The White Rind Township

“So,” Curtis said, brushing a wisp of straw from his father’s best coat. “What about this one?”

Rose looked up from the trousers she had been stuffing with straw, and wrinkled her nose in brief thought.

“He’s a parson,” she said. “Smith, I think. Smith’s a good name for a parson.”

“It is,” Curtis agreed, laughing. “Parson Smith it is, then.”

It was a good name, and a good profession as well. Curtis had always thought their father looked particularly… well, fatherly in his Sunday best.

Satisfied, Curtis lifted the creature. Its body was simply a straw-stuffed suit, so it wasn’t incredibly heavy, but its pumpkin head lolled about awkwardly as he held it. The white paint he had slathered across the squash had barely dried, but he’d somehow still managed to sketch a face onto it with charcoal. It wore a grin– knowing and kindly, if not a tiny bit condescending. A parson’s grin.

Curtis grinned as well as he held Parson Smith before him. They didn’t have snow down here in the lowlands, but they still had winter, and the crowless fields and worrisome murmurs of poor harvests, tight pockets, and bland suppers meant winter had come once again. And what was a winter without snowmen? Snow or no snow, a winter without snowmen wasn’t much of a winter at all.

“Where should our Parson go?”

Rose sighed, but looked about the barn for a good place for the thing. She pointed toward a pair of similar, though smaller pumpkin-headed straw people lounging on a bale against the barn’s far wall.

“Over there, next to the Simmon twins,” she said. “They cause trouble sometimes, but not when the Parson’s around. It’s bad luck.”

“It is,” Curtis agreed again. He dragged the parson over to the twins and sat him between them. He turned to Rose, who was back at work stuffing the trousers. “He needs a bible. Remind me to fetch one when we’re done.”

She looked down at the trousers in her hands, and frowned. “I don’t think this is like building snowmen at all, Curtis. And I don’t think Ma n’ Pa would care much for us making scarecrows out of all our clothes.”

“Nonsense,” Curtis said. “This is just like building snowmen.”

“You’ve never even seen snow!”

It was true, but it didn’t matter. Curtis had heard of snowmen. He’d heard of winters elsewhere, where the cold brought joy and imagination instead of sparsity and concern. Those winters had snowmen, and theirs would, too.

Rose slumped her shoulders. “Can we be done?”

“Not yet,” Curtis said, nodding toward the nearly empty clothesbasket at Rose’s feet. “We’ve got one shirt left.”

Rose sighed yet again, but obediently continued stuffing the trousers with straw.

“I bet we’ve made a dozen and a half of these things already.”

It was a good guess. Curtis wasn’t exactly sure himself how many of the things lounged about the barn. It had become a busy place, despite the stillness. A place of motion and life, constructed from neither. Curtis smiled.

“And what a township they are.”

Curtis joined his sister on the bale she was sitting on, and hoisted another pumpkin into his lap. He pinched the paint can between his feet, pulled the sticky brush from the paint within, and began to coat the spoiling squash.

There wasn’t much paint left– probably just enough for this final snowman, but he didn’t think Father would mind. Curtis had repainted the whole fence last month, and there had been plenty of paint left over before today. Besides, they would have plenty of better things to worry about this winter than repainting the fence.

But the barn wasn’t a place for worry. Not this year. As he painted the pumpkin, he looked upon the life they had created. The scene might have been a dance, he thought, or perhaps a town meeting. Or perhaps something much more mundane– a simple slice of lowland town life.

There was Carlton, the farmer, who sat at the wheel of the great rusted tractor in the center of the barn. Amelia, his wife, leaned limply against the empty cattle stalls on the east wall, tending the imaginary cows that filled them. There were perhaps a dozen others, each with names and detailed jobs that he had already forgotten. And, of course, there was Cyril, who hung from the loft by a single arm of Curtis’ best formal shirt. Cyril was Curtis’ favorite– he’d always thought of the stiff shirt Mother made him wear to church as his monkey suit, so watching it swing from the loft felt especially right.

By the time Curtis had finished painting the pumpkin and drawing a face, Rose had stuffed the final pair of trousers and the last shirt in the clothesbasket. She watched, silent, as Curtis pinned the clothes together, jammed a stick into the pumpkin, and tightly tied the collar of the shirt to the makeshift neck with a piece of ratty twine.

“And what about this one?” Curtis asked, holding the new snowman up. Wearing Father’s long nightshirt over Mother’s tough gardening trousers, it was an odd ensemble.

“Why, he’s the drunk, of course,” Rose said. “Hemsley’s his name.”

Curtis balked.

“What, is Hemsley a bad name?”

“Of course not. It’s perfect,” Curtis said. “But a drunk?”

Rose just shrugged. “Every township needs a drunk.”

“Of course,” Curtis laughed. “Wouldn’t be a proper township without one, would it?” He looked around the barn. “And where should our drunk go?”

“Just toss him anywhere,” Rose said. “Face-down, I think would be best.”

Laughing, Curtis did just that. With a gentle toss, Hemsley landed face-down on the floor and tied the scene together in an oddly complete way. Curtis looked to Rose, who looked upon the township with half-lidded eyes. It was still early, but she had already worked quite hard today.

“Want to go watch TV?”

She brightened a bit, but concern replaced her small grin. “But Ma said you couldn’t until you finished your chores.”

“Only had one today,” Curtis said, grabbing the empty clothesbasket and tucking it in the crook of his arm. “Just finished it.”

Rose looked at him, eyebrow raised. “Your chore was building snowmen?”

“Of course not,” Curtis said, grinning. He reached out his free hand, and tentatively, Rose took it. He pulled her to her feet, and as she brushed straw free from her plain dress, Curtis looked once more upon the barnful of snowless snowmen that wore his family’s clothes.

“It was laundry.”