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The stiff hay cuts and pricks my skin as I sit with my back to the adjacent cemetery. Uncomfortably, I cross my legs. Gradually, I close my eyes and cut off my sense of sight to create my own pictures of what I hear. Canadian geese fly overhead and cry to one another. The wind passes by, swirling my hair and rustling the nearby trees and their fallen leaves. My jean jacket won’t comfort me from the cold and instead, lets the chills run through my body, against my will. I smell the change and wince at the thought. Winter, I think cringing. Yet there is one day in that freezing season, one single day, when my body is happy to come to this hill and this field. One day my body longs to climb out of my warm blanket and pillowed covered bed. Happy to be wet and cold.
5:00 a.m. would usually sting my eyes and leave me blind if it was any other day. The sliver of light rising outside of my window would usually be mocking me. Cold, clinging to my body like little leeches, usually makes me clutch my covers tighter, holding them for dear life. But no part of today consisted of a “usual.” Today, I can embrace the chills, the sun, and the clock radio. Bundling in a layer of long underwear and blindly waddling down the stairs, I noisily try to the wake the others.
After two movies and breakfast, I pull on my boots as the clock flashes 2:00 turning my sister and me into banshees. “We need to get to the field! Let’s go!” Though I only just finished myself, I feel it necessary to yell at everyone else to hurry. My sister and I leap out the door, both of us filled with dangerous excitement. Jogging down our steep driveway onto the road, our excitement explodes in the form of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”
Running wildly, Ali and I are the first to the field. We flop into the crusted snow, and impatiently complain about the others.
“Where are they?” she whines.
“Dunno. I’m too tired to look up,” I pant.
“Yea… me too.”
As we make snow angels and soak our clothes, Papa and Nathan round the corner, looking bulky in winter gear. Ali and I jump up, filled with energy once again.
“Nathan, we were waiting for you to start the path, since we know it’s your favorite,” I mock.
“Okay, thanks, Lazy. I appreciate it,” my older brother smirks at his new nickname for me as he runs for the hill to start his job.
Finally, Mama and Noah appear around the cemetery as Nathan climbs back up the icy hill, out of breath. Noah, bright-eyed, holds his round, green sled like a warrior’s shield and races for the path.
“WAHHHHAHHHHA!” he hollers and flies down the hill, legs reaching toward the gray, cloudy sky. His voice echoes back at us until he comes to a halt at the bottom. Silence. Then…
“HAHHAHAHHAH! Whooo!” breaks the quiet as Noah leaps and laughs, attempting to climb back up the hill. The rest of us laugh in response, adding to the echoes.
“Hannah, come with me!” I turn to see my mom beckoning me, already in the two person sled. A huge smile cracks across my chapped, freezing lips. The snow reaches out for my legs, wanting to trap me and pin me. Despite my weighted legs, I make it across the thirty yard span to the safety of the long purple sled. Shuffling into my usual space in the front of the sled, anxiety rushes over me. My stomach transforms itself into bubbling lava, warm but uncomfortable. Hannah, Hannah! This looks pretty icy, whadcha doing? My inner voice begins to argue with itself as I am left in the middle of their fight with pure bliss and nerves. The optimistic side wins and gives a final retort: Enjoying myself.
In unison, Mama and I begin to push ourselves down the hill, picking up speed as we go. Soon, wind blasts into my face and body and Mama hides her face behind my gray coat. My vision blurs and white is the only color I can see. Sounding distant, I realize my mom is screaming- into my ear. As I hear something like “bump”, my ears perk up. I squint, but too late. Both my head and stomach feel flight first. Then in the next second as we land, my whole lower half feels the hit. A mix between “ouch” and “ugg” escapes my lips as we slide to a stop. I’m in pain, yet I begin to laugh uncontrollably.
We both fall out of the sled and on to our sides, our matching thick hair covering one another. Lying there laughing, we notice almost too late, that Papa is sliding right behind us. As we roll out of the way, his boyish grin widens. His sled stops and he prances toward us.
“Guess who’s making it to the top first!” He rushes past us and we barely hear his warning. The two of us hurry after him, neither eager to be last. Papa pushes us down, trying to make it first. He fails as Mama and I pull him back down and we make it to the top together. Just in time, we turn around to see my three siblings holding snowballs and smiling with malice. The other side lobs a snowball and the war officially starts.
Teammates switch after every throw. First, Ali, Nathan, and Noah team up. Then, all of the kids aim at the parents. Finally, the boys decide to pummel us with the remaining snowballs. In an act of desperation, we use the sleds as a guard.
After two hours, snowball fights and sledding die down. Complaints of cold and thoughts of hot chocolate coax us back to the house. Papa and I shuffle slowly behind the others. “So today was good, yea? Got everything you wanted?” he questions, smirking. I look back on the day, thinking about the movie Love Actually with my parents at 6:00 in the morning. I think the about gingerbread waffles and Charlie Brown Christmas after everyone woke up. Completely forgetting gifts, I nod. “Yea, definitely,” I respond, grinning and giving him a half hug.
Breathing in heavily, the cold stings my nose and spreads to my lungs. My eyes open again, fluttering slightly, expecting a blinding white scene. Instead, I witness the ending of fall- most of the leaves shriveled on the ground, the last of the birds flying purposefully south, the feeling of change coming closer. “Thank God for Christmas,” I murmur to myself as I stand, ready to walk back down the snowless, dirt road.