At two-thirty, Mitford's Main Street Grill
had fed the breakfast and lunch crowds and
was officially closed. However, due to pressing
business, three regulars and owner Percy Mosely
were still hanging around.
"Four inches an' more comin'!" announced Percy,
who was waiting for a sausage delivery from down
the mountain. He squinted through the steamy front
window at the swirling snowfall. The flakes were
large and powdery, reminding him of when he was a
kid living in Piney Cove.
"I'm goin' to step out a minute," he said, grabbing
his green jacket. "If th' phone rings, call me."
Father Tim Kavanagh, J. C. Hogan, and Mule
Skinner would have been glad to get back to work,
or even knock off early and go home, but the mayor
had recruited them as an advisory committee on the
expansion of downtown parking, and their report
was due tomorrow.
J.C., the editor of the Mitford Muse, wiped his face
with a paper napkin. He was sweating this one; he'd
never been on an advisory committee before and he
wanted to think smart and look good. It wasn't
every day that a newspaper editor had a chance to
be splashed across his own front page.
"The ballpark is the only answer," said J.C.
"Given its central location on Main Street, it'd bring
traffic in from th' whole county. Besides, it's crazy to
Now off retail dollars to maintain a hokey little ball-park."
"Hokey?" said Father Tim.
"You leave th' ballpark alone!" Mule felt his
blood pressure shooting through the roof. "I don't
want to hear ballpark again in this dadgum conversation!"
"Stop acting like a bunch of old women!" said J.C.
"We can always get land for another ballpark, but
we'll never get another chance like this for downtown
parking. It's time to expand our infrastructure."
"Infrastructure?" said Mule. "Gag me with a forklift.
Where's Percy? Percy's th' oldest business on
th' street and do you think he'd go for tearin' down
th' ballpark to get a few more warm bodies in here?
Nossir, and nobody else will, either."
Mule got up and sprinted to the door, opening it
to a blast of cold air.
"Percy! Can you step in here a minute?"
"Tell 'em I'll call back!" Percy was hunkered
down at the edge of the sidewalk, building a snow,
man. "Come out here and help me knock this thing
out, there's a contest on th' street!"
Mule looked south on Main Street. Somebody
was working on a snowman in front of the Collar
Button, and down at Winnie Ivey's Sweet Stuff
Bakery there was a whole hive of activity. He peered
at Happy Endings Bookstore next door and saw
Hope Winchester rolling out the midsection of a
snowman as if her life depended on it.
Mule shivered in his knit golf shirt. "Is there a
prize in this contest?"
"Somebody said maybe a snow shovel from th'
hardware an' a dozen doughnuts from Winnie's."
"Split th' doughnuts and I'll give you a hand."
"Step on it!" said Percy. "An' get th' father an'
J.C. out here."
* * *
Uncle Billy Watson slogged to the Grill with his
pant legs stuffed into his galoshes and his wife's felt
hat jammed onto his head. He also wore gloves with
both thumbs missing; under an ancient coat of his
own, Rose's deceased brother's military jacket displayed
a variety of tarnished war medals.
"I was hopin' you'd have a
loaf of bread a feller could take
home," the old man told Percy.
Uncle Billy's arthritic fingers
clutched three dimes, a nickel,
and two pennies, which he thought
was a fair price. "I'll pay cash money, don't you
"Go on in an' take it offa th' shelf," said Percy. To
tell the truth, he was tired of Bill Watson gouging a
loaf of bread out of him every week for the last hundred
years, but he wouldn't fret over it now, being
the time of year it was.
"What y'uns doin'?" asked Uncle Billy.
Father Tim scooped another shovelful of snow.
"There's a snowman contest on Main Street, and
Percy wants to nab the prize for the Grill." He was
huffing like a steam engine and had lost feeling in
most of his fingers and toes.
Uncle Billy surveyed the creation in front of
him. "Only thing is, hit's naked as a jaybird."
"Right," said Father Tim. "Needs two eyes, a
noseyou know, the basics."
* * *
"Needs a hat is more like it," said Uncle Billy.
"What's th' prize?"
"Doughnuts. Maybe a snow shovel, but definitely
"Doughnuts!" said Uncle Billy. "Would that be
plain or glazed?"
* * *
Mayor Esther Cunningham parked her SUV in
front of the post office, pulled on a crocheted hat
that was gathering dust in the glove compartment,
and marched across the street to Happy Endings.
Having noticed that small groups of people were
gathered up and down the sidewalk, she intended to
investigate the commotion.
"What do you think?" asked a beaming Hope
Winchester, flushed and frozen.
"I think it's terrific!" said the mayor, peering at a
snowman with a book on its head. "What's its
The mayor stood back and
looked again, thoughtful,
then foraged in her
pocketbook. "If that snowman's
goin' to read, he needs a
decent pair of glasses. I was goin' to run Ray's old
specs up to Hope House, but see what you can do
"Mayor!" bawled Percy. "Come on over!"
The mayor trotted next door to the Grill. "Why,
look here! A whole caboodle of snowmen!" Three
snow figures stood proudly in the space between
the bench and the newspaper box.
"Who does this 'un look like?" asked Uncle Billy,
who was now minus part of his clothes and lacking
"I hate to say it, but that's Rose Watson made
The old man grinned. "Hit's her spit image!"
"I helped," said Father Tim, feeling proud and
modest at the same time.
"An' who d'you think this is?" asked Percy.
The mayor squinted at the next snowman. "Let's
see, now ."
"Here's a clue," said Percy, jerking his thumb toward
himself. He wished he could quit grinning like
"It was my idea to put the pot on its head," said
J.C. "Now lookit! Who's this?"
"Shoot, I'd recognize that face anywhere! It's
Bill Sprouse over at First Baptist."
"No ma'm," said Uncle Billy, "hit ain't Preacher
Sprouse, hit's J. C., don't you know."
J.C. blew on his red hands. "We figured tree
lights were kind of different, a little somethin' to
catch the judge's eye."
"Who's th' judge?" asked the mayor, feeling out
of the loop. Wasn't this her town? How did these
things happen without anybody saying doodley-squat
to her? Next thing you knew, they'd be running
the place themselves and doing a bum job of it.
"Hope, who's the judge of this thing?" the mayor
"I don't know," said Hope, adjusting the eyeglasses
on her entry. "I saw everybody else doing it,
so I thought I would, too."
"Mule, go find out who's the judge!" commanded
the mayor. Mule hated how the mayor got
her way on nearly everything.
In three minutes, he was back, panting from the
"There's not a judge. People saw everybody else
doin' it and that's how it happened. Winnie down at
Sweet Stuff, she started it. Somebody asked her to
be th' judge, but she didn't want th' responsibility."
"Then I'll be the judge!" boomed the mayor.
"Don't even fool with goin' down th' block," said
Uncle Billy. "They ain't no use to judge anybody's
but our'n." He brushed snow off the bench so the
mayor could have a seat. "You got your top winners
"As judge of the First Annual Mitford Snowman
Jubilee," proclaimed the mayor, "I declare every entrant
a winner, with free doughnuts and hot chocolate
for everybody on the street!"
At the sound of whistles and cheers, she
launched two fists into the air with thumbs up, a
campaign tactic she'd always favored.
The heck with her penny-pinching
council, she thought, storming
along in her fleece-lined boots
to the Sweet Stuff Bakery. As
the happy crowd fell in behind
her, she calculated how she'd gouge the money out
of the Parks and Recreation Committee. If that
failed, she'd find the measly few bucks somewhere;
after all, wasn't this her town, and wouldn't such a
gesture be good for business in general? She drew
herself up proudly as she advanced toward the bakery.
Bottom line, didn't Mitford take care of its own?
She was still huffing from her block-and-a-half
gallop as the twenty-six people in her wake formed
an excited but orderly queue at Sweet Stuff Bakery.
Mule opened the door. "Age after beauty," he
said to the mayor. "You go first!"
"I'll do no such thing," she pronounced, grabbing
the door and holding it open herself.
Just then, the town Christmas lights switched
on at their appointed hour. And suddenly, the
whole of Main Street was softly illumined against