in the garage, and took the wheelbarrow and the other tools back to the shed. He stopped and looked at the remains of the snowman before he went inside. The parts that had melted, even though they were broken up and turned upside down, were already starting to freeze again.

Back in Emmy’s room, he climbed on her bed and snuggled against her. He had taken off his snow clothes at the front door. He was tired. Building a big snowman all by himself was a lot of work.

"You know what my favorite part of winter is?" she asked.


"Playing in the snow. Especially playing with you."

"But you can’t do that anymore."

"What you are you talking about? I just threw at snowball at you. Sure, it was half melted and I only got to do it once, but that still counts."


"Really. And you know what? I think that because that was the only snowball I’ll get to throw this year, I’ll remember it more than any of the other ones I’ve thrown at you."
"I could bring you another one sometime."

"Thanks, Miles. I’d like that. But not tonight." She yawned. "I’m getting pretty tired. Could you turn off the light when you leave?"

Miles closed the door behind him after he turned off the light. His mother met him on the stairs and told him to get ready for bed. She said she would be up once she checked on his sister.

"She’s already asleep," Miles said.

"Were you in there?"

"Yeah. She said she was getting tired." He wanted to add that she had thrown a snowball at him, just to see what she would say, but he did not because that was going to be his secret with Emmy. It would not be as much fun as playing in the snow, but it would still be good. And it was something they could do together. That was the best part.

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