Friday, December 11, 2009

The Promise

"The weatherman assured us we'd have a white
Christmas this year," she said.

"You think?" he replied, smiling at the sight of her, arms up to the wrists in bread dough, face and apron powdered with patches of light brown stone-ground wheat flour. How did I ever get so lucky? he wondered.

She laughed and said, "I know, I know, after five straight days of snow, prediction is easy." Then, noting his boots and jacket, she added, almost scoldingly, "Tell me you're not thinking of going out after a tree in weather like this."

"If I don't, we may not have one at all. The snow's letting up a bit, I think -- I hope -- and we won't have to go far, just up the Sally Mae Mine road a mile or so. Sam's going with me." Hearing his name and the word "going," the dozing Black Labrador lifted his head and thumped his tail on the red and green braided kitchen rug.

"All right, but just remember: if you make me a widow, I'll take your insurance and spend it on bikinis and Leonardo DiCaprio. You may be in heaven, but you'll be sorry," she said, her eyes sparkling, but her tone deadly serious.

"Oh Lord, not Leo, anybody but him. Okay, if it looks really bad, we'll turn round and head for home. I promise."

With a warm floury kiss still fresh on his lips, he and his dog climbed into the cab of an aging four-wheel drive Ford pickup and drove past his church through the tiny, ghostly quiet town that virtually buckled under the weight of tourists after Memorial Day. A quick right off the Million Dollar Highway sent them up a steep hill toward the legendary Sally Mae Mine. A grand dame in 1875, the Sally Mae created fortunes during the gold and silver boom, and while locals swore up and down there was still wealth to be found deep in her shafts, her timbers were rotten and no one dared venture past the ruins of the mill that crumbled into history at her feet.

They'd driven nearly a mile up the hair-pinned gravel county road, when he pulled the truck to the side. "Seems like it's snowing a lot harder up here than it was in town, isn't it?" Sam, who loved sitting in the front seat of anything, grumbled in the apparent affirmative. "Well, if we're going to find a tree, this will have to be the place, because we're not risking going any farther. You stay here -- if you don't see me in ten or fifteen minutes, call mountain rescue -- there's an extra cell in the glove box."

Axe in hand, he walked through the maze of trees and drifting snow, mentally kicking himself for insisting on doing this by hand each year when a chain saw would be faster. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I feel like I owe it to the tree to put forth some effort. This is one heck of a day for a conscience. There were plenty of trees to choose from, but most were either towering monsters or their diminutive offspring. He was at the point of calling it quits when, like Goldilocks, he spied one that was "just right" in a small clearing. It's more a Charlie Brown than anything else, he thought, as he laid his axe to the trunk.

Even though they'd only been gone a little over an hour, his wife waiting at the door. "There are avalanche warnings out for the entire area," she called, as she rushed outside to meet them. "Red Mountain Pass is closed -- I was worried."

"Me, too," he said, stepping out of the truck, "and I suppose it was crazy, but you know me and Christmas trees. Besides, Sam had my back, didn't you pal? Anyway, the thought of you and a bikini -- well, let's leave it at that." He smiled and kissed her, remembering their first on a day quite like this. Only now, the scent of her cologne was replaced with the aroma of freshly baking bread, streaming through the open door.

(Creative Commons image of Ouray, Colorado by squeaks2569 via Flickr)
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