by Michal Reibenbach
When I was a young girl my family was poor so that enjoyable outings were virtually non-existent. One winter vacation, after a few days of falling heavily, the snow had finally ceased. I was outside in our front garden endeavoring to build a snowman, when my stepmother Andrea came trudging by, accompanied by the neighbor’s au-pair.
“We’re on our way up the hill. Do you want to join us?” asked Elka the au-pair, exuberating positive energy.
Andrea scowled at this suggestion, for she’d wanted Elka’s company all to herself.
I turned to her hopefully, “Please can I come along, please!?”
“Well I don’t know,” said Andrea, “I hadn’t planned on you joining us.”
Elka quickly tried to persuade her, “Oh do let her come with us, she won’t be any trouble.”
“Well alright,” conceded Andrea, “But you’ll have to go and put your coat and boots on first, and what’s more you mustn’t bother us.”
I obediently rushed indoors, struggled into my coat and boots then grabbed hold of my gloves and hat; before dashing out again, so that we were soon on our way. Behind our cottage, with only a small field separating it from our place, rose the awe-inspiring Bluebell Hill. It was far too steep to climb vertically, and so there was a path which wound itself snake-like up the hill’s side through an evergreen thicket. It turned sharply up to the left before turning sharply up to the right, and so forth until it reached the hill’s summit about an hour walks distance later. The three of us plodded along through the fresh snow, while on both sides we were enclosed by trees, which were laden down with white glittering snow-crystals. Andrea and Elka ascended the path ahead of me. They clung closely together to help each other along, while all the while chatting animatedly. Occasionally they would laugh and squeal with delight, for they found the snow invigorating; and also the feeling of adventure it evoked! I trudged along about five yards behind them, for I was being careful not to bother them. At the same time, however, I was also thoroughly enjoying myself; and I was thankful that I’d been allowed to join them. Eventually, Andrea and Elka arrived at the end of the path leading to the hill’s summit, and there they stopped short and stared out ahead in stunned silence. I soon caught up with them and curiously peered over in the direction in which they were staring.
At first, I only saw that on top of the hill there was a woodland of trees that were not evergreens. The trees looked strangely naked without their leaves; snow was sprinkled on their branches and they cast spindly shadows on the snow-covered ground. Then finally I noticed what they were gaping at. Under the trees, two squirrels were chasing each other about, and as they did so they leaped up and down in the snow. Suddenly they scurried up one of the trees and disappeared out of sight. Now that the squirrels had scampered away, the stillness and the quiet all around us felt very profound. The complete absence of other people was strange, and I mulled over as to how the hill had taken on a frost like quality so that it had been so utterly transformed. When “wearing its summer clothes” Bluebell Hill was so green, and grown over by an abundance of wildflowers. While in the spring the undergrowth was covered in bluebells, and the hill was vibrant with people coming and going. Now from where we stood spellbound, it almost felt as if we were on a visit to another planet.
After a few minutes of us being thus transfixed, Andrea broke the silence, “Weren’t those squirrels most awfully sweet? But now I’m getting very cold,” she said as she rubbed her gloved hands up and down on her arms.
“I also feel freezing cold, let’s go back,” said Elka.
Obviously trekking down the hill was much easier than climbing up it, and therefore was even more fun. When Andrea and I eventually arrived back at our cottage and were discarding our wet clothes in the kitchen, she turned to me with sparkling eyes. “That was absolutely wonderful, seeing those adorable squirrels. The climb was strenuous work, but the snow was marvelous, so invigorating!”
“Yes, it was,” I agreed eagerly, for I reveled in her attention, and was thrilled that she was including me, permitting me into a small niche of her world.
Once we’d finished spreading out our wet garments over a couple of chair-backs, “Andrea said, “Anna, go off to your room now.”
I felt saddened by this statement since it made me understand that she was tidying me away so that I wouldn’t clutter up her life. I didn’t blame her for in my precociousness, I realized that she was probably much too young to be burdened with a stepdaughter; in addition, I knew that our life of poverty was hard on her. I went off to my room feeling quite pleased with my day; after all, Elka had stood up for me, and Andrea had been considerate. Above all, I’d enjoyed the walk in the snow, and the sight of the squirrels playing around in it tremendously.
Ultimately, if one doesn’t have very much in one’s life, even a little outing in the snow can be a special event. The memory of that track up Bluebell Hill would remain in my heart and in my memory forever.
About the autho
The author is a paraplegic as the result of a car accident.
She has two sons and six grandchildren.
She lives in Jerusalem.