The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2002

 
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Image in the Snow

for Lizzie B. Stewart, Boyds Corners School
Boyds Corners, New York 1934 - 1939

by

Roland Barr Bentley

Previous stories by Roland Bentley about his teacher Lizzie Stewart

There really isn't much that makes this morning different from any other except its colder than usual and about eight inches of fresh snow has fallen during the night. The morning farm routine—feeding the animals, milking the cows and putting the cans of milk in the milk-house to be picked up later in the day—are the same things my grandfather and dad do every morning. By 7:00 or 7:30 they're back to the house and my grandmother and mom have the usual big breakfast of pancakes, eggs or sausage and home-fried potatoes ready for them. By this time both of them are pretty hungry. They have to get up early every morning before daylight so they've been working in the barn for a couple hours when they come back up to the house. After breakfast there's always a lot of jobs to be done—machinery to be repaired for spring planting, hay and ensilage to be thrown down from the hay mow and the silo and it, seems to me, we always have some sick animal down there in the barn. But getting started with today's work will just have to wait a while because we had an overnight guest—well, not really a guest because teacher stays with us quite often—sometimes two or three days at a time when the weather is bad.

Anyway, you know how it is with older people—they always have a lot to talk about as they sit around the table and drink coffee. And that's what they're all doing this morning. Teacher's—that is, Mrs. Stewart's—husband drove her over last night from their farm about 50 miles away on the other side of the county because she was afraid she couldn't get here this morning with all the new snow. Seems like Mrs. Stewart and my folks always talk about the same things—things that I don't understand very much about like FDR, the New Deal—whatever that is—and something called the Townsend Plan and some guy way off they call Hitler. I don't usually ask questions when they're talking because they don't like to be interrupted by us boys. I think Mrs. Stewart's husband raises sheep on his farm and they talk a lot about how many lambs he's got now and the price of wool and things like that. Then Mrs. Stewart and my grandma usually get to chatting about all the canning they've done or the quilts and rag rugs they're making.

All of a sudden Mrs. Stewart notices what time its getting to be. "Boys, we've got to get on our way to school," she says, getting up and pushing her chair back in under the big dining room table. Then she walks to the cold bedroom off the living room to get her coat and the things she'll need to wear on this cold morning. "Be sure to put on your high boots today. The snow is quite deep," she says as she pushes open the sticking bedroom door.

Then my mom and grandma make sure that my brother and I are dressed warm enough for the mile and a half cold walk to school. Mom wanted me to wear my corduroy knickers and long argyle socks today because she thinks that, with my long underwear, I'll be warmer in the wind. I'd rather wear my bib overalls like usual 'cause the knickers go "zip, zip, zip" every time I take a step. Doesn't matter—I've got the knickers on and as soon as I get my high boots on I'll be ready to go.

Mrs. Stewart is standing at the door waiting for me. Gosh, I can hardly see her face. She has that big coat with the fur collar she often wears pulled right up around her face and ears and a long scarf tied around that with one long end hanging down her back. Over her head she has a large three-cornered bandana tied securely under her chin. I think she'll stay warm till we get to school.

As my grandma opens the dining room door, the three of us prepare to face the cold. "Don't forget these," grandma says, handing each of us our lunch buckets she had sitting there on the corner of the table. Mrs. Stewart picks up her large, black pail. It has a rounded top so she can carry a thermos bottle of coffee or tea. She also carries a leather case with lots of papers and pens and pencils and scissors. She always has everything I need in there. We step out the door, onto the side "stoop," down across the snowy yard and then we're quickly in the road we'll follow to school. There are no tracks yet in the new snow. Probably the snowplow will be around before noon so the mailman can get through.

"I'll hurry along," Mrs. Stewart says, pulling away the scarf she now had placed over her mouth, "so I can get the fire started." As I watch her start to walk faster and plunge first one foot, then the other in the untouched, powdery snow, I stop walking and stand silently in the snow. I simply want to watch her for some reason—the determined footsteps, the swing of the arms with lunch pail in one hand and briefcase in the other. I notice the little balls of disturbed snow rolling left and right with each lifted foot and the rhythmic appearance of her breath in the frosty, morning air. It is quite a ways down along the pasture lane before the road crosses the creek bridge. I start to walk but before I'm barely past the barn, teacher is nearly to the bridge. Her image gradually appears smaller and smaller to me until it finally disappears out of sight around the bend in the road. I hurry along now, taking big steps and trying to walk in her footprints in the snow. Unable to do that for very long, I think I'll just walk the rest of the way making my own tracks in my own way. Anyway, that's what she'd tell me to do—just like she doesn't expect me to keep up with her. That's the way she is. That's the way she is about everything.

School that day for me started early while standing there by the barn watching Mrs. Stewart walk the road ahead of me in the snow. I don't remember arriving at school that day. I assume the room was warm when I arrived and that the day was filled with learning and laughter like all the others with her there.

Yet the morning image in the snow remains frozen in my memory. For that I am indeed grateful.

2002, Roland Barr Bentley
Previous stories by Roland Bentley about his teacher Lizzie Stewart
 
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