Doodling on the icy window pane with my finger, I turn to Mami, “When is he coming? Why is he taking so long?”
“Soon, he’s coming soon.”
She steps beside me, squeezes my shoulder, and leans closer to the window, “Oh, it’s not snowing that much anymore. That’s good. He’ll soon be here.”
Outside, the street and the gardens are covered in white. The roof of our neighbor’s tiny house is covered with a thick overhang of snow. His chimney sends a fine line of white smoke to the greyish sky. I am sure ours looks the same. The logs in our black steel oven, a huge drum-like creature in the living room corner, crackle, and the smell of pine fill the room with a cozy atmosphere.
Dad is a soldier, stationed at the airbase in Faßberg. In mild weather a two-hour drive from our village. He only comes home every second weekend.
“I hate when he comes so late,” I whine.
“Come, let’s have some hot chocolate,” Mami says.
Pulling myself away from the window, I sit down on one of grandma’s antique chairs, which complement the round table dad once built. My feet dangle in the air; I am too short to reach the floor. But that’s good because the space under the table is my castle; occupied by many cushions and the dolls I have been playing with to shorten the time of his arrival. Mom sets a cup of steaming chocolate in front of me and adds a small plate of left-over Christmas cookies. I grab one, dip it into my cup and slurp it up.
I knew that would be coming. She hates when I ignore good table manners. But these cookies just want to get dipped into the chocolate, which is too hot to drink anyway. Our radio is playing soft music, but I still hear the muffled sound of his car as it’s turning into our street.
“He’s here, he’s here!” I jump off my chair and storm out of the door, rush through the entry hall and yank the heavy, wooden entrance door open. Snow has gathered in the corners of its frame and flies right into my face. I rub it off and stand on the doorsteps hopping from one foot to the other, while the car turns carefully into the slippery driveway. As soon as it stops I slide towards the driver’s door and rip it open.
“Papi, Papi, I was waiting all day long. What took you so long?” I jump into his arms and cover him with kisses without giving him time to exit the car. “I missed you so much.”
He laughs, “I missed you too, Rupsack.” We smile at each other and keep hugging.
“Can I get out too?” he asks.
I jump off his lap and let him gather his bags. Snowflakes are still falling. I lift my head and stick out my tongue to catch some.
“Come in you two, it’s cold out here.”
He looks up to the entrance door where Mami is standing, hugging herself because of the cold, and smiling at us. We tap our feet to free the shoes from the snow and step into the warmth.
“Hmmm, hot chocolate!” he sniffs.
“And we left some cookies for you too. When you’ve finished, can we go sledding?” I add.
Mami and Papi look at each other, shaking their heads with a grin on their faces.
“I knew this would be coming,” he says.
“But it’s late and getting dark soon. So, today will be a short trip. Tomorrow we’ll go to the Berg where the snowdrifts are hanging over the edge of the mine and slide down with them. Just like last year.”
That’s all I need to hear. “Quick, quick, drink your chocolate, I am getting my coat.”
Before he takes his third cookie, I am standing ready in my coat and a hand-knit scarf and bonnet which Mami made for me. My mittens are of multicolored left-over wool from the pullover she knit before Christmas. The socks in my boots match the mittens, the same leftover wool from the pullover project. I am tiny and her wool supply goes a long way to making my clothes.
Papi does not even bother to change. In Uniform and Airforce cap, he follows me to the garage and pulls out my sled. To be correct, it’s his sled. It was a Christmas gift grandpa gave him when he was a little boy. A sturdy, handmade wooden sled fitted with iron bars under the runners. As proud as he was of his sled, my grandma Ida made her only child an even happier sled rider when she gifted him with a copper bell that has a painted winter scene on its outer shell.
“The snowing stopped; look, even the sun peeks out. Beautiful!”
We step into the magical, all-dressed-in-white street. A last check to ensure the bell is securely fastened, a gesture I learned from Papi from I was a toddler. I hop on and hold tight as he pulls the string and begins to run. He’s not a tall man but fit and lean. Now and then he jiggles the string, and the sled zigzags across the street. I am squealing for joy.
“Yiiiiiiihhhh, you are the best sledger in the whole wide world.”
He laughs out loud.
We circle half the village. The bell is ringing to the rhythm of his steps. White clouds are forming in front of his mouth with every breath.
Stopping, he turns to me, “Can you pull me too?”
“Yes, I can!”
I know why he does this. He explained more than once that tiny girls need to develop the strength to defend themselves if need be. We often have wrestling matches in the living room, which drives Mami crazy, but I adore it. Especially, when I stand on his shoulders, and he jerks me in a summersault onto the sofa a dozen times until mom yells stop.
We change place, he sits on the sled and gives a little push with his feet to ease my first pull. I am pulling hard, and the sled follows. Its iron runners are well-filed and slide through the snow like butter. Still, he’s heavy and my feet need to stamp hard into the snow to not lose grip. I make it to our street corner on my last breath, drop the string, and sit in the snow. We look at each other, belly laughing.
He hops off the sled and pats my shoulder, “Great job, you are so strong.” I am breathing hard but proud like an Olympian. “Now sit, let’s go home, it’s getting late.”
He’s walking slower now. I am sitting on my sled and look dreamy-eyed at his solid back, listening to the crunching sound of his feet on the snow, and the ting-ting of the bell.
A good day. Papi is home.