There were still snow flurries as they started for town Wednesday morning, but the flurries  were adding little to the light coating already on the ground. The cold had become more noticeable, but it looked like the weather might actually be clearing.

   In town, they went directly to the jeweler’s. “Oh, it’s my favorite engaged couple,” Jeannie greeted them. Vic hugged her. “Hi, Jeannie. Greg says I need an engagement ring.”

   “You do need an engagement ring. Every girl needs an engagement ring. I need an engagement ring!”

   “Any prospects?” Vic asked.

   “None in sight. When you’ve lived in the same small town forever, you’ve probably met everybody there is to meet. No one has roiled my waters, yet. It’s an impossible situation! Here I am, still young…” “And beautiful,” Vic added. “Okay, I’ll accept that. Thanks. And here I am, surrounded by thousands of diamonds and other precious stones, and all the men who come through that door already have someone else they’re buying rings for.”

   “That does sound pretty bad,” said Greg, “But never hopeless. Do you know the song about the five and ten cent store?”

   “No, I don’t think so. What does that have to do with my nonexistent love life?”

   “Well, I’ll sing a little bit of it for you – with the words changed slightly to fit the occasion.


  “It was a lucky April shower. It was a most convenient door. He met the million dollar baby in a downtown jewelry store.

 “The rain continued for an hour. He hung around for three or four, around the million dollar baby  at the downtown jewelry store.”


  “Well, it goes on, but you get the idea. Who knows what the next April shower might blow in?”

  “Nice song, nice voice. Mysterious stranger showing up at my shop. Wow. So, you think there’s still a chance for me to find true love?”

  “Oh, definitely. I’d certainly be interested, if I wasn’t already taken.”

  “You know, I have felt a little heart flutter when you’ve come into the store.”

   Vic intervened. “If you two are about finished with your courtship, I think maybe it’s time I picked out my engagement ring. It might help certain parties remember who goes with who.”

   Jeannie took hold of her arm, and steered her to a cabinet filled with jeweled rings. She looked for a long time, picking out several to examine more closely. She didn’t spend much time with any of them, and Greg began to worry.

   “If you’d like to look at some others…”

   “Patience, Greg. Jeannie, are you sure all of these are in the ‘Greg can afford me’ category?”


   “Then, there’s no question which one is mine!” The ring she picked had one small diamond, nestled in what could have been the petals of a lily. The “lily” sat on a little area of fine fillagree. The rest of the ring was plain.

   “That’s a lovely one, Vic! Greg, try it on her, and see if we’ll need to adjust the size, at all.”

   Greg held Vic’s hand in one of his, and took the ring in his other. “I know we’re already engaged, but this makes it officially official. Vic, I love you with all my heart.” He slid the ring on her finger. It fit perfectly.

   “You were right, Greg. It does make a difference,” she whispered. “You and Jeannie probably have some paperwork to finish up. While you’re doing that,  I’m going to sit on that chair over there, and cry happily for a little while.”


   Vic was still a little teary-eyed when they left the store. “You and Jeannie were very cute in there, but…” She held up her hand, with the ring on it. “Just remember who is wearing the engagement ring!”

   Greg laughed, and kissed the hand.

  At the house, Mandy and Vic’s parents were all appropriately impressed. They visited over lunch, then Chuck declared that they had to go and find their Christmas tree. Greg opted to let the girls go with their father, while he stayed and visited with Alice. They sat at the kitchen table, and talked over coffee.

   Alice chuckled. “They always wait until the last minute, when there are about five trees left in the whole town! But they always come back with something, that eventually becomes a very presentable Christmas tree.”

   “Vic was telling me about that ritual. And we don’t decorate it today, right?”

   “Right. Decorating is tomorrow. We just admire it today.”

   They sipped for a while in silence. “I’m glad you bought her a ring,” Alice finally said. “I think every girl needs one.”

   “I agree. It kind of seals the deal, I think – although I don’t feel like we really needed it for that. Vic was hesitant – not that she didn’t want an engagement ring, but she was worried about my bank account. I convinced her that Jeannie had orders not to show her anything I couldn’t afford. After that, she didn’t have any hesitation, and found what she wanted pretty quickly.”

   “It is lovely.” Another pause. “I think your ‘vacation’ at the refuge was good for both of you. She seems very relaxed, and you do, too.”

   “It was good. As I mentioned on the phone, Vic wasn’t stressed in a bad way, but her life at school is pretty full, what with her classes and with some of the other things she’s involved in. And, of course, we hadn’t been able to spend much time together in a long time. She just needed a chance to unwind, do some different things, and just take the pressure off. I think we accomplished that. We read and talked and ate – took a few chilly walks – and just enjoyed one another’s company.

  “I heard her tell you about the probable bobcat. Did she talk about the pogonip?”

  “No, did you have one? They are lovely!”

  “I’d never seen anything like it. It was just spectacular. Vic said she’d seen it at least once, before, maybe twice.”

   “Yes, I think we did have a second one, not quite so dramatic as the first – the first is probably the one she remembers. It wasn’t long after we moved here.

   “Tell me, what kind of ‘other things’ is she involved in?”

   “I should let her tell you, but I will mention one thing. In part because of my draft status, we’ve been talking for a couple of months about anti-war demonstrations, and about how the draft system works. She got interested, and talked to some people at school, and read some newspaper articles, and we talked quite a bit more over the weekend. On Monday and Tuesday, while I was working, she put it all together, and wrote an article about how the draft could be made fairer and more ethical. It’s work that a third or fourth year student could be proud of. She is really, really good at thinking things through, and then presenting her findings.”

   “I know she’s a very smart girl. I didn’t know that she would be so interested in something like that.”

   “Well, part of it in this case is my own draft quandary, but she’s gone far beyond that. She knows how to apply herself to a problem.”

   Just then, they heard the rest of the family coming in the front door. Chuck was leading the way, with Vic and Mandy following, holding up the two ends of a Christmas tree. A place had been cleared in a corner of the living room, and a metal tree stand was already there. Some of the tree’s lower branches had been pruned off, so the girls lifted the tree while Chuck guided the bare trunk into place. Mandy and Vic moved the top around until it looked reasonably straight, then Chuck tightened the restraining bolts. The three of them stepped back to observe their work.

   Greg thought it was a pretty good-looking tree. It was a fir, and stood about six feet tall. The branches were a little sparse, but, after what Vic had said about some of their trees, he had expected worse.

   “So, now we just watch it for a day, before it gets decorated?” asked Greg.

   “Not watch, silly,” Vic corrected him. “We analyze it. We view it from all angles, and discuss among ourselves its strengths and weaknesses. Then, when we bring out the lights and ornaments tomorrow, we know exactly how we’re going to make it into the most beautiful Christmas tree, ever.”

   Mandy had left the room as they were talking, and now called from the kitchen. “It’s ready, everybody!”

   Alice and Chuck went into the kitchen. Vic took Greg’s hand. “This is one tradition I forgot to mention. Come on.”

   Jigsaw puzzle pieces were spread over the kitchen table. Alice explained what was happening. “As everyone knows but Greg, we can’t eat dinner until the puzzle is completed. It is not a hard puzzle but, as you can see, it is a big one. You can’t see the box to see what the finished puzzle will look like, but I am authorized to tell you that it has a big barn, a small house, and some livestock.”

   “Who authorized you?” Vic asked.

   “Me, of course. I’m the only one who has seen the box. Now, you remember, there aren’t many specific rules. We just all work until it’s done. However, if somebody announces that they’re doing a white fence, or a brown and green border, then the others are supposed to give that person any pieces they have that seem to match. Okay, go!”

   “Are you good at puzzles?” Vic asked Greg, as she picked up a handful of pieces.

   “I used to do them, but it’s been a while. We’ll see.”

   Very little talking took place in the next half hour, as everyone concentrated on trying to begin some bigger area of puzzle. Greg remembered that he had always liked to build the edges, but this puzzle didn’t seem to have any well-defined patterns. Instead, he started on a patch of blue sky. He noticed that Mandy and Vic had teamed up on the barn, and had most of it finished in just a few minutes. Obviously, they knew what they were doing.

   Chuck had found a corner piece, and was stringing edge pieces in both directions, and Alice had the cottage almost done. Greg saw where his sky joined Alice’s roof, and they fitted their sections together. Suddenly, they were done.

   “Less than an hour!” Mandy exclaimed. “A new record.”

   “Well, we have a new member,” Vic reminded them. “The family puzzlers have grown.”

   “And there’s still a little time before dinner is ready,” said Alice.


   After dinner, Chuck and Alice were cleaning up in the kitchen. Greg and the sisters retired to the couch in the living room.

   Greg began. “I have an observation, and a question. When I was in high school and the first year or so of college, I – and everybody around me – was obsessed with popular music – Top 40 stuff. Somebody always had a record player, or the radio, going, and we all knew the words to every song. We lived on people like Elvis, the Beach Boys, Ray Charles, the Kingston Trio, Roy Orbison, the Four Seasons…  How come I never hear you two talking about the current hits. Don’t kids do that, anymore?”

   Vic and Mandy exchanged what looked like puzzled glances. “I don’t know those names,” Vic said. “ Are those really, really old singers – crooners like Bing Crosby and Perry Como?”

   “You have to know those names. Most of them are still around, I think.”

   “Maybe, but all we hear on the radio are Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette. Those are the music stars of today’s Idaho.”

   He just stared at them, until they started laughing. “Of course, we know them, Granddad,” said Mandy. “What are we talking about, 1962 maybe? You do know it’s only 1965, now?”

   “Everybody listens to Top 40, just like you did,” continued Vic. “It’s just hard to do it on the radio, here, where country music is king. But a lot of our friends have phonographs, and buy a lot of singles and albums. Actually, we do have a radio show every Saturday that plays the top songs. I can even tell you that the current number one song in the country is ‘Turn, Turn, Turn,’ by The Byrds.”

   “Buzzzz! Wrong, Sis. The Byrds got dumped to second place this week. Now, it’s ‘Over and Over,’ by the Dave Clark Five.”

   “Really? That kind of surprises me. Well, anyway, some of your old people – Elvis, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, for example – still have songs on the Top 40, this week – or, at least last week.

   “I notice you didn’t mention The Beatles,” Vic said.

   “Because they weren’t really around, yet.”

   “In 1962?”

   “October 1962, Beatles first U. S. hit, ‘Love Me, Do.’”

   “Really? That recent? I didn’t remember that.”

   “Yep, they’re newcomers. Mandy, you say The Dave Clark Five is now number one? I don’t know that one, but I remember one of theirs – not as old as 1962, however. More like last year.” He turned to Vic, and sang, “Do you love me, now that I can dance?”

   She patted his cheek. “I loved you quite a bit before you could dance. I don’t know that the dancing changed anything. We’ll have to keep it up, and see.”

   Just then, Chuck appeared at the door. “Greg, can I talk to you a minute?”

  Greg excused himself, and they went into the kitchen. “It appears that you and my oldest daughter have been sharing a bed for some time,” Chuck began. “No, wait! This isn’t what you think. I admit that I have been hesitant about your relationship. It seemed to be moving a little too fast, at times. I got over that. I find that I like you a lot, and that’s you’re good for one another, even if you are a lousy checker player.

   “So, let me finish. I was a little slow to catch on to your sleeping arrangements. I guess Allie has known for some time, and approves. I don’t know if I actually approve – no, wait. I do approve. Allie and I waited until we were married, but it wasn’t for any deep moral or religious reason. We just didn’t feel ready. On the other hand, such pre-marital liaisons – how’s that for a big word? Such arrangements were not unknown in our day – in fact, were pretty common.    Most  turned out just fine, whether or not the couple eventually tied the knot.

   “Okay, what I’m saying is it’s silly for you to sleep on the couch when Vic’s bed is plenty big enough for two. You will like it. Vic will like it. I imagine Mandy knows all about it, and will approve. Allie will approve, and she won’t have to get out bedding for the couch each night. And I approve. Hey, it’s Christmas!”

    Greg was overwhelmed, and didn’t really know how to express his gratefulness. “You can’t know how much this means to us, Chuck. We wouldn’t have started, if we weren’t really both committed to a future together. We are very careful, and most of the time we really do just sleep together…”

   “Hey, I don’t need to know the details. I know you’re both smart kids… well, young adults. Just remember that. We’ll let you tell Vic, however you want to.”

   “Thank you.”

   Greg must have still looked a little stunned when he came back to the living room. “What was that about?” Vic asked.

   “What? Oh, they’re going to bed. He was just confirming sleeping arrangements. What were you two talking about?”

   Mandy responded. “Oh, we were just discussing how almost all the hit songs are about love and sex. Our age group is certainly interested in such things, and we know all the words to all the songs, but I don’t think most of us think much about what the song is saying. We’re just looking for something that’s good to dance to.”

   “Interesting. But there are some really good love songs – the slow, meaningful ones that are hard to ignore.” He turned to Vic. “I will spend my whole life through, loving you, just loving you.”

   She smiled at him.

  “I know one I really like,” said Mandy. “It is an oldie, but I’ve heard it a number of times. It’s from a movie about Quakers – no, not Quakers. Is it Amish? Anyway, the ones who say ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’ instead of ‘you.’ You’re an old timer. Do you know which one I mean?”

   Greg addressed himself to Vic, again. “Thee I love. More than the meadows so green and still…”

   “That’s the one! I love it. It’s so pretty.”

   Greg continued to sing to Vic. “Though I don’t know many words of praise, thee pleasures me in a hundred ways…”

   “Okay, you guys, that’s enough. I didn’t mean to get you all lovey dovey. You should get a room.”

   “Good idea,” said Greg.

   “Would that we could,” said Vic.

   “I’m going to bed,” said Mandy. She hugged Greg, and kissed him on the cheek. She did the same for Vic, and then they were alone on the couch.

   “Pretty nice evening,” he said.

   “Yes, very nice,” Vic agreed.

   They sat in silence for some time, just looking at the tree waiting to be decorated, and thinking their own thoughts. Greg took her in his arms. “Thee pleasures me in a hundred ways.” He kissed her, softly but very intently. She liked it a lot, but thought his timing could have been better. His hand slid over onto her thigh. This is just mean! she thought. She stood up.

   “Aren’t you going to get your bed ready, so I can tuck you in?” she asked.

   “Yes, I think I am.” He stood up, and held out his hand to her. “Come on, let’s go.”

   “Go where?”

   “Let’s go,” he repeated, and led her into her bedroom. He sat her on the edge of the bed.

   “Greg, what are we doing?”

   He adopted what he thought might be a cave-man type voice. “You are my woman. When we are together, we sleep together.”

   “That’s a very nice thought, Brutus, but do you remember that we’re in my parents’ house, and we’re not exactly married?”

   “Doesn’t matter. Get ready for bed.”

   She looked at him very oddly, as might be expected. “Greg, I think you’ve lost your mind!”

  “No, Let’s go to bed.”

  “We can’t!”

  “Yes, we can. Your dad said so.”

  That stopped her. “Greg, what are you talking about?”

  “Your dad said – maybe not a direct quote, but in so many words – Vic has a nice bed, plenty big enough for two.”

   “He did not!”

   “He did, too.”

   Now, she really looked at him, trying to judge his expressions. “Is this really true? If you’re teasing me, I hate you.”

   “Victoria, my one and only love, it is absolutely true. Don’t ask me what exactly happened, but he took me aside, implied that he knew we’d been sleeping together the past few nights, and didn’t see any reason to keep up the pretense. We have both his and your mother’s blessings.”


   “Really. Lift your arms, so I can get that sweater off you.”

   “I like my Christmas sweater,” she murmured, as he removed it.

   “I like it, too, especially draped over the chair next to the bed. I like what’s underneath a lot more.”

   She had no more objections to make, that night.


   Just after Greg left the bedroom the next morning, Mandy slipped in. Vic was sitting up in bed.

   “Vic, I just saw Greg leave. Are you two crazy?”

   “What do you mean? My boyfriend slash fiancé and I spent the night together, as we regularly do.”

   “But not in your parents’ house. Do you and your boyfriend slash fiancé have amnesia, or a death wish?”

   “No, Daddy said it was okay.”

   “He, what?”

   “Crawl in bed with me, and I’ll tell you all about it.” She did, and she did.

    After various expressions of awe and amazement, Mandy went quiet for a moment. “Vic, I have a terrible confession. I think I am a little bit in love with your boyfriend slash fiancé. Is that awful?”

   “No. I think he’s probably a little bit in love with you, too.”

   “What? No, no.”

   “Yes, yes. How could he not be? You spend good times together. By the way, I know about the dancing lessons. Thank you. Anyway, you’re smart, and funny, and prettier than me…”

   “I am not!”

   “No, you’re right. I’m prettier than you.”


   “Well, let’s just say that we both can hold our own in that department. Seriously, there’s a family element here we can’t escape, either. Greg’s very much a part of me, and you’re very much a part of me – more than just sisters. We’ve always felt that. It just stands to reason that the emotion from the one connection is going to be carried over to the other connection. Believe me, sister dear, we’re just fine.”

   “So, you’re not mad that I have a crush on your intended?”

   “Not as long as his crush on me, and my crush on him, are gigantic compared to your teeny, tiny little schoolgirl crush.”

   “Well, despite your mean way of describing it, I’m glad. I was a little bit worried.”

   “Don’t be. We’re good, as always.”

   “Okay. On another subject, did Greg give you the Christmas present?”

   “I suspected you were in on it.”

   “Not on picking it. That was entirely his doing. What happened was, he remembered some discussion you had with him, when you were teasing him about buying lingerie.”

   “Buying lingerie? I don’t remember.. Oh, yes. I do! We were talking about buying presents for women – you, in particular.”

   “Me? He wasn’t thinking of buying lingerie for me!”

   “No, no. I was rattling off ideas – jewelry, books, clothes – and I thought he was in kind of a trance, so I just said something to wake him up. His reaction was the same as yours: ‘I can’t buy lingerie for your sister!’ I told him I wasn’t suggesting any such a thing. I was just talking about women, generally.”

   “Well, he took it that you were hinting at something for yourself, and he wanted to do something you’d like. I told him that lingerie usually meant bras and panties, and I thought you’d prefer to buy those for yourself – for which he was grateful.”

   “Although I would have liked to see what panties he would have picked out – for future reference, you know.”

   “You think his choices might have been revealing?”

   “Maybe, maybe not. I’m just picturing in my mind.”

   “Well, picture away! I told him that what I thought you were probably referring to was some kind of nightwear, like a negligee. I referred him to several possible pages in the Penny’s catalog, and he took it from there. All I did after that was help him with the size to order. I have to say, though, I thought his pick was excellent.”

   “Me, too! I put in on right away. It is so beautiful, so girly! I danced with him while I was wearing it. By the way, thank you for the dancing lessons. That was lovely for you to do.”

   “Well, we didn’t get very far, but he’s a good student, and picked up the waltz and foxtrot quickly. You can take over now, and teach him some more.”

   “Yes, I will.”

   “I bet you didn’t dance together very long, with you in that outfit.”

   “Yes, we did… No, you’re right. We got sidetracked pretty quickly, and… Well, but we danced again, later. A couple of times.”

   “I believe it.”


   Alice and Chuck were already in the kitchen, when Greg came from bed. They invited him to share their fresh-brewed coffee. He did.

   “What’s it doing outside?” he asked.

   “It’s pretty dark, still,” said Chuck, “so I don’t know for sure. There’s a little snow flying around, I think, but not much on the ground. We just listened to the weather forecast – supposed to be clearing, and cold. No surprise, there.”

   “No white Christmas?”

   “Apparently not.”

   They sipped in silence for a while. “So, this is tree decorating day?” asked Greg.

   “Yep, “ Chuck agreed. “This is the big day. We usually don’t really get going until after dinner. We let the girls sleep in, if they want to, then have breakfast, and then just fiddle around the rest of the morning. After lunch, you’ll see each of us wandering past the tree, and eyeing it from all angles, making sure we know what we’re going to eventually do. We start bringing out the boxes of lights and ornaments just before dinner. Then, once the dishes are in the sink, we really get to it.“

   “I’m looking forward to it,” said Greg.


   After breakfast, Greg sat on the sofa, with a bunch of last week’s newspapers that Chuck hadn’t thrown out. One item caught his attention.

   “Hey Vic, this will interest you.”

   She came out of the kitchen, and sat by him. “What do you have?”

   He handed her a page of newspaper. “This is from last Saturday.” She read that, earlier that week, some junior high students in Des Moines, Iowa, had planned to wear black arm bands to school in a silent protest against the Viet Nam war. The leader was a 13-year old girl named Mary Beth. Her brother and three other students were also involved. Somehow, the principal heard about it, and told them if they came to school wearing the arm bands, they would be suspended, because the arm bands might prove disruptive of school activities. They did come to school with arm bands, refused to remove them, and were suspended. They were told they couldn’t come back to school if they were wearing the arm bands.

   “Wow, that seems like an overreaction! And the only justification is that it might be disruptive? So, what happened? Did they continue to wear them?”

   “We don’t know. It’s Christmas break. We have to tune in after New Year’s.”

   “Oh, that’s right. Well, we need to be sure to see the news in January. I hope their parents sue the school over violation of their civil rights, or something. We never found out what that talk at ISU was about; you remember, the political rights of students, or some such title? But this sounds like a test case to me.”

   “Well, it certainly caught my eye, after all our talk about demonstrations and protests.

   “Say, would you be up for a little cold stroll around town? It looks like it’s supposed to stay clear all day, although it is chilly out there. It doesn’t look like it will get much warmer than 25, or so.”

   “I guess if we bundled up good. What do you have in mind?”

   “Oh, just to stretch my legs,” he said, but Vic thought he sounded evasive. Well, she’d let him keep his secret until they got outside.

   “Okay, what’s this really about?” she asked, when they were a block beyond the house.

   “I have presents for you and Mandy, but I didn’t get anything for your parents. I’d like to.”

   “Okay, did you have something in mind?”

   “No, that’s the problem. I hate getting people things they don’t need, or want. I like to personalize my gifts.”

   “Well, you could get my daddy a book, and my mother a negligee. Those would be personal,” she smirked. “The one seemed very personal to me!”

   He tried to make a mean face at her, but it came out more of a grin. “That’s not helpful. However, you got me thinking about you in that negligee, and I think I got about 15 degrees warmer, immediately.”

   She leaned against him. “I’m glad to help. Now, forgetting about negligees for a minute – as if you could, now! – let’s try the department store. They have the best variety of possible gifts.”

   “What did you get your folks?” Greg asked, as they wandered through the store.

   “Mandy and I got each of them really nice sweaters. We also got Mom a bright, Christmassy apron, which I think she’ll love. We’re in kind of a funny position right now. Because of our North Dakota vacation, neither of us worked last summer, so neither of us has any money of our own. We get money from Mom and Daddy to buy presents for them!”

   “I seem to remember some times like that, too. I delivered papers for a couple years, but that was the only source I had of money, and it didn’t go far.

   “Oh, I think I may have found the gift. What do you think?”

   He showed her a puzzle box. The cover picture was of a vast field of yellow-orange sunflowers, in full bloom, under a brilliant blue sky. “I remember hearing that the Dakotas were major producers of sunflowers. I really like the picture, and it probably isn’t an easy puzzle, with so few different colors and shapes.”

   Vic held the box, and smiled happily. “I’ve seen it like this in late summer. Acres and acres and acres of sunflowers. They’ll love it!”


   The rest of the day went as Chuck had described, and after dinner they all gathered around the tree. Greg had his doubts that the decorating was as scientifically planned out as they had boasted, but everybody attacked the job with lots of energy. He was thoroughly enjoying the tree trimming, and all the silliness and family fun that accompanied it. They finished the job with a great flourish of tinsel – great globs of it on the tree, on the floor, and on themselves. That was followed by hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows, and a candy cane stuck in for good measure. They talked and laughed and told Christmas stories and reminiscences for a good hour before people started to drift off toward their beds.


   Christmas Eve day dawned cloudy, but seemingly a little warmer than the past few mornings. Light rain started in mid-afternoon, and the temperature was near 40 degrees, so the earlier prediction of “no white Christmas” seemed to be holding. Nevertheless, the weather people were a little less sure, as the approaching storm deposited a major snow load as it passed through Seattle. Obviously, nowhere near as much moisture would make it over the Cascades, but…

   The day was spent indoors, with lots of secret package wrapping, and surreptitious trips to leave parcels under the tree. There was a lot more eating and talking and enjoying one another’s company before people started to settle in for the night. A last look out the door showed that the rain had turned to snow, but there was no accumulation.

   Therefore, it was with considerable consternation that the town awoke next morning to a world of white. The afternoon paper described it:

   “The whitest Christmas in years greeted Magic Valley this morning, with the entire area reporting two or more inches of snow on the ground at 8 a.m. – and in most of the area it kept snowing throughout the day. Roads were slick and snow covered throughout Magic Valley and kept drivers wary and travel at a minimum.”

   “I think maybe the weatherman got it wrong, this time,” opined Chuck.


   Everyone was out of bed early and, after an appropriate number of “oohs” and “aahs” for the snowy spectacle outside, they headed for the Christmas stockings. Each held an orange or a banana, some mixed nuts, and a small present of some kind. (Mandy got a yo-yo, and Vic got a harmonica.) Greg was surprised and pleased to see that there was a stocking for him – that is, until he looked inside, and found a lemon and a letter. At everybody’s prompting, he read the letter aloud.

   “Well, Greg, I hope you got a good night’s sleep (ho, ho, ho), because I have a little bad news. You are perhaps fortunate that I ran out of lumps of coal before I got to you. (It’s been a pretty bad year amongst the little boys and girls!) Actually, you were right on the borderline, so perhaps a lemon – half-way between bad and good – is more appropriate, anyway. Your problem wasn’t that you were a terrible person. You just didn’t believe hard enough. You need to work on that. Think CHRISTMAS all year long – like my two all-time favorite kids – Victoria and Amanda – do. Adopt them as your model, and there won’t be lemons or coal next year.

   “And speaking of my favorite kids, I want you to pay really special attention to Victoria this year. She is a fantastic person, and in all respects I want you to be her true knight in shining armor. Well, she doesn’t need a knight in shining armor – she’s perfectly capable of defending herself – and maybe even being your knight in shining armor! – but it’s just a way of saying that I want you to love her so deeply and sincerely that she’ll always feel as loved by you as she does, today. (And she does feel that – she told me!)

   “So, that’s it. Merry Christmas from Santa!”


   Greg held the lemon out for all to see. “I have a feeling that there are some hijinks going on here, that are not attributable to Santa Claus.”

   “No, no, no,” Vic objected. “That is straight from Santa, himself.”

   “That’s the truth!” Mandy seconded. “Straight from the voice of Santa to your ears.”

   “I’m not convinced. I think Santa would know me better. ”

   “Well, your mistake. Actually, Mandy and I crept down here earlier, and read the note. We didn’t want you to be crushed by it, so we prepared another sock for you, with more traditional filling. Here it is.”

   The replacement sock had an orange, some mixed nuts, and a little ornament shaped like a bird. Greg hung the ornament on the tree. “Well, that helps a little bit, but I’m still crushed.”

   Chuck intervened. “Whenever you children are finished fooling around, breakfast is ready.”


   Breakfast was orange juice, sausage, eggs, coffee, tea, and pancakes. Chuck swore that his pancakes were perfect likenesses of Santa’s head, complete with beard and tasseled hat. No one could see it but him, but they all declared them to be very good buttermilk pancakes, anyway. Finally, with the dishes in the sink, they returned to the living room for the unveiling of presents.

   Everyone got sweaters, except Greg, who was the recipient of a wool shirt. (“This is great! I’ve never had a Pendleton, but I’ve always liked their looks.”) That was followed by a warm-looking bathrobe, something he wouldn’t have thought of in California, but was very welcome in Idaho. (“I guess Santa wasn’t too upset with me, after all,” he joked.)

   Vic got a pretty blouse, decorated with small, delicate flowers, and Mandy got two new charms for her bracelet – a merry-go-round (“Oh, for ‘Carousel!” she exclaimed) and a little horse (an animal species she loved, but so far only from afar). Alice was suitably impressed with her Christmas apron, and got a little teary-eyed when she and Chuck opened their puzzle. (“Oh, it looks just like home, in the fall!”)

   That left only two packages, one for each sister. Mandy let out a scream when she saw the Lloyd Alexander book.  (“Oh, my god! Oh, my god! I’ve been waiting and waiting for this!”) Vic gave Greg a happy smile, as she opened her package. “I don’t know ‘The Hobbit,” she said, as she read the back cover remarks, “But it looks very interesting.”

   “Knowing you as well as he does,” Greg began, “I think Santa was sure that a book full of faeries, elves, gnomes, wizards, and little people with big, hairy feet – all banded together to fight against the dark forces trying to take over the world – would be something you’d like.”

   “I think Santa was right,” she replied.


   Later in the day, Mandy had retreated to her room to read about Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper. Chuck and Greg were in the living room, alternating between dozing and reading newspapers. Vic and Alice were alone in Vic’s bedroom, talking about school and the holidays. Vic told her about the anti-draft letter, about the “church hopping,” and about her visits with the ornithologists. Alice expressed surprise at some of the things Vic had become interested in.

   “It really is an exciting environment, Mom. Greg was right about that. So much is going on all the time. I’m really happy, but I was ready for the Christmas break.”

  “Speaking of Christmas, I was a little surprised that Greg only had that one present for you. I would have expected a little more than a book.”

   “There was more, Mom.” She explained about the origins of Mandy’s book. “I was a little shook when he suggested he give my present to Mandy. He knew I really wanted to read that book. But, after we worked that out satisfactorily, he told me he had another present for me, but one he wanted to give me then, not under the Christmas tree. Mom, it is the most beautiful shiny, filmy, girly negligee and peignoir set you can imagine. It’s a pale green, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it! I put it on, and we employed some of Mandy’s dance lessons, until… Well, we danced some more, later, too. Greg couldn’t have come up with a better gift!”

   Alice smiled. “Greg seems to have a real romantic streak, that you wouldn’t guess was there.”

  “No, Mom, what makes things like this so special is that he isn’t romantic. I remember one time he did something really special and unexpected – I don’t remember exactly which it was. Anyway, I said something to him, like ‘Most of the time, I don’t think you have a romantic bone in your body, and then you surprise me like this.’ Do you know what he said? ‘Isn’t surprise one of the main elements of romance?’

   “I’m convinced that Greg’s secret isn’t that he tries to do romantic things. It’s that he actually listens to people – looks and listens, and figures out what they really want or need. I think it’s a real gift, and I’m getting the benefit of it.”

   Alice smiled. “I’d love to see the negligee.”

  “Oh, I plan to show it to you.”


   Sunday, the ground was still covered several inches deep with snow, but there had been only  occasional flurries since Christmas morning. It was about 10 degrees in the morning, and it didn’t quite make it to 30 in the afternoon. The main issue was the wind, that lowered the apparent temperature markedly, and blew the light snow into small to moderate-sized drifts.

   “I should get back out to the refuge in the morning,” Greg said to Chuck. “Do you think I’ll have any problem?”

   Chuck put down the morning newspaper he had been reading. “It looks like there’s still quite a bit of trouble around the Valley. The paper says that they are getting new snow over toward Mountain Home, and the traffic is moving less than 20 miles per hour. The highway over the hill to Utah is snow-packed, and apparently there’s some bad ice up towards American Falls.”

   “That doesn’t sound too hopeful.”

   “Well, having pointed all that out, I think we’re on the far edge of the bad stuff. We’re enough away from the river that we’re probably not getting much ice, and we’re obviously not getting any new snow accumulation. I suspect our main issue between here and the refuge would be drifting snow. We can get some strong winds across that stretch, and the snow can pile up.

   “I really doubt you’d have problems, but we can call Tim later, and see what he thinks.”

   Vic had come into the room while they were talking. “I’m going with you.”

   “Are you sure? Don’t you want to stay, and catch up on family business?”

   “No. I’ll have time for that later in the week. I want to come with you, tomorrow.”

   Chuck coughed lightly, to get their attention. “If you think you can suffer through having her with you, she might be useful. She has driven snowy roads before, and if you had any concerns, this being your first time…”

   “See, Daddy doesn’t think I’m just ornamental. He thinks I might be useful, even though I am just a girl.”

   “Well, when you put it that way…. But what if we got snowed in, and we couldn’t get you out in time to get back to school?”

   “We’d just have to survive any way we could. We know the refrigerator is full – and Mom will no doubt send more stuff with us – so we probably wouldn’t starve for several weeks. If we ran out, we’d have to start living off the land. We could set snares for rabbits…”

   “Sure. I can just imagine you killing and eating any of your little bunny friends.”

   “Yeah, maybe not. Well, we’d think of something.”

   Chuck picked up his newspaper. “If you kids could go someplace else to discuss your wilderness survival skills, I could get back to the funnies. We can call Tim, later.”

   They took the hint.


   The call to Tim later that day sounded positive. They had snow on the ground, and there was some drifting, but the snow was soft and easy to drive around or drive through. Tim hadn’t seen any ice. “Take the government truck, rather than your car,” Chuck suggested. “The truck has much better tires for snow driving. You have chains, too, but it doesn’t sound like you’ll need them – for the trip in, anyway. We’ll have to wait and see how it looks when you want to come out.”


   Monday morning dawned cold (about 10 degrees in town, but they later found it had dropped to 4 degrees at the refuge). There were flurries, but no new snow accumulation. Greg and Vic left town on snow-covered roads, but only a mile or so out, the pavement was clear, except for occasional, easily navigated drifts. They checked the mailbox at the top of the cliff (Mike had left some mail there), then got down the grade to refuge headquarters with no trouble.

   When they left on Wednesday, they hadn’t turned the heat off altogether, so the house was chilly but not frigid. They turned up the heat, and Vic called her parents, while Greg went to get the office furnace going. He came back to the house while he waited for the office to reach a tolerable temperature.

   “So, Mr. Refuge Manager, what’s on the agenda for today?”

   “I’m supposed to be working, so I better work. There isn’t a lot to do, but I’ll go through the mail, and get our time and attendance reports ready to send in. Then, I better check all the buildings, just to be sure everything is okay. Your dad says all these houses and sheds were bult with these temperatures in mind, so he doesn’t think we’ll have any problems like frozen pipes. I haven’t been in my house in two weeks. It’ll probably be like walking into a refrigerator, but I don’t think there can be any troubles.

   “Would you like to take a walk, later. The road looks pretty clear out through the narrows, so we could take a ride today or tomorrow, and see if there’s any wildlife. If the road is okay, I might go all the way to the east gate, and make sure it’s locked up since Fish and Game left.”

   “I think a walk might be nice, a little later. While you’re doing your office work, I’ll get our supplies in order. Then, if I don’t fall asleep first, I might begin to read ‘The Hobbit.’ I’m looking forward to that.”

   There wasn’t anything important in the mail, and the little bit of paperwork Greg had to do, went quickly. He doubted there were many people in the Regional Office until after New Year’s, but he called Mac’s secretary and left word that both he and Chuck would be on leave after Wednesday. He double-checked that they had the home number in town, in case they had to reach Chuck before January 3.

   Back at the house, he found Vic deep in sleep on the couch. She barely stirred as he wrapped several blankets around her. He wasn’t particularly hungry, so he left her a note, and drove out onto the refuge. It was obvious there hadn’t been as much snow as there was in town, and most had blown off the road. It was easy driving. Every pond was frozen over solidly, and he drove all the way to the east gate without seeing any bird or mammal. The trip back was a repeat, until he got to the narrows, where he scared up a small covey of Hungarian partridges. They had been up on the road, but quickly scurried back into the deep brush, out of sight. He sat for a minute with the window rolled down, and could hear them “chirping” back and forth, keeping the flock together.

   Vic was up when he got back, and had started making toasted cheese and ham sandwiches when she heard the truck returning. She also had chicken noodle soup heating. They took their food back to the couch, where he gave her the highlight of his trip (one covey of “Huns”). She claimed she was sorry to have missed it, but gave him the impression that a heated house might have been preferable to a cold truck.

   By the time they finished lunch, the work day was pretty much over, and it was already trending toward evening darkness. They talked and read and went to bed early.

   Tuesday began like Monday, with snow flurries but no accumulation. The morning temperature was actually warmer than the past week, bottoming out at 15 degrees. There was more wind, so the snow on the ground was drifting into larger rows, leaving some surfaces almost bare.

   Vic was still sleeping, so Greg went down to the office for a while before breakfast. Chuck called soon after he got there.

   “How’s it going there, Greg?”

   “Pretty slow, but no problems. I got our time and attendance ready to send, and made a few more notes for the narrative report, but there wasn’t anything new in the mail. We’re getting more flurries, but no real snow since we’ve been here.”

   “That’s why I wanted to talk to you. You’re okay for today and tonight – no real weather changes predicted – but it looks like we might start to get some real snow by tomorrow night. I think it would probably be a good idea for you guys to start for town fairly early tomorrow.”

   “Okay, we’ll plan that way. Anything you want me to do while we’re here?”

   “No, I can’t think of anything. Did Mike bring the mail to the office yesterday?”

   “No. There was some in the box up the hill when we came in yesterday, but that was probably from Christmas Eve. We’ll check the box for anything new as we leave tomorrow.”

   Vic was awake, but still in bed when he got back to the house. He crawled in next to her for a while, before getting up to make breakfast. He was getting ingredients together, when Vic appeared, still in her pajamas.

   “What’s on the menu, almost-hubby dear?”

   ‘Not exactly an omelet, but I thought I’d make us a big scramble, with ham, Monterey jack cheese, mushrooms, onions, and-avocado.”

   “That sounds scrumptious! I’ll get out the orange juice.”

   They took their time over breakfast. Greg told her about Chuck’s call, and his suggestion that they come back to town fairly early on Wednesday.

   “I had hoped for another day, but Daddy probably knows what he’s talking about, if he thought it worth alerting us. We’ll just have to make the most of today.”

   “Anything you want to do?”

   “Later, but not now.” She wouldn’t elaborate.

   After they’d cleaned up the breakfast dishes, they found a weather forecast on the radio. It wasn’t any more helpful than Chuck’s warning, saying only that “some parts” of the Magic Valley area could get several inches of snow. Knowing how local a lot of their storms were, that could mean the refuge could get anything from nothing to an appreciable snow cover.

   They walked the loop through the forest before lunch, and saw two deer, but nothing else. They stopped at the office, where Greg picked up the latest pile of narratives from other refuges, then returned to the house. Greg thumbed through the narratives while Vic began to read “The Hobbit.”

   “I’ve been thinking about our proposed trip to see my parents,” Greg said, after a while. “Does going at your mid-term break seem reasonable to you.”

   She put down her book. “Would there be time, then? It isn’t a very long break.”

   “I think so, but I haven’t done any real looking into it, yet. I think we go could by either train or plane, and have at least a full day there, maybe two. I need to go into the travel agent, look at some brochures, and talk about actual possibilities.”

   “I guess we have to consider that travel this time of year can be a little uncertain, too.”

   “As this Christmas break is showing us.”

   Vic got off the couch, and walked around the room. “I really would like to meet them before our wedding day. If we don’t do it then, we’re talking about when school ends in the spring.”

   “Which is when we’ve been talking about getting married.”

   “Yeah. We haven’t set a date, of course, but us going to California and them coming here could be almost back-to-back. That doesn’t seem ideal – particularly, since I’m expecting some sort of a honeymoon trip, too.”


   “Okay, we’d have four weeks from when I get back to school next Monday to the end of finals week. Why don’t you go ahead as soon as you can, and see what the travel possibilities are? Then, we can make a decision.”

   “I will. While we’re here, are you up for a little longer discussion of something that’s on my mind?”

   “I guess so. Is it complicated?”

   “Not really. It’s not even very important at the moment. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about that could eventually affect us.”

   She sat back down next to him. “Okay, that’s mysterious enough to attract my attention. What is it?”

   He collected his thoughts for a moment. “You remember that Mac asked me if I’d be willing to spend next winter here, after your folks leave? He didn’t ask me for an answer; he was just floating the possibility. I’ve thought about it on and off, mostly because it would assure that I was relatively close to you through the next school year.”

   “I’m not sure that’s a very good reason.”

   “No, it probably wouldn’t be. In any event, after only the beginnings of this winter, I don’t think I could do it – stay here, I mean. I honestly don’t know how your dad has done it all these years. There really isn’t anything to do between the waterfowl hunt closing and spring thaw. You can’t even ‘make work’ because there isn’t any work to make! I suspect if your dad hadn’t had his family here – Alice all the time, and you girls on the weekends and during school vacations – he would have gone crazy. Any person alone would have, and somebody like me, who has never done winters before, would be worse off than just about anybody else.

   “I don’t know how we’re going to handle the next two months. I’ll be here to keep your dad company – maybe a partial replacement for his family, who are now in town - but that just means there will be two of us with nothing to do. It worries me. As I said, if there was a job to do – something to keep us busy – it would be different, but there really isn’t.”

   Vic sat back down. “I see what you mean, and I know you’re right. So, we need to be thinking about having you a different job by next winter.”

   “Yeah, certainly that. It raise another question, though. I think maybe I mentioned this once before, but I don’t remember if we discussed it. What if the job I found was well outside of a logical commuting distance from Pocatello? Would you consider transferring to another college?”

   “Sure. I don’t know why not. I’m at ISU mostly because it was close to home and relatively cheap for Idaho residents. I like it fine, but I haven’t developed any strong ties. One of the best features, of course, is that it’s been possible to see you every few weeks. If that wasn’t possible… “

   “Well, I’m assuming that we will be officially married by then, and I would certainly hope for regular conjugal visits.”

   “Aren’t we having those, already?”

   “Yes, but these would be legally, morally sanctioned conjugal visits. Anyway, a refuge close enough to develop a schedule more or less like we’ve had would be very important to me. An even better option – and I love this idea – would be for me to get a job in a town with a college, where we could live together full-time, while I went to work and you went to school. Can you imagine being able to come home to one another most nights?”

   “Imagine it? My brain is doing cartwheels imagining it! But before I get too far ahead of reality, let’s consider. Is the job at the refuge up by Idaho Falls still a possibility?”

   “I haven’t heard otherwise. That would be a little closer to school, and certainly more accessible. You could come home every weekend, and maybe for longer periods, depending on your class schedule. That would certainly be nice.

   “As far as my career, it’s a lot more active refuge. That would be good training if we decided to stay in this line of work.”

   “What about a job in town? You’re thinking of the Regional Office?”

   “That’s all I’ve thought about, so far, and that just because we might have a chance there we wouldn’t have any place else. I’m not very competitive for jobs because I’m new and don’t have much experience. I’m thinking that some of these new directions that we talked about, before – wilderness designation, and endangered species, for example – might need to have people assigned to them quickly. I don’t think they would be the kind of jobs that refuge managers would rush to apply for. Mac might take a chance on me just because he knows I would be interested.

   “I’ve never been to Portland, but I hear good reports about it. It’s a ‘big city,’ but not compared to some other cities. It has seasons, but is never very hot or very cold. I don’t think they get snow every winter. Especially great for us is that Portland State University is not very far from the Regional Office, and has a full curriculum. I think the Bengals actually played their football team, didn’t they?”

   “That’s the one I went to before you started coming to them. Oh, it would be so nice to be married, and have an apartment close to both your work and my school!”

   “And only an hour or so away from the ocean.”

   “Really? Well, that settles it. I’m ready to go!” She smiled at him. “Now, if I could redirect the conversation just a little bit, there’s something I want to do before we leave here. I thought it would be tomorrow, but today will do just fine.”

   “Okay, what do you want to do?”

   “Do you remember the night you gave me the beautiful peignoir-negligee set, and I put it on, and we danced?”

   “You call this redirecting the conversation a little bit? Yes, I do have some good memories of that night.”

   “Well, you remember that there’s a legend that goes with the negligee, that if you wear it and are touched by your lover…”


  “… all your wild thoughts and all of his wild thoughts escape into the fabric, and meld together, and…”

   “Vic, what are you doing?”

   “…there is nothing that can compare with what happens next!”

   “Vic, I know that. I was there, remember? It was the most amazing night we’ve ever had, and that includes some pretty amazing ones before that.”

   “Yes, Greg, it was phenomenal – spectacular – out of this world. But the thing is, I don’t think we really tested the legend to the ultimate degree.”

   He just stared at her. “Vic, what are you talking about?”

   She curled up a little closer to him. “Greg, I think I stopped us too soon. The feeling was getting so intense that I got a little bit scared that we would miss the peak effect, so I made you take me to bed right then.”

   “And we obviously didn’t miss the peak.”

   “But Greg, how do we know that? What if I had let you dance with me another minute, or two, or ten? Would there have been more? Was what we had just a prelude of what it could have been?”


   “I say there’s only one way to find out, and I want to test the legend to its limits.” She jumped up off the couch. “Here’s what I want to do. Starting right now, I want us to spend the rest of the day just thinking about how exciting the evening is going to be…”

   “Vic, you must remember the other time we did this. You made us go out shopping and eating for several hours – in public, where I could barely hold your hand. By the time we got back to our room, I was nearly crazy – and you were in pretty much the same state!”

   “I know! And you remember how good that turned out. So, anyway, we’ll just build our anticipation all afternoon. We’ll have dinner, maybe watch a little television…”

   “No television!”

   “…or maybe read for a while…”

   “Absolutely not, Vic!”

   “…and when I think we’re ready…”

   “When you think we’re ready?’

   “…I’ll go into the bedroom, and put on the negligee. I’ll let my hair down, and comb it until it’s all soft and shiny against my shoulders…”

   “My god, Vic!”

     “You can wear your shorts, or pajamas, or robe, or whatever you’re comfortable in. You’ll meet me in the middle of the living room, and you’ll take me in your arms. We’ll start to dance slowly. You’ll hold me really close so that the fabric of the negligee is trapped between our bodies, for the full effect.”

   “Please stop, Vic. You’re killing me!”

   She sat down on his lap, facing him. “We’ll start to feel the energy, like we did last time. But instead of giving in, I’ll just hold on to you tighter and tighter, letting the legend take complete control of us. Everything will get warmer and warmer. I’ll kind of just sink into you, and then…” She stopped.

   “And then, what?”

   “Well, that’s what I don’t know. We might burst into flame. We might make love right here on the living room floor. You might carry my senseless body to our bed, and… Greg, I just don’t know. That’s what we’re going to find out.”

   “Vic, don’t make us wait until night. I’m not sure I can last another minute, right now!”

   “I know! Isn’t it exciting? This will be an experiment to remember.”

   “But probably not tell our grandchildren about.” He groaned.


   They were in no hurry to get out of bed Wednesday morning. “I was right, wasn’t I?” asked Vic.

   “About what?”

   “About us not having experienced the full impact of the legend, that first time.”

  “Oh, that.”

  “Greg! “

   He pulled her closer to him. “I was trying to remember the words you used yesterday to describe our first encounter with the legend. I think they were phenomenal, spectacular, and out of this world. For last night’s adventure, I think we would be safe in adding a ‘plus’ to each of those adjectives.”

   She snuggled. “Yes. Me, too. Do you think there might be even more?”

   He rolled away from her. “Not this morning, I don’t. It would kill me. I would die happy, but it would be my demise, for sure.”

   “This has been a rather erotic vacation, hasn’t it?”

   He rolled back to face her. “Erotic?”

   “Well, yes. I mean we make love regularly – well, as regularly as we can – but not so spectacularly as the past few times. Don’t you feel like we might be exceeding our rightful share of excitement?”

   “Let me think about that a moment.” While he was thinking, he let his hand wander up and down her bare leg, stopping to rest it occasionally in strategic places. “No, I don’t think we’ve been exceeding. I mean, when we first got here, we hadn’t seen each other in some time, so a little excess was almost inevitable. Then, of course, it’s been Christmas time, with some extra emphasis on giving and receiving.”

   “Including the influence of a certain magic nightie?”

   “Well, if you believe in that sort of thing, I guess we’d have to include that.” His hand had been moving higher on her thigh.

   She let out a sigh. “So, you think that, now that the holidays are coming to a close, we’ll just settle back to making love to help us relax and get to sleep at night?” She moved a little closer to him.

   “I don’t know. If that’s its principal value, maybe we can cut back. There are always sleeping pills, or counting sheep…”

   “No, I don’t want to change too quickly. There may be some other benefits that I am overlooking.”

   “Okay.” His hand was on the move, again. “But, keeping things in perspective, this holiday hasn’t been exclusively about making love.  We’ve had deep discussion on religion, and politics, and bird watching. I’ve kept the Government running, while you composed an excellent report on the military draft. As you may recall, we’ve even discussed when we’re going to make an honest woman out of you.”

   She pulled away from him, but not very far. “Honest woman? What do you mean by that?”

   “Isn’t that what they say when a man has seduced a maid, made passionate illicit love to her outside of the bounds of acceptable civil behavior, then marries her to protect her from the ongoing shame of being perceived as a fallen woman?”

   “Oh, that. Yes, we did spend some time talking about marriage – which I am very much in favor of, by the way. However, I think you have the story a little backward. It was I who was complicit…”


   “That means I’m to blame for what happened, doesn’t it? As I recall, it was the maid – me – who seduced the man – you – not the way you said it. As I further recall, you were initially reluctant, and resisted my advances. Your hesitation only broke down when my hand moved over your leg and inner thigh – much as your hand has been moving over me in these recent minutes. At that point – you probably recall – your seduction was completed in rather spectacular fashion.”

   Greg lay quietly beside her. “So, what you’re saying is that we’ll be getting married to make an honest man out of me?”

   “Oh, I think we’re both honest enough. I suggest we get married just because we want to.”

   “That sounds like a good idea.”

   After a little bit more reminiscing, Greg got out of bed. He walked over, and looked out the window. The ground was whiter than it had been the previous afternoon, and a gusty wind was blowing snow around. “I don’t think much has changed, so far, but it looks like we might be starting to get the next winter wave. We better think about leaving soon.”

   They ate a quick breakfast, gathered up their belongings, and set the heater at its lowest reading. While Vic was finishing up in the house, Greg made a check of the other buildings, and made sure everything was secure. They were on their way by about 10 o’clock.

   Greg drove to the top of the cliff. There wasn’t any serious ice, but the surface was slippery, and he was feeling just slightly out of control. When they stopped to check the mailbox, Greg had a chance to look ahead of them. Parts of the road were clear, but there were some big snow drifts making for some narrow maneuvering. Vic thought she saw a little worry on his face.

   “Can I drive for a while? I don’t think it’s going to be bad, but I’ve done it before, so maybe…”

   “Would you, please?” I feel a little uncertain, so it would probably be best.”

   They changed places, and Vic started them down the road. There were more big drifts, but much of the snow had blown off the rest of the pavement, and it was easy to dodge the worst areas.

   “You did fine driving up the cliff, Greg. First times always are a little rough. It just takes a little practice to be comfortable at it.”

   “As I recall, our first time was pretty terrific, and we hadn’t had any practice at all.”

   Vic took her eye off the road for a split second, side-swiped a big drift, and sent a shower of snow over the truck. She stopped in the middle of the road.

   “Something wrong, Vic?”

   She tried, unsuccessfully, to glare at him. “When I’m trying to get us safely home is no time for sexual innuendo.”

   “No, miss. You are right. I wasn’t thinking.”

   “I think the problem is that you were thinking – and now you have me thinking. I want you to sit there quietly, and not say another word, until we get to town.”

   “Yes, miss.”

   “I’m serious.”

   “Yes, miss.”

   She started the truck, and continued to make their way around the drifts. When Greg glanced at her, she was staring straight ahead, but she had a smile on her face.

   She giggled. “It was a pretty fantastic first time, wasn’t it?”

   “Yes, miss,” he replied.


   The last couple of miles of road to town were snow-covered, and a little slippery in places. There were few other vehicles on the road, and Vic had minimal trouble keeping the truck in her lane, and out of serious skids. They arrived home without mishap.

   The afternoon weather forecasts were in conflict. The national weather service was predicting increasing snow flurries overnight, but no serious accumulation. The local forecasters were seeing something different, and one suggested there might be two to four inches of new snow by Thursday morning.

   The locals were correct. It snowed steadily through Wednesday night into Thursday morning, and the town woke up to a blanket of white. No new snow fell after noon on Thursday, but the wind was creating havoc in parts of the area by blowing the snow into drifts several feet high. Snow plows were operating around the clock, but were doing little more than keeping the major roads in some stage of “open.” Roads like “God Awful” were left untreated, and were mostly impassable.

   Although no new snow fell in Magic Valley proper over Thursday night into Friday, many roads were still drifted shut. North of the Valley, the news outlets were reporting “an old fashioned snow storm.” The Anderson household had settled down to an indoor New Year’s weekend.


   “What’s the plan to get you back to school?” Greg asked at some point.

   “I’m not sure. I need to call Nancy, and see if she’s made arrangements. I’m thinking that I might feel safer taking the bus, than I would riding back with the usual crew. I think they’re good enough drivers, but it sounds like it could still be tricky on the roads Sunday.”

   Later, she and Nancy talked, and decided that they would take the bus Sunday morning.


   Friday afternoon, Greg and Chuck were dozing in the living room. Vic whispered to Mandy to bring their mother to Vic’s bedroom. She didn’t say why, but Mandy sensed some intrigue. She was ready for it.

   When she and Alice tapped on Vic’s door, Vic opened it just enough for them to squeeze through. As they turned back to look at her, they saw she was wearing her peignoir and negligee.

   “My god, Vic!” Mandy gasped. “It looked beautiful in the catalog, but with you in it… I am nearly speechless.”

   Alice was just staring. “Vic, it is so lovely!”

   “Isn’t it?” She did a little spin. “And magical, too.” She sat on the edge of the bed, and spread the fabric around her.

   Mandy sat down beside her. “Sister dear, you do know that there isn’t any legend, don’t you? Greg made it up to excite you. All the catalog had to say is that wearing it would make you feel sexy – and, of course, they couldn’t even use that word in a family catalog.”

   Vic rested her head on Mandy’s shoulder. “Sister dear, I have to admit that I had the same thought you did. I knew that it was not out of the question that my lovely fiancé would conjure up some story to make the gift even more appealing. And I admit that first night we were both at a high level of excitement, that didn’t really require any extra special magic.

   “That being said, we tested it again, on a night when we weren’t overly excited – in fact, were fairly cool and rational. (Maybe not that cool and rational, she said to herself.)  I won’t go into details – those are strictly between Greg and me – but I can assure you that there is a whole lot of legendary magic left in this gown!”

   Alice had tears in her eyes, as she sat on the other side of Vic, and ran her hands over the gown. “I just can’t get over how lovely it is! I never, ever had anything even close to it. Chuck and I didn’t need legends and negligees to have a lot of fun over the years, create a lasting marriage, and produce two beautiful daughters. I’m sure, Vic, that you and Greg don’t need them, either. That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing to add spice to the mix, when you can. I wouldn’t have minded a negligee with a legend, and I bet your father would have found it worthwhile, too. ”


   Mandy had an idea, but it was a day later before she finally was able to talk to her dad without other people around.

   “Dad, I would like to talk to you about your love life.”

   He put down the paper he was reading. “My love life led to the creation of you and your sister. You probably don’t need to know any more than that.” He started to pick up the paper, again.”

   “Do you like sex, Dad?”

   “Mandy!” He looked around the room to make sure no one had heard her.

   “Well, I know you’re pretty old…”

   “Mandy! I’m not that old!.”

   “I know. I was just trying to get your attention. Now, you probably won’t give me an answer, but I’m going to guess that, if you did, it would be something like ‘I certainly do, with your mother.’”

   “Mandy, I love you, but you’re in ‘none of your business land.’”

   “I know, but I wanted to show you something.” She had the Penny’s catalog with her, and opened to the page that had negligees. “I was thinking you might want to order one of these. You could pick out the color that you think would look best on Mom. I circled her size there at the bottom of the page. You could have it sent to the refuge so she wouldn’t know that you’d bought anything. Then, sometime when there were no daughters around and nothing else to interrupt you for a couple hours, you could present this to her and suggest she try it on. When she did, you could maybe employ some of those dance moves I saw… Well, that’s kind of presumptuous of me. You could probably figure out for yourself what came next. I think you both might find the next few hours pretty rewarding.”

   She kissed him on the cheek, and got up off the couch. “I’ve already forgotten I talked to you about this. It was just some idle thoughts I had, anyway.”

   Chuck didn’t forget about it.


 They were all in their pajamas an hour before the end of 1965. Chuck served them eggnog, with a splash of brandy in it, and they gathered in the living room to count down to the new year. When the moment arrived, only Greg and Alice were still awake.

   The weather had apparently dampened any big celebration ideas. A few fireworks went off, but it was quickly over.

   “Happy New Year, Alice.”

   “Happy New Year, Greg. Shall we get these eager clock watchers to bed?”

   “Okay. You get Chuck moving. I’ll take Mandy, then come back for the other one.”

   Mandy woke just enough for Greg to guide her into her bedroom. He sat her on the edge of her bed, took off her slippers, and rolled her under the covers. “I love you, Greg,” she muttered. “I love you, too. Happy 1966.” He kissed her on the forehead, shut off her light, and went out for the other sister. He managed to pick her up in his arms, and carry her to their bed.

   “Happy New Year, Vic,” he said, quietly, as he pulled the covers over both of them. “It’s 1966, a year of brand new possibilities.” She didn’t wake up. They spent the first hours of the new year in peaceful sleep.


   January 1 dawned white, but it was all last year’s snow. Nothing new had fallen overnight, nothing more than flurries were predicted, and there was even a little blue sky showing. The Anderson household settled down to a quiet day. A big ham dinner at mid-afternoon was the only planned event. It was well received.

   “Was there anything that we hoped to get done this vacation that we didn’t get done?” asked Greg, when they settled down after dinner.

   “We need to decide if we can go to California at the end of the month. I do worry about the weather, then.”

   “I’ll figure out – hopefully, this week – what our travel options are. Unfortunately, we probably won’t have a very good idea about the weather until a few days before we start the trip.

   “There is one other important thing to get done, and that’s to send out your anti-draft letter.”

   That startled her. “Do you really think it’s good enough to send? I mean, I’ve never written anything like that, and I pretty much did it in one day.”

   “It’s really special, Vic. I’m not exaggerating. I think it’s good enough to maybe make some people think seriously about it.”

   “Really, Greg?”

   “Really and truly! I’ve been thinking we should send it to about a dozen newspapers around the country, and also send it to the same number of politicians. Some of the papers are almost certain to publish it, and if the politicians see it in print in the papers they usually read… Well, we might get some interesting response.”

   She thought about it for a bit. “If you really think it’s that good… Well, what do we need to do to get it out?”

   “I guess first, does your copy need to be re-typed? I haven’t looked at it since that first day. I recall it as being pretty neat and clean. If it isn’t, we should type it again. When we print it, I think it will fit on two sheets if we print on both sides of the paper. That will save us some printing costs, and will probably be less daunting to editors than if we presented it on four pages.

   “Then, I guess we need to decide who we’re going to send it to. That will probably take a little library work to decide on which papers and which politicians. I don’t see that there’s any big hurry – just do these things as we get the time. Probably wait until after your final exams and after our trip to California – if we get to do that?

   “How does that sound?”

   “I think it’ll be good to take some time, and really consider where we want it to go. That sounds okay to me.”

   “So, okay, any other unfinished business?”

   “Just this problem that I’ve spent a really glorious two weeks with my best friend and lover, and now I have to leave him, and might not see him again for almost a month.”

   Greg put his arm around her, and pulled her close. “Yeah, that’s not very good, is it? It has been an amazing time, hasn’t it? It seems like it can’t get any better, and then… “

   “Yeah, and then!”


   Nancy’s parents picked Vic up early Sunday morning, and drove the girls to the bus station. The streets were still snow covered, and there was a little snow in the air, but nothing that seemed too threatening. The bus wasn’t likely to have any trouble on the interstate to Pocatello.

   Greg was suddenly feeling a little lost. “I guess I should see if I can get back out to the refuge,” he said.

   “Why don’t you stay overnight,” Chuck suggested, ”and let the Andersons amuse you for another evening? We can go out together in the government truck in the morning, and see how the road conditions are. You won’t really need your car out there for a day or so.”

   Greg agreed.


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