Wednesday, May 28, 2014

the one with the snowman

THERE’S A COLOR photograph of a snowman in my familys front yard, a small square print stamped JAN 73, three-and-a-half inches by three-and-a-half inches, a thin cream border around.
  I found it in a big red suitcase Uncle Allen pulled from under a bed. I’d mentioned I was looking for old pictures of Catahoula. He said he thought he had some at home. So we drove to Catahoula Cove, and he pulled out a big red suitcase.
     Opening it was like opening a buried treasure chest. When sunlight illuminated the loose photographs inside, they twinkled like old gold coins. I sank my hands into the riches, I raked my fingers across the piles, and the snapshots from that long-ago snow day sifted to the surface. 

     It was Uncle Allen’s two oldest sons near a swing-set they’d already outgrown—Jody holding a snowball aloft, Keith leaning onto a swing. Then it was Jody, close up now, a barn in the background, pretending to throw the snowball. Then it was the brothers again, but farther away, beside two snowmen theyd made.
     Then it was the one with the snowman in my family’s front yard, the third snowman on that snow day’s roll of film. My sister Monique’s holding my bundled brother Luke. Keith’s on one knee by the snowman’s big green buttons. Jody has the same red cap on

     My other sister Nicole, three-and-a-half years old, is also on one knee, barely taller than the snowman’s bottom snowball. Arms stretched wide like a young bird in flight, a smile to match the snowman’s, she’s completely owning the moment. 
     “Snow! Snow!” It was like I could hear her. “Look, we made a man from it!”
     The shocks came in quick succession.
     First the snowman shocked me. I never dreamed I’d strike snow digging anywhere in Catahoula, much less a still-frozen snowman, but there he was, carrot and all.

     Then I was shocked by the fact that there were pictures of my family in another family’s home. Of course there would be—we have pictures of other families in our home, after all—but the thought had never occurred to me before. It hit me like a boo.

     Then I was shocked by the fact that there are pictures of my sister Nicole I never knew existed. As silly as it seems, I thought I’d seen every one. The next time Catahoula saw snowfall, in February of 88, shed already been buried in Our Lady of the Lake. Unburying this old gold coin, this ghost, rare as a Catahoula snowman — it was like I could hear her.