A Surprise for Libby

By Marjorie Jackson

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    With a start, I awoke and listened. It was still dark so I knew it wasn’t the breakfast call that had awakened me. I nudged my older brother. “Ben, wake up. Something strange is happening.”

    Ben pushed a sleep-fogged head out of the covers and listened. “I don’t hear anything, Shrimp. Go back to sleep.”

    “That’s just it,” I insisted. “There aren’t any sounds!”

    Ben listened again and then he smiled. “It’s probably snowing. It’s sure cold enough for it.” His blond head disappeared under the comforter.

    The first real snow this year, I thought. Maybe there’s enough for sledding on the hill. As soon as I heard Mama lighting the kitchen stove, I threw on my clothes to keep the bed warmth in and ran downstairs to the heat below.

    “What brings you down without a third call and a few threats thrown in?” asked Mama.

    “It snowed!” I almost shouted the news.

    “It certainly did—almost two feet,” Mama said. Then Ben and the little ones came clattering in, and the kitchen became a cheery waking-up place with the smell of bacon frying and everyone talking about what to do in the snow.

    “Whoa,” said Mama, moving Wyn by the shoulders to his seat at the table. “This is a school day. You’d better eat and get out of here. It will take you longer to get to the bus stop in these drifts.”

    “Oh, please, let us stay home,” we chorused.

    “Sorry, fellows. Only Libby stays, since she has a cold.”

    Outdoors I flopped on my back in the glistening snow. “Look, I’m an angel,” I called, flapping my arms and legs to leave an angel print.

    “That’s about as close as you’ll ever come to being an angel,” yelled Ben, as he pelted me with snowballs. Seeing me down, Wyn and Jon joined in. I was laughing and trying to get up when the school bus horn blared. “We’ll be skinned for sure if we miss it. Run!” cried Ben.

    All day at school the class was noisy. At two o’clock our teacher announced that school would be dismissed early. She laughed as we all plunged for the coatroom.

    “Let’s not wait for the bus, Ben,” I suggested. “We’re out a whole hour early so let’s walk.”

    “Can’t. We’d be late and then we’d catch it.”

    “Not if we cut cross-country.” Turning to Jon and Wyn I called, “Last one over the fence is a scrungy turtle.” Over they climbed and then Ben followed, just like I knew he would.

    “Good thing Libby’s not with us,” Jon said, knee-deep in the snow. “She couldn’t keep up in these drifts.”

    “That gives me an idea. Poor Libby’s been in all day with her cold. Why don’t we roll a couple of balls and surprise her with a gigantic snowman?” I suggested. Ben thought it would take too long, but Wyn and Jon wanted to.

    It was fun racing two and two, pushing the snowballs. But soon Ben and Jon got ahead as our snowballs grew bigger and harder to push. “It must be getting late,” said Ben, looking at the lowering sky.

    “Maybe it’s just darker because it’s started to snow again,” I ventured.

    “Either way, we’d better leave one ball. We’ll make good time with the four of us on one.”

    It was really dark when we reached our lane. Ahead we could see headlights and from the sound we guessed it was Papa’s truck. Around the corner it came and caught the four of us and our giant snowball full in the headlights. The truck skidded to a stop. Papa came flying out of the cab. “Your mother has called half the county, trying to locate you!” he shouted. “As a last resort I was on my way to town to round up a search party. We figured you’d freeze if you stayed out in this all night. Now here I find you, playing with a snowball!” He waved an arm at the back of the truck and we piled in, leaving the giant snowball behind.

    When we reached home, Papa said, “You get into the house fast and think of something nice to say to your mother, to make up for all the worry you’ve caused. If you’re lucky, she may heat up some supper for you.”

    When we went into the kitchen, she seemed more glad to see us than anything else. After supper Papa ordered us up to bed. I was thinking we were getting off easy when he boomed, “All except Ben.” As usual, the ideas from my shrimpy-red head got us into trouble, but it was Ben who got the blame. He’s the oldest and Papa always says he’s responsible.

    I went straight to bed, but I meant to stay awake until Ben came up. Next thing I knew Mama was calling, “Breakfast!”

    Ben stirred. “Gosh, Ben. I’m sorry,” I began. “What happened after we came to bed?”

    “It wasn’t too bad, Shrimp. Wait and see.”

    Nothing was said at breakfast. Then we all piled into the truck to ride to the bus stop. Libby was going, too, and Papa said he didn’t want her starting the day all wet.

    Before we reached the end of the lane the truck stopped. From the cab we could hear Libby squealing and Papa’s deep laugh. We all hung out the back to see. By the side of the road stood the gigantic snowman we had planned for Libby!

    I looked at Ben. He grinned and then explained. “When I told Papa why we were late, he said it had been a dumb thing to do. He left me squirming for a few minutes and then said, ‘Well, get some warm clothes on. If we’re going to finish that snowman, we’d better get started now that it’s stopped snowing.’”

    By the truck lights they had finished him off to be a giant, taller even than Papa. He was a proper snowman, too, with rock eyes, a carrot nose, and a hat borrowed from our old horse.

    “The snowman won’t mind that his hat has slits for ears,” said Libby, her eyes shining with pleasure.

    “I’m sure he won’t,” Papa said. And we looked at each other and winked.

    Illustrated by Preston Heiselt