By this time, I had been walking to town by myself for at least two years. I would go for milk or thread or some other item for my mother. I walked to town for a haircut each month. Harley Graham had a barbershop on Main Street, which ran perpendicular to the river. Harley’s shop had striped barber poles on each side of the front window. The window was frosty in the cold winter.
Harley was an old man, at least 50, when I was a child. His own thin hair, combed across his head, was held in place by a green visor that he wore at work. He clipped, scissors in one hand and comb in the other, as he talked to men who sat in the line of chairs opposite the barber chair and the wall-length mirror behind it. The men were not always waiting for haircuts, they came to the barbershop for a few minutes of conversation. They would step in from the cold and shiver as they sat in one of the chairs. Harley would greet each one of them, and they would talk for a few minutes. In this winter they talked about the cold. They didn’t talk to me, although if Harley and I were alone, he would hum a stream of sentences directed less at me than at his own thoughts. Harley was a talker.
Downtown was not far from our house. I crossed the railroad tracks and walked down the low hill to the end of our block, turned left at the Latter Day Saint’s church to walk another block, where I turned right at the corner of highway 2, where the Schakels had a large house. Only two more blocks from there, I would cross the highway to the center of town, where the barbershop was located next to the Gamble Store in the middle of Main. The walk took ten minutes each way and the haircut no more than 20 minutes, unless I had to wait for someone else to be finished.
This day, I was gone for well over an hour.
As I had walked down the block from the Schakels’ house, I saw huge stalactite-like icicles hanging from the lip of the roof of Rueben Mohr’s front porch. Some of these icicles were nearly five feet long and thick as a man’s leg. I was awed by them. I wanted one of those icicles. I studied the icicles on my way to my haircut and, while Harley clipped my hair, I thought about ways to collect one.
I have always been a collector, especially from nature but also of books, drawings, photographs, and most anything else that has an appealing shape or texture. Never before this day had I tried to collect an icicle. I had often popped icicles from overhangs, but those had been for the purpose of crunching with my teeth to feel the ice on my lips and cold melt water run over teeth. The icicles on Rueben Mohr’s house were not to crunch, they were to have.
I was determined to have one of these icicles. They were huge. I tried jumping up to them but couldn’t come close to their tips. Next I tried climbing up to them. The Mohr’s porch had half a wall. I thought I could climb onto the wall to the icicles, but the overhang of the roof extended far enough out from the wall that I couldn’t reach them. I resorted to snowballs. I threw snowball after snowball. The few that hit the icicles had no effect. Most crashed softly against the front of the Mohr’s house.
I don’t know how long Rueben Mohr had been watching me. He came out of his house, and we talked about the icicles. He said he should have knocked them off. They were dangerous. “Wait a minute,” he said and went back into his house. He came out with a broom. When he poked at the icicles they didn’t budge. Finally, he used the broom like a baseball bat and whacked one icicle. It cracked from the roof and broke into pieces when it hit the ground. That one wouldn’t serve my purposes. When he whacked the next one, it came as smoothly from the roof as a baby tooth comes from a child’s mouth. The icicle landed sideways in snow. It was nearly whole and nearly as tall as me. I thanked Rueben, and hugged the icicle to my body as I walked away.
Carrying the icicle was clumsy and cold. I went slowly. The icicle melted against me. I stumbled once and dropped it, breaking several inches from its tip. I tried to drag it. It kept slipping from my cold hands. It took forever to go the two blocks to our street. I carried the icicle across my chest, going as fast as I could. I had to stop to rest. Finally, I made it home.
“Where have you been?” my mother said. “I’ve been worried about you.”
I told her the story of the icicle. “What are you going to do with it?” she asked.