To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 29

“Miss Maudie’s callin’ you, Jem.”

“You all stay in the middle of the yard. There’s some thrift buried under the snow near the porch. Don’t step on it!”

“Yessum!” called Jem. “It’s beautiful, ain’t it, Miss Maudie?”

“Beautiful my hind foot! If it freezes tonight it’ll carry off all my azaleas!”

Miss Maudie’s old sunhat glistened with snow crystals. She was bending over some small bushes, wrapping them in burlap bags. Jem asked her what she was doing that for.

“Keep ’em warm,” she said.

“How can flowers keep warm? They don’t circulate.”

“I cannot answer that question, Jem Finch. All I know is if it freezes tonight these plants’ll freeze, so you cover ’em up. Is that clear?”

“Yessum. Miss Maudie?”

“What, sir?”

“Could Scout and me borrow some of your snow?”

“Heavens alive, take it all! There’s an old peach basket under the house, haul it off in that.” Miss Maudie’s eyes narrowed. “Jem Finch, what are you going to do with my snow?”

“You’ll see,” said Jem, and we transferred as much snow as we could from Miss Maudie’s yard to ours, a slushy operation.

“What are we gonna do, Jem?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” he said. “Now get the basket and haul all the snow you can rake up from the back yard to the front. Walk back in your tracks, though,” he cautioned.

“Are we gonna have a snow baby, Jem?”

“No, a real snowman. Gotta work hard, now.”

Jem ran to the back yard, produced the garden hoe and began digging quickly behind the woodpile, placing any worms he found to one side. He went in the house, returned with the laundry hamper, filled it with earth and carried it to the front yard.

When we had five baskets of earth and two baskets of snow, Jem said we were ready to begin.

“Don’t you think this is kind of a mess?” I asked.

“Looks messy now, but it won’t later,” he said.

Jem scooped up an armful of dirt, patted it into a mound on which he added another load, and another until he had constructed a torso.

“Jem, I ain’t ever heard of a nigger snowman,” I said.

“He won’t be black long,” he grunted.

Jem procured some peachtree switches from the back yard, plaited them, and bent them into bones to be covered with dirt.

“He looks like Miss Stephanie Crawford with her hands on her hips,” I said. “Fat in the middle and little-bitty arms.”

“I’ll make ’em bigger.” Jem sloshed water over the mud man and added more dirt. He looked thoughtfully at it for a moment, then he molded a big stomach below the figure’s waistline. Jem glanced at me, his eyes twinkling: “Mr. Avery’s sort of shaped like a snow man, ain’t he?”

Jem scooped up some snow and began plastering it on. He permitted me to cover only the back, saving the public parts for himself. Gradually Mr. Avery turned white.

Using bits of wood for eyes, nose, mouth, and buttons, Jem succeeded in making Mr. Avery look cross. A stick of stovewood completed the picture. Jem stepped back and viewed his creation.

“It’s lovely, Jem,” I said. “Looks almost like he’d talk to you.”

“It is, ain’t it?” he said shyly.

We could not wait for Atticus to come home for dinner, but called and said we had a big surprise for him. He seemed surprised when he saw most of the back yard in the front yard, but he said we had done a jim-dandy job. “I didn’t know how you were going to do it,” he said to Jem, “but from now on I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea.”

Jem’s ears reddened from Atticus’s compliment, but he looked up sharply when he saw Atticus stepping back. Atticus squinted at the snowman a while. He grinned, then laughed. “Son, I can’t tell what you’re going to be—an engineer, a lawyer, or a portrait painter. You’ve perpetrated a near libel here in the front yard. We’ve got to disguise this fellow.”

Atticus suggested that Jem hone down his creation’s front a little, swap a broom for the stovewood, and put an apron on him.

Jem explained that if he did, the snowman would become muddy and cease to be a snowman.

“I don’t care what you do, so long as you do something,” said Atticus. “You can’t go around making caricatures of the neighbors.”

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