Since it’s snowing (kind of) in South Louisiana, I thought I’d offer a little taste of something that’s dropping in July.
(And, no, there aren’t ‘free copies’ floating around, so don’t ask.)
* * *
“Yall get out here,” Daddy shouted from the front door, freezing us all in mid action, stopping our very thoughts. “C’mon. Yall missing the snow.”
With that, we tried to get all six of our bodies through the bedroom door at once and stormed out onto the porch, where we stopped short. Breathing heavily in our excitement, we looked like overworked horses, steam puffing from our nostrils.
I don’t know how long it had been snowing before he called us out, but the ground was covered and it was still coming down. Silence reigned, our breathing the only sound to be heard. The lighting was strange, a gray dusk in the middle of the day serving as backdrop to the white flakes falling from the sky. I stuck my hand out from under the porch’s overhang, hoping to catch some of the magic, but it only melted.
“Can we go play in it?” Kurt Junior asked.
“Not enough to play in yet,” Daddy said. “Let’s give it a little time.”
That seemed about like asking pigs to wait a few minutes before eating the slop right in front of them, but we all said, “Okay, Daddy,” and deferred to his wisdom. Obviously he knew a thing or two about snow. Even if he knew only one thing about snow, it was one thing more than the rest of us.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go eat some gumbo.”
We usually ate like a pack of wild animals, tearing through what food we had and hoping beyond the realm of all experience that there would somehow be more. But that day we were too nervous to eat, worrying that the snow would stop or that it would melt by the time we were allowed out to play.
An hour later, when we were let outside bundled up in what clothes we could find, there was a full inch on the ground. It wasn’t much, but to us it might as well have been the North Pole. After working as a team to build a two-foot tall snowman that was as much dirt and sticks as it was snow, we declared war on each other, practically scraping every inch of snow off of the ground and fence rails and the truck and low-hanging tree limbs to arm ourselves.
Since Baby Joey was too small to stay out for long, the warring factions broke down as they often did, Kendra-Sue and me against the other three. Fight like cats and dogs as often as we did, together we were an unstoppable force. Or, an alternate reason, given by Kurt Junior: “Yall too hateful to separate.” Meaning that if we were on opposing teams, the play fighting would at some point turn into real violence—and we’d all get a switching from Mama.
Still, Kurt Junior probably wished he could have both of us on his team. As Kendra-Sue and I worked silently to build our arsenal, we could hear Karla-Jean nagging him.
“We need a plan and we need to build a fort.”
“Mais, what you gonna build a fort with? Just pack some snowballs before Kendra-Sue and Katie-Lee come get us.”
I listened not so much to the words as to the way they carried in the cold air. Kurt Junior, Karla-Jean and Karen-Anne were on the other side of the house, but sounded like they were in the same room. Karen-Anne whined that her fingers hurt from the cold.
Mine burned too. Red and raw. It was the most disappointing thing about the reality of snow. I don’t know what I’d expected. Something soft? Clouds that could be packed into solid form? It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d basically be sticking my hands in cold water for an hour or more. But I held my tongue. For all I knew, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
I stuck my head around the side of the house to spy on the enemy.
“Kurt Junior’s sneaking off behind the barn,” I reported.
“Good. We’ll get Karla-Jean first.”
She didn’t need to explain to me why. Swooping down on Karen-Anne might prompt Kurt Junior to counter-attack with force. He’d do nothing to protect Karla-Jean. If we hit her hard enough, she’d give up immediately.
When we stormed around the house, Karen-Anne bolted away from Karla-Jean, who was bent over a bare patch of ground trying to coax a fort out of mud and what was left of the snow. It looked more like a snake. Whatever it was, the three-inch mound did nothing to protect her from the four snowballs we hurled at her face from point-blank range, knocking her onto her butt. In a second, she was back on her feet, red-faced, blood streaming from her nose. She was a sight. Tall for her age, topped with flaming red hair that apparently struck at least one Fontenot in every generation. And so mad she couldn’t speak or make up her mind which one of us to kill first. Not that either of us were going to stick around to make her decision easier. We took off in separate directions and rendezvoused on the other side of the house.
Karla-Jean’s voice split the air. “I quit! Yall hear me? I quit. I’m going inside. Stupid. That’s what yall are. I hope yall freeze to death out here.”
“That was probably the best thing ever in my life,” Kendra-Sue said. She looked like a dog that had just eaten a week-old opossum.
“You think she’s gonna tell?” I asked.
“Let her. The only person gonna listen to her crybabying is Jesus.”
That was true. And Karla-Jean was smart enough not to ruin Mama’s mood by tattling.
“Who’s next?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
We sat for a bit, mulling it over, sticking our tongues out to catch the snow. We made more snow balls. Kept an ear out for the approaching enemy. If past war experience—and we had plenty of it, waging pitched battles with china-berries, rotten eggs, acorns and, yes, on occasion, hardened cow pies—was an indicator, Kurt Junior would lie in wait like a sniper. He could out-wait any of us. Sooner or later, we’d go looking for him and, from some tree limb or barn rafter, he’d rain death from above. And just like death, it didn’t matter that we were expecting him, he always caught us by surprise. But what was he going to do with Karen-Anne?
We found out soon enough when she poked her head around the corner. He’d sent her to spy. Big mistake.
Without even discussing it, Kendra-Sue and I said at the same time, “Wanna be on our team?”
Not five minutes later, we’d completely turned her with a promise that she’d be the key to our first victory over that stupid, smelly boy we called our brother.