by Kim Fleming
My memories of that winter are slightly tinted by childhood innocence, the sheer joy of the thick blanket of snow which had crept over everything and coloured the Glen dazzling white. I remember waking in the morning, my breath frozen in the dark surroundings of my bedroom, shivering but eager to fling open the curtains to see if during the night it had snowed. It had, beyond any child’s wildest dreams it had covered the whole of the land. The cars below the window weren’t even visible, just two massive piles of crisp, clean foam. The panes of glass in the window danced with frosty magical patterns and as the sun rose over the Glen, they twinkled a thousand sunbeams, throwing light and shadow into every corner of my room.
“No school today,” I thought with a smile of glee, I knew what excitement this time of the year could yield. I looked at the road outside the old schoolhouse, and it was barely visible as a road, the snow had fallen long and steadily through the night and it was starting again. I gawped, amazed at the wonderworld outside, the tiny drifting snowflakes, all individual in design, meshing together to form a solid layer on top of the layer that had been laid in the night.
“Dad won’t be going to work today either, in fact I doubt anyone will be moving up and down the Glen today,” I whispered into the frozen air, excited and filled with high expectations of the day ahead.
I moved to switch my light on, so that I could find my nice cosy dressing gown to engulf my still shivering body. It didn’t work. I tried again to no avail, “bother the bulb must have blown in the night,” and I headed down the stairs to find help.
They came to the Glen at this time of the year, when they were allowed and not too wary of what they might find. When the seasons had frozen the Glen in time and separated it from the modern world. Then they started their long journey to each other and the building in which they had all been together, happy. To them this was a magical time too but also familiar, it aroused memories and allowed them to return to a peaceful place where they felt no threat. They enjoyed to watch people in their environment, when they tried to adapt and cope without modern gadgets. The people battled against the elements, where as they enjoyed it, the trudging through the snow, the games and constant chatter, the smells, the branches of the trees, shrouding them, groaning under the weight of the snow. The challenges that the big freezes brought were all so familiar to them and they knew how to manage. So they laughed with anticipation and looked forward to the end of their journey, when they would arrive at school. Their pockets bulged with secrets, the heavy scents haunting their footsteps, little hands held tightly onto the gifts that they would unburden themselves of when they arrived.
“Dad, my bulb isn’t working, can you come and fix it?” I waited for my father to nod his head but he didn’t.
“Sorry, dear, I can’t do that. It isn’t your bulb, it’s the electricity wires that are down, actually all the lines are down, I tried to phone out earlier but the telephone lines are dead too. So we’ll have to see what we can do with what we have.”
I knew it had snowed a lot but how did that effect the electricity and things? I didn’t bother to ask as my father seemed a bit preoccupied, even worried I would say.
“Someone from Dumfries will come up with the snow plough or maybe one of the farmers will get their tractors out and flatten the snow on the road?”, I said hopefully as this was what usually happened when it had snowed. What I didn’t realise was that this was one of the worst winters since we’d moved here and that the roads were impassable by any vehicle and if it continued to snow the way it was we could be stuck for days.
“Well I wasn’t expecting this, there was nothing on the weather about it, and you know as well as I do that Shinnel glen will be last on the list to be attended to, if they even remember we’re here. Now go and get dressed into some warm clothes and wake up your brother and sister.” I shuffled off towards the stairs, where I stopped abruptly. What was Dad talking about, I could hear my brother and sister playing outside, giggling and laughing. I opened the door expecting to get a snowball in the face but there was nothing. The air was still and the snow lay untouched as far as I could see. There was a strange hint of orange lingering as I peered harder into the garden, no, there was no-one there. I ran upstairs and burst into my sisters room, she was all bundled up under her duvet with her head just appearing.
“Weird. Anyway I’ll wake her, she won’t have seen the snow yet,” and I jumped on top of her. She slowly awoke from slumber land and was as excited as me when she looked out the window. I didn’t mention the laughing, I’d always had an over active imagination, so I kept quiet.
The days problems didn’t seem to get any better, as we children disappeared to the hills, sledges and black bin liners stuffed with straw in tow, I remember looking back and watching my father try to break the inches of ice that covered the now still river with a sledge hammer, it was unyielding and I know it took him hours to achieve anything. We had no water, the supply, the pipes, everything had frozen solid overnight. No electricity, frozen water, no way out, the cars were useless, no telephones and the only source of refrigeration was natural. The season was against us, the snow didn’t always seem so appealing, especially when we arrived back from our day on the hills, playing with the neighbouring children, to a cold house with no lights and so far, no hot food. It was still snowing and everywhere we walked, our footsteps were quickly covered. Ghost steps.
My father had finally got the stove to work in the large lounge, however, it still had an eerie chill and the scent of citrus fruit was there again. The old schoolroom was now glimmering in candlelight, I looked at the dark pictures next to the stove. Looming figures, piercing eyes, had they inspired hope or fear in their pupils. The Glen seemed to have moved back in time. We spent the night singing around the piano, the logs burning to provide us with warmth and aid the cooking of a warm meal.
They had arrived safely, finally, and ran to greet the others that had come from the upper Shinnel. Glowing red cheeks, leather bound satchels, bulging pockets. They had watched the family all day, with much amusement at the cursing of the father, the grumbles of the children, the struggle to enjoy the fantastic surroundings, frozen in time. Now they peered through the classroom window and eagerly watched the family inside, all so familiar, the singing, the fire, the candles, the memories, the comfort, finally after a hard day’s toil the family had found contentment. They all looked at each other, huge grins covering their small cherub faces, giggles threatening to burst from their chapped lips. It was nice to be here, if only they had stayed that night, but they hadn’t and although the journey had been one of glee today, in the past it had led to disaster. They all took hands and skipped to the door. They reached into their pockets, quietly removing their treasures and placed them in a small pile on the doorstep. It was tradition to trade gifts for the Christmas holiday, the schoolmaster and his family would be happy. Then they turned all together, singing and laughing, running up the stairs and into the blizzard.
I went to bed carrying a candle to guide me, I looked out the window into the garden and down the Glen, the moon cast a mystical light through the blizzard that had endured all afternoon and looked to continue through the night. I could hear singing outside, and the rush of little feet on the steps. Maybe someone had come to visit, I ran to the door, nothing, but in the distance going towards the road, I saw tiny fading footsteps, below me sat a pile of oranges dusted with snowflakes.