A Cold December

By | September 1, 2011

As some of ye old faithful know, I often participate in Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop. She has great prompts that get me thinking–and that help me try on things I might not have the guts (or inspiration) to write. Today, I’m sharing something different. I’m meshing two of the prompts to give you my Granny’s childhood story from her point of view.

My Granny was the youngest daughter of Slovenian immigrants. She grew up in Leadville, Colorado–the highest incorporated city in the U.S. Her childhood was nothing like my own, and I’ve always wanted to write something based off of her life.

Is it better to have one child?

Here is a little piece of her story.

It’s morning.  The light that pounds in from our window is as gray as my Papa and brothers when they come home from the mine. It’s a dirty, cloudy light, as if the sun has been out working with the rest of Leadville.
I wiggle my head off of the pillow and pull the old quilt over my face. I shiver.
Where’s Pauline? My toes scrunch in search for my sister’s warm body, but she’s not there. Her side of the bed is icier than my own. I wonder how fast I can slip into my boots and put on Martin’s jacket. Martin always lets me wear his jacket until breakfast, but he needs it when he walks to the mine. By then I’m usually warm. Usually.
I haven’t been warm for two weeks.
 I thought she’d get better. I thought she’d be here this Christmas—forever. I know people die. It happens quite often in our little town. The cemetery behind our church is lumpy with them all.
She’s there now. Fourteen days—that’s how long she’s been gone. Is she cold? We dressed her in her best clothes, but my sister took her coat.
I peek out from the blanket and see it, my gift from her. The most beautiful bottle I have ever seen. The wedding day cologne. She used to take out her bottle, close her eyes, and remember the Old Country.
My hand reaches for it now and the cold, familiar shape is like holding her once strong hand. I squeeze out the tears and open the bottle. It’s empty—except for that beautiful scent. It must be a wonderful place. Why couldn’t they have just stayed there?
I stop the bottle with its lid—keeping the Old Country safe. She said it was important to preserve it. Someday it would die away.
She lays under snow—surely she should have a coat?
I jump out of bed in one quick motion. The boots are cold around my ankles, and Martin’s jacket is heavy as it hits my shoulders. I wrap it tight around my body and open the door.
The house is an eerie quiet. I can tell there’s no breakfast. No warm smells come from the kitchen, and my brothers’ deep voices are not booming around the table, like they usually do.
Where is everybody?
Suddenly, I know. This is so much like the day she died I wonder why I didn’t realize it before. I run to Papa’s room and see it—like a nightmare, happening again.
There’s the doctor, with his sad, disappointed face. He doesn’t look surprised at all. My brothers—Frank leaning against the wall, staring at the ground. Lud is crouching down by the bed, hiding his face. And Martin, my favorite. He’s sitting on the bed holding Papa’s still hands. I’ve never seen him do that before.
The light in the room is gray like my Papa’s lifeless face.
Only Pauline makes noise. She’s crying the same, whimpering cry I hear every night. It’s the sound I press into my pillow before I fall asleep. I want to go to my pillow now. I want to tear it—to beat it—to become it. I wish I could be anyone but the little girl I am today.
I run to my room before anyone notices me, little Margie. I take off Martin’s jacket and put on my own, small coat. I wrap a scarf around my head and pull on my gloves. I am out the door in two seconds.
No one calls for me. No one thinks of me.
Each step out of our yard is heavy, and my toes wriggle inside to pull the snow off of my boots. The rusty gate rudely clanks against me as I push myself out—away from our dead home.
Through our quiet town I run. I don’t care if I slip. The wind bites my face and the air freezes in front of me in tiny puffs. My nose is pinched with the tears that are stuck inside of me.
And suddenly, I’m here. I open the gate and feel the freezing cold of the latch through my now warm gloves. The path is filled with snow, but I know the way. The lumps are larger with last night’s storm. I slowly make my way through, careful not to step on anyone.
Even though everything is masked in white I know exactly where to find her.
I take off my gloves and coat, and sink into the cold mound. The snow soaks through my nightgown and freezes my skinny legs. My hands, freezing again, dig and dig the snow away.
And there I find her.
Julia Blatnick
Beloved Wife and Mother
1880- 1928
I press my coat on top of the words—stretching it to cover the entire stone.
“For you, Mama,” I hear myself say, and my snowy, cold world drizzles in front of me as the tears finally win.
A Cold December
My great-grandparents Martin and Julia Blatnick with their first three children, Frank, Julia and Ludwig.
A Cold December
My Granny, Margarette “Margie” Blatnick Hayes

26 thoughts on “A Cold December

  1. hilljean

    Well, I pulled most of the details from things she either told me or what I observed as a kid. I also just imagined what I would feel in that situation at nine years old. This was a great thing for me to try because I have always wanted to write her story. Thank you so much for stopping by ????

  2. hilljean

    This is a beautiful story. You crafted it so well. I hope you will write a book of it; it begs to be told to completion!

  3. hilljean

    Very poignant! That is excellent storytelling. Thank you for sharing with us your wonderful story. ????

  4. hilljean

    Oh, my. It’s rare that I read something so good it moves me to tears, but this was truly amazing. Not only was it beautifully written (I could imagine every moment, see it so clearly in my mind’s eye), but it is a haunting and beautiful tale as well. I’m so glad I clicked your link from the WOE link up. This definitely won’t be my last visit. You have a beautiful gift with words, and I can’t wait to read more!

  5. hilljean

    Thank you! I don’t usually write really serious stuff, so this was new to me.

  6. hilljean

    This brought me to tears…Thank you so much for writing this; it was beautiful. I wish I could have known Granny more…Someday we need to go to Slovenia.

  7. hilljean

    You are a very gifted storyteller. This is an emotional one to tell. Thank you for sharing.

  8. hilljean

    I’m gonna definitely try to complete it one day. Thank you for your kind words!

  9. hilljean

    Hopefully someday it will make it into a book! Thank you for stopping by!

  10. hilljean

    There were many hardships for that family. My Granny had some definite issues that stemmed from her childhood–as I’m sure anyone would. Her brothers were much older than her and raised her, and then she eloped with my Granddad when she was older. Thank you for reading!

  11. hilljean

    This got my water works going. I had no idea Granny lost both parents at such a young age. I LOVE what you wrote Hillary. Keep it going with other stories you know. This will be so awesome for our kids to read as they begin to understand our heritage. Awesome job…and I’m down for slovenia!

  12. hilljean

    Beautiful. Keep this story going, if not for your family, for your own children.

  13. hilljean

    What a beautiful telling. Thank you for sharing her story.

  14. hilljean

    The loss is so present in your words. I can’t imagine how frightened and alone this little girl felt. You have me wondering what came next for the kids. The photo of her on the dock was reassuring.

  15. hilljean

    Thanks. Hopefully I can make it into a larger story someday. And yes, most of my own memories are wrapped up in particular scents.

  16. hilljean

    I’m reading this and just not convinced it didn’t happen exactly to you. You tell it so well! How in the world were you able to wrap yourself up in all of those great details!?! SO good!

  17. hilljean

    This is simply fantastic! I felt like i was reading a book, really. Wonderfully done.
    Came from the weekend linkup.
    You did your Granny proud.

  18. hilljean

    Love this. Sounds like an excerpt from an epic story…which I suppose it really is. I believe you have done your family an honor in this retelling.

  19. hilljean

    Thank you. Yes, it was emotional for me–putting myself in her shoes was both challenging and heartbreaking.


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