Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Snowstorm (v)

Outside, the storm continues to worsen. Katharine Baarman knows that she is facing more than one enemy here--the blizzard, but also the kids' fears.
The boys came in together. They hadn’t been called.

“That's a big storm, ma'am!" Henry was adamant. 'That wind just about takes your head off."

"We're gonna’ get a ton, sure."

"It’s a real bad one."

For a moment, snow flew in through the doorway thick and heavy as sawdust. The little girls jumped to their feet and ran to the windows, blurting out bluejay warnings, little shrieks of excitement. The whole school looked into the shroud of snow that seemed to overwhelm them and just about swallow the whole schoolhouse in a cloud of streaking silver/gray.

The whole drama was scary and thrilling simultaneously. The littlest children jumped and hurrahed. Katharine sensed for the first time that the lives of her children might well be subject to the gale of snow outside, to the God who controlled it. With her eyes wide open, she placed her hands on the shoulders of little Nick and breathed a prayer, twenty young lives dependent on her wisdom, her strength.

"Going to send us home, Miss Baarman?" Henry said.

She smiled as calmly as she could and messed Nick’s fine. "I don’t know—maybe it’ll break. Let me go outside for a minute and check. We'll see."

The children continued to celebrate the storm, running, shouting, holding hands, and dancing about as if it were the last day of school. She walked through the middle of the room, passing each row, passing Johnny Mulder who sat in his chair at the back, looking intently at her, saying nothing.

When she got to the door, she opened it quickly and stepped out into the full violence of the blizzard. She could not see the outline of the privy or the pump. Icy snowflakes bit into her skin. There was no way she could let them go home. No way at all. 

Soon--if not already--their parents would be worried sick. She wondered whether some were on their way, trying to get out to the school. They likely were putting up ropes between house and barn. If they had left, if they were somewhere outside in this--she didn't want to think about that at all.

When she stepped back into the room and wiped the snow from her blouse and sweater, Dirk looked up and into her face.

"Well, it’ll break, I’m sure. We’ve still got lots of work to do,” she announced, moving resolutely to the front of the room. Her confidence was hollow, and she knew it—what mattered was keeping her fear from the kids.

"Are we going home?" Nick smiled darlingly, no sense of the gravity of what was happening outside—or in.

"I doubt this will last too long,” she told him and them. “In an hour, it will probably be all over, skies will clear. You’ve got boots and mittens. The weather is lots different than it was this morning—remember that? But all the way home you came make snow angels.” She hugged him gently. “Won’t that be fun?”

The children plodded grudgingly toward their seats, groaning and muttering, and the afternoon session began. She could barely read. She didn’t remember the room ever being so dark, so she asked Johnny Mulder to light the lanterns and a few candles. He was—and it thrilled her--very considerate and efficient; not a word of smart mouth, and he didn’t even attempt to get the attention of the class.

Just as she concluded the Bible story, Johnny Mulder finished lighting the room—almost as if it was Christmas once again. She looked around and tried her best to engineer the biggest smile she could. But she couldn’t help notice that the bin at the back of the room was low on wood, and linked it right then with Nick's mysterious noon-hour appearance.

Once more, she asked Johnny to come to the front of the room, then turned to three other older boys, while holding Johnny's arm. She wanted to let him know she was making him some kind of captain of things, let him know she needed him to be a grown-up.

'This morning," she said, "it was obvious that you three didn't know your lessons in multiplication."

When she noticed the children’s attention, she understood that they were surprised because what she was doing was something that didn’t normally get done just then. Arithmetic was over—that was morning stuff.

"I think you need extra practice.” She tried to play a sterner teacher than she was—and that they knew she was. “Each of you three, with Johnny, who knew his lesson, will go to the woodpile and get several logs. Then, when you come back, Johnny will count the stack while you put a multiplication problem on the board to explain to us what the correct total should be--"

The boys stood and pranced to the back like show horses, wrestled on their jackets and caps, and were gone. “Stay with me, you guys,” Johnny said, and they were gone.

Meanwhile, she started them on penmanship and spelling, and, once more departing from routine, she wrote new words on the board: "Snow," "drift," "storm," "flake”; and for the older children, "moisture," "crystallize," even "precipitate.”

Outside, the wind continued to roar and the snow seemed to pound against the windows. '

Only a short time passed before the boys returned, their arms loaded with logs.

"Henry, come up front and write it out." Henry peeled his coat off as if it were burning and marched to the front of the room.

"We took--"


"Um, we brought in twelve logs, ma'am."

"Then write that number on the board and tell us how you came to that conclusion, Henry--or better yet, show us."

"We took in-"

"Brought in."

"We brought in four logs each, ma'am." He wrote "3x4" leading up to the "12" that he had already put there, then turned in triumph.

" Johnny, you count them,” she insisted.

Henry stood at the front of the room, rocking confidently from his toes to his heels.

"There's 17, Miss Baarman."

"How did that happen, Henry7"

He shoved his hands into his pockets, and looked down at the floor.

"Willem? Peter?"

His friends were equally speechless.

"I brought in five, ma'am," Johnny said.

The laughter all around was a good thing, she thought. "Very well then,” she said, “your punishment is to go back and do it again."

The rest of the kids howled.


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