In South Alabama, winter sometimes doesn’t come at all; autumn turns to a spring a few days long, then summer comes again.
But that year autumn turned to winter. We had two weeks of the coldest weather since 1885, Atticus said.
One morning I awoke, looked out the window and nearly died of fright. My screams brought Atticus from his bathroom half-shaven.
«The world’s endin’, Atticus! Please do something-!» I dragged him to the window and pointed.
«No it’s not,» he said. «It’s snowing.»
Jem had never seen snow either, but he knew what it was. He wanted to know if the snow would go on falling. Atticus said he didn’t know any more about snow than Jem did. «But I think, if it’s watery like that, it’ll turn to rain.»
The telephone rang and Atticus left the breakfast table to answer it. «That was Eula May,» he said when he returned. «I quote — As it has not snowed in Maycomb County since 1885, there will be no school today’.»
Eula May was Maycomb’s chief telephone operator. He duties included making public announcements, wedding invitations, setting off the fire siren, and giving first-aid instructions when Dr. Reynolds was away.
When Atticus finally called us to order and asked us to look at our plates instead of out the windows, Jem asked, «How do you make a snowman?»
Atticus said that he didn’t want to disappoint us, but he thought that there wouldn’t be enough snow for a snowball, even.
When we ran to the back yard, it was covered with a very thin layer of soggy snow. Jem said if we waited until it snowed some more, we could scrape it all up for a snowman. I caught a fat flake with my tongue. It burned.
«Jem, it’s hot!»
«No, it ain’t, it’s so cold it bums. Now don’t eat it, Scout, you’re wasting it. Let it come down.»
«But I want to walk in it.»
«I know what, we can go walk over at Miss Maudie’s.»
Jem hopped across the front yard. I followed in his tracks.
Miss Maudie was covering her azaleas with some bags. Jem asked her if we could borrow some of her snow.
«Heavens alive, take it all!» Miss Maudie’s eyes narrowed. «Jem Finch, what are you going to do with my snow?»
«You’ll see,» said Jem, and we carried as much snow as we could from Miss Maudie’s yard to ours.
«What are we gonna do, Jem?» I asked.
«You’ll see,» he said. «Now get the basket and haul all the snow from the back yard to the front. Walk back in your tracks,» he warned.
Jem himself began digging earth in the back yard. When we had five baskets of earth and two baskets of snow, Jem said we were ready to begin. He constructed a torso from dirt, then he made a big stomach below the figure’s waistline.
His eyes were laughing, and he said, «Mr. Avery’s sort of shaped like a snowman, ain’t he?» Mr. Avery lived on our street, and he said that the cold weather was our fault: we hadn’t behaved well.
Jem scooped up some snow and began plastering it on. He permitted me to cover only the back, saving the public parts for himself. Gradually Mr. Avery turned white.
For eyes, nose, mouth, and buttons Jem used bits of wood.
«It’s lovely, Jem,» I said. «Looks almost like he’d talk to you.»
When Atticus saw Jem’s creation, he said, «I didn’t know how you were going to do it, but from now on I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea.»
Our father stepped back, looked at the snowman a while, then laughed. «Son, I can’t tell what you’re going to be — an engineer, a lawyer, or a portrait painter. This is a near libel here in the front yard. We’ve got to disguise this fellow.»
Atticus advised Jem to hone down his creation’s front a little, add a broom and put an apron on him.
Jem explained that if he did, the snowman would become dirty and not a snowman.
«I don’t care what you do, but do something,» said Atticus. «You can’t make caricatures of the neighbors.»
«I know what!» said Jem. He ran across the street, disappeared into Miss Maudie’s back yard and returned triumphant. He put her sunhat on the snowman’s head and jammed her hedge-clippers into his arm. Atticus said that would be fine.
Miss Maudie opened her front door and came out on the porch. She looked across the street at us. Suddenly she laughed. «Jem Finch,» she called. «You devil, bring me back my hat, sir!»
Jem looked up at Atticus, who shook his head. «She’s just fussing,» he said. «She’s really impressed with your creation.»
Atticus walked over to Miss Maudie’s sidewalk, where they started an arm-waving conversation. I caught only one phrase of it: «…constructed an absolute morphodite in that yard! Atticus, you’ll never raise ’em!»
The snow stopped in the afternoon, the temperature dropped. Calpurnia kept every fireplace in the house burning, but we were cold. Before I went to sleep, Atticus put more coal on the fire in my room. He said the thermometer registered sixteen, that it was the coldest night in his memory, and that our snowman outside was frozen solid.
In the middle of the night, Atticus woke me up. He told me to get dressed quickly and to put on my bathrobe and coat. Jem was standing beside Atticus. He was holding his overcoat closed at the neck.