I still think Frosty the Snowman should've ended with him going out for cigarettes and leaving the kids there, waiting for him, forever.
— Michael (@Home_Halfway) December 29, 2014
“WAIT! STOP!” hollered the little boy, jolting awake in his bed. “COME BACK! STOP!”
He realized that he was panting, and sweating. He looked around his dark, quiet room. Snow was falling silently outside his window. He considered calling for his mother, but she was probably still working the late shift at the diner. He wiped a couple tears from his eyes and the snot from his nose, took a deep breath, and lay his head back down on the pillow.
“’Don’t you cry,’” he whispered the words to himself. “I’ll be back again, some day.”
“Aw, come on, Charlie, it’s a Snow Day! We ain’t got school!” said Sullivan, punching his friend playfully in the arm.
“Yeah, but I- shucks, it’s just that it’s a day like this that he just left,” said the boy.
The others looked down.
“Oh, right, I’m sorry,” said Sullivan.
“Sorry, Charlie,” said the slightly taller Karen. “We heard about your dad.”
“Well, gee, I don’t rightly care about him a lick, anyway,” said Charlie, trying to act tough but with a sniffle.
“What did he say? Before he left?” asked the dark-haired girl Sonny.
“He said he was goin’ out for cigarettes. He smokes a lot. I have a box still.” He pulled an empty box of Camel Frosts from his pocket.
“Then he saw I was going to cry- I mean, that I was upset, so he stopped, an’ he put his hat on my head, an’ his pipe in my pocket, an’ he handed me the broom. He said I should … sweep up b’fore mom got home.”
“An’ then he just … left?”
“He told me not to cry, an’ that he would come back. He waved…” Charlie felt the tears coming. “I got somethin’ in my eye. I’ll be over there fer a sec.”
He hurried on his way.
Karen suddenly brightened. She gathered the others around conspiratorially.
“I have an idea. Tommy, I’ll need you to run back home and get your dad’s hat and pipe.
Tommy nodded and ran down to the village.
“Sullivan, you get a couple sticks for arms. The rest of you come with me.”
Charlie wiped the snot off his nose with his sleeve and trudged up the hill of snow again to find a large snowman, with the others around it, beaming. A pair of boots in front, a couple of pieces of charcoal for eyes. A broom in the snowman’s stick arm.
“Well, hi there, Mr. Charlie’s dad,” said Sonny’s brother Simon, stepping up beside Charlie. “Welcome back home!”
“It’s good to be home!” said the short-haired blonde girl from behind the snowman, mimicking a dad’s older voice. She wiggled the broomstick. “Did ya clean the floor fer me?”
“I-I sure did! Whaddya think? Ain’t it spick and span?”
“Jeepers, it sure is clean!”
The kids laughed together.
“Thanks, gang,” said Charlie, wiping his nose again. “This is sure swell of ya.”
Tommy came running up, breathing hard, carrying their dad’s hat and pipe.
“Oh, there you are, my other son Tommy,” said Karen, running back behind the snowman. “Could you kindly put my pipe in my mouth for me?”
“Sure thing, sir,” said Tommy, panting, and stretching to put the pipe up in the snowman’s mouth.
“That sure feels good to have my pipe, but my head is mighty cold. Could ya do yer dear ol’ dad a favor, and put my hat on my head for me?”
“Uh, I’ll need some help,” said Tommy, looking at Charlie. He handed Charlie the hat, and got down on all fours.
“Charlie, you go ahead an’ do the hat,” said Tommy. “Step up on my back.”
Charlie put one foot carefully on his brother’s back after the other. He carefully placed the old silk hat upon the snowman’s head.
“Maybe he went to the North Pole,” murmured the short-haired blonde woman, staring off into the imaginary distance. “The sun never gets hot at the North Pole.”
“I heard that,” said her husband, walking past to the kitchen garbage can. The top flipped open at the touch of his foot to the pedal. He scraped the remnants of his Christmas ham off the festive red and green, holiday-themed plate into the garbage. “Grow up, Karen.”
The lid eased shut with a mundane efficiency.
She fumed silently, but realized that he meant well, despite his crude method. The snowman had never come back, despite his famous promise. Her Matty just wanted her to move on.
You see, Matthew was only 4 years old that winter and he didn’t remember. To be truthful, none of them really did. Karen thought she might – she was the oldest one present that magical afternoon, after all – but she knew that what she thought had happened probably had not. And the words of the snowman immortalized in the song, proclaiming his second coming – if they had even been spoken – were now decidedly false.
You might think that after he didn’t come back, that was the year the frosty hope of the Evergreen children melted. But it didn’t truly melt that year, or the next, or the next. As the years went by and Frosty never came back, the children grew older, the town grew colder, and they all accepted that there would be no reappearance by the magical, half-remembered snowman. Not next winter, not “some day,” not ever.
The children grew up, they parted ways. They went to school and found jobs. They forgot all about how he had danced and played with them.
Traffic Officer Rollins, one of the few adults to witness anything, had told the story to his cousin, and somebody made a song about it, but no radio station in the area would play it. The omission was a request of Mayor Nelson at the time, on account of trying to keep his little town from seeming too foolish for being the scene of such a fairy tale. Eventually Mayor Nelson passed away, and the song became just a bit of holiday fluff to anyone at that point, but the tradition remained, and no one seemed to miss it.
Gradually, it came to be that a snowman was the last thing on anyone’s mind. That winter was the coldest one Evergreen, and all of Montana would have for a very long time. President Twitchell brokered several energy and business deals that seemed mighty fine to the people at the time, but turned out to have effects on the climate that were more immediate and impactful than anyone could have predicted. Glacier National Park, less than 40 miles away from Evergreen, soon had no glacier. The plentiful pine trees, after which Evergreen had taken its name, those pine trees that had stood for hundreds of years dwindled slowly away until a major wildfire burned most of them down, and they never grew back.
Much of the country became too hot for comfort, but places like Evergreen became more popular as retirement destinations, and a few of the children, now grown, returned. Some, like Charlie, had never left.
“What’s this, dad?” asked Charlie Jr., pulling the old silk hat from the chest. “Amazing. It looks brand new, but it’s got to be at least 40 years old.”
“50 is probably closer,” said Charlie.
“Oh, cool, could we use it to build a snowman?” asked the young boy. “Like in that song?”
“I suppose, son, if it ever snows again.”
“Is it going to snow soon?”
“Who knows? It is a little frosty out tonight, isn’t it?”
Charlie cleared his throat noisily, and took a deep breath.
“Did they used to wear hats like this in your day, dad?” asked Charlie Jr.
“Well, not me,” said Charlie, clearing his throat again.
“Oh, then why do you have it?”
“It reminds me of someone. Someone I never really knew. Someone who left before I could ever really understand even why he was there in the first place, let alone why he left.”
“You’re talking about grandpa – your dad – aren’t you?”
Charlie shook his bald, wrinkled head slowly.
“No, I mean an old friend, who broke a promise.”
“Maybe you want to hang onto this then, eh, dad?” said Charlie Jr, handing the hat back to his father. Charlie took the hat back and paused.
“Actually, I think it’s time I reunited this hat with a few other items. Do you remember my school chum Karen?”
“What’s this, Gramma?” asked the little boy, pulling the old silk hat and corncob pipe out of the chest.
Karen looked glassy-eyed at the objects. There was something there, something she needed to remember. The haze of age and disease prohibited her from seeing what she needed to see.
“Is it a hat and pipe, Tommy?” asked Karen’s granddaughter Holly. “Those are really old, be careful with them.”
“A fun hat!” said Tommy, laughing.
“Isn’t he a cute kid, Gramma?” asked his mother. “Such a jolly, happy soul. So much like his father, Charlie. Not your Charlie, of course, since he’s passed on now. I mean, y’know, Charles the Third, ha ha.”
Karen’s mind was like a cigarette lighter that someone was trying to ignite, but it had run out of fuel ages ago. She found nothing to say.
Tommy placed the hat upon his head and began to dance around. Holly laughed and played with him.
Sparkety spark, spark. No fire.
Tommy took a broomstick and pretended to ride around the room like it was a car or a horse or something. His mother pulled an old policeman’s hat from the chest and pretended to direct the traffic, as Tommy ran here and there around the square rug in the center of the room.
“Bye bye, Gramma,” said Tommy, from his mother’s arms.
“See you soon, Gramma,” said his mother. “I think she liked that, Tommy. We’ll have to come back and play with her again.”
“When will we?”
“Soon, my darling, soon.”
“When is soon!”
She looked up and out the skylight. The sun was hot that day.
They left Karen’s room.
Karen held back tears just before they came up as a memory returned to her.
“He waved goodbye. He said ‘Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again some day,’” she said softly.
“Did you say something, Gramma?” asked her granddaughter, rushing back into the room.
There was a strange expression on Karen’s face, but as usual, she didn’t say anything. The short-haired blonde woman sighed, and looked around.
“Aha! Let’s turn on the radio for you. You like the radio, right, Gramma?”
Karen barely nodded. Holly flicked it on to the holiday music station and left the room again.
“…was a fairy tale, they say. He was made of snow, but the children know how he came to life that day…”
Sparkety spark, spark, sparkety spark
Karen rose unsteadily to her ancient feet. She shuffled to the sliding screen door that led to her back porch. She slowly pulled it open. Tommy, her great-grandson was playing in the yard outside. Her eyesight had deteriorated to nearly nothing, but she knew what she saw. She stepped out onto the grass and began to dance. Her weak old heart pounded, struggling to keep up with unusual level of exertion.
“…so he said let’s run and we’ll have some fun now before I melt away…”
Thumpety thump, thump
“Lookit Gramma go!” said Tommy.
Thumpety thump, thump
“Gramma what? Oh, no.”