'When Snow Lay Soft on the Mountain'

Story Time

Story Time

February 17, 1999|By Patricia Hermes

Editor's note: Through the changing seasons and her father's illness, Hallie wishes for her father's recovery and a china doll from a store window.

Winter came early to the mountain that year. Before Thanksgiving was past, the snows had come, drifting to the top of Hallie and Papa's home, blocking off windows. It became so dark inside that they could barely see the checkers spread out in front of them. Then came the influenza that carried off so many neighbors to lie beside Mama in the graveyard. Papa, too, fell ill and lay feverish in bed, unable to speak for the coughing. Hallie did the best she could to care for him. When it was not enough, she went to town for Aunt Belle.

Aunt Belle brought medicines and a special quilt for Papa and settled in with Hallie. Snow again came softly to the mountain, as Papa tossed feverishly on his bed.

As Christmas approached, Hallie walked out on the mountain path alone. There, among the snow-covered wishing stones, she stood and thought about Papa. And she thought about her wishes and about Avery, her doll. She knew she couldn't have Avery for herself, with Papa so sick. But oh, she wished Avery wasn't as lonely as she.

Nights on the mountain became colder and longer as Christmas approached, a Christmas without dreams or wishes. And on Christmas morning, there were no oranges.

December gave way to January and January to February, and winter once again was melting into spring. Papa didn't cough so much, although he still lay in his bed. Some days Hallie even thought she heard him whisper to Aunt Belle. Without Papa to walk with her on the mountain, though, Hallie closed her eyes and ears to the coming spring, to the blooming of the cottonwood tree, to the rumbling of the stream high above, to the coyote pups tumbling in and out of moon shadows. But try as she might, she could not close her heart to her secret wish.

And then, on warm March morning when she awoke, there on her bed was Avery.

No, it could not be Avery, this softly stuffed, beautiful doll. Avery lived in Grover's store.

Hallie closed her eyes.

Dreaming, that's was she was doing. She kept her eyes closed, pretending to herself that she was sleeping. Then slowly she pretended to wake herself and again slowly opened her eyes.

Avery was still there. Avery with the real hair and the mouth that smiled at Hallie and beckoned her heart. Avery wearing a blue checked dress and wrapped in a brightly patterned quilt.

Hallie snatched Avery to her and held her close, Avery's soft woolen body warming quickly to her own.

``They knew!'' Hallie whispered to Avery. ``Papa and Aunt Belle. They knew my secret wish!''

Then, holding Avery tightly, Hallie ran to see Aunt Belle and Papa.

Aunt Belle just nodded. Papa was strong enough to take Hallie's hand and hold it tightly and to whisper, ``Happy Birthday.''

That night, as spring lay soft on the mountain, as the stars hung so low they seemed to tangle in the branches of the cottonwood tree, Hallie and Papa took Avery walking on Hairy Bear Mountain - not far, just to the wishing stone path, for Papa was still weak. Hallie showed Avery the deer that crept down from the mountain, pointed out to her the star flowers that bloomed only by moonlight. She turned Avery's face up and showed her the stars and told her about the rumbling stream up on the mountain, things Avery had never imagined in her life in the store window.

Excerpt from WHEN SNOW LAY SOFT ON THE MOUNTAIN by Patricia Hermes, illustrated by Leslie Baker. Text copyright (c) 1996 by Patricia Hermes. Illustrations copyright (c) 1996 by Leslie Baker. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, (Inc.). All rights reserved.

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