Orchids in the Snow
By Rosa Lee Lloyd
Synopsis: Sharry and Sam Wynter, newlyweds from Utah, make many friends in their new home in Alaska, including Angus McFarland, a widower, his daughter Marie, and Susan and Herman Elge from Bristol Bay. Sister Jensen, President of the branch Relief Society in Fairbanks, introduces Sharon to Mary Billings, who is blind, and to other neighbors. Sharon and Sam repair a log cabin for their home, and Marie comes from Anchorage to visit them. When Sharon finds that she is expecting a child, she sends for Aunt Jewel, a nurse. McFarland brings Jewel from Anchorage to Fairbanks in his plane. Later, when Sharon is feeling well enough to travel, the Wynters, Marie, and Aunt Jewel go to visit McFarland and Herman and Susan Elge in Bristol Bay. Jewel leaves for a ten-mile trip by dog team at once after their arrival to nurse a very ill woman.
Sharry was awakened by the shrieking storm. The radium hands of her wrist watch were the only speck of light in the black night. It was after midnight.
“Sam,” she called. “Are you awake, dear?”
He sat up rubbing his eyes. “Some wind! Sounds like a steam roller!”
“It’s awful. I’m scared for Aunt Jewel.”
“Yes – I hope they make it okay. Listen to that ice splinter against the windows!”
He got out of bed and made his way to the living room in the darkness. Sharry slipped on her robe, following him. Marie was there already.
“I’ll get the storm lantern,” she said. “It’s in the kitchen. This sounds like a real shocker.”
Sharry and Sam dressed hurriedly while Marie got the lantern.
“Put on your parka,” Sam told her. “It’s freezing. We can’t build a fire with this wind running wild.”
Sam was eyeing the big front window overlooking the bay. It was creaking and moaning with each furious blast of wind.
“We’ll have to break it,” Marie said. “Help me get the iron grating and the two-by-fours from the storage hall. The wind is off the Bay. Hear the waves lashing!”
“Stay here, honey,” Sam told Sharry. He pushed her gently into the leather chair. “Here – cover up with this blanket.”
“But I want to help,” Sharry cried.
There was a thunderous roar on the roof.
“There goes the chimney!” Marie called. “The wires holding it have snapped. I’m glad the fire was out. Here, Sharry, guard this lantern. If the wind catches the flame, smother it with your blanket.”
They disappeared into the blackness. Sharry shivered as she watched the lantern. Suddenly the wind swept through the fireplace, raced through the living room, tumbling everything loose in its path. It roared into the kitchen, banging kettles on their hooks, sweeping dishes and glasses to the floor. Sharry was terrified. Aunt Jewel was out there somewhere in this awful storm. Oh, please, dear Heavenly Father, she prayed, bless her and McFarland and all of us.
Sam and Marie worked furiously to reinforce the windows. Sharry tried to help them, but Marie pushed her out of the way.
“Watch that lantern!” she demanded. “That’s your job.”
Marie was her father’s daughter, fighting like a little tigress hour after hour. Sam worked right along with her, lugging the huge pieces of lumber, bracing them in exactly the right places.
“That’s perfect, Sam,” Sharry heard Marie’s voice above the storm. “I wouldn’t have known enough to put it there.”
Sam knows so many things, Sharry thought. He always figures everything exactly right.
The lantern flame flickered, then flamed to the top of the chimney. Sharry screamed to them.
“Get under the blanket with it,” Marie called back. “Don’t be such a fraidy cat!”
“But I am afraid!” Sharry cried out. “I can’t help it. Aunt Jewel is out there freezing, and you say not to be afraid. It sounds crazy!”
There was a lull in the storm. Marie turned to Sharry in the weird silence that followed. Her face was strained in the lantern light. Her freckles were spots of gold in her pale face.
“Listen, Sharry,” she said, in a deadly, solemn voice. “This is life in Bristol. I was reared in this country, and it’s no joy ride. Jewel might as well know what it’s like before she marries my Dad!”
“I hope she doesn’t marry him!” Sharry replied angrily. “I hope she has better sense than to marry him and live in this wild forsaken place – I’d rather die …”
Her voice broke in little pieces. Sam was staring at her, his blue eyes stricken as though she had struck him physically.
“Oh, no!” she closed her eyes against his look. “I didn’t mean it – please forgive me …”
The wind rose again in sudden fury, drowning her voice. Sam reached for another blanket and tucked it around her before he turned again to the windows.
Gradually the wind whined to a low moan, then finally stopped.
‘It’s gone out to sea,” Marie said, throwing herself on the lounge. “It won’t come back tonight. The windows are safe, Sam. The roof is still on. We can sleep in peace.”
Sam lifted Sharry in his arms and carried her into the bedroom.
“It’s been too much for you,” he said in his tender way. His eyes avoided hers. She knew he was deeply hurt by what she had said, but he did not mention it. He slept exhaustedly.
Sharry awakened at ten o’clock the next morning. The sky, from the bedroom window, was a dim wash of gold above the Bay.
She closed the door and hurried to the kitchen, hoping to get the broken glasses and dishes swept up before Sam and Marie awakened.
The delicious odor of frying food greeted her as she went in.
“Susan! How good to see you. You’ve cleaned up in here.”
Susan was cooking on a small, portable oil stove. She smiled at Sharry.
“I heard the chimney tumble so I knew the range couldn’t be used. I brought my little stove. You need something hot, dear. This is powdered milk but it tastes real good.”
Sharry sat on the stool, sipping the hot milk.
“Try a piece of this fried mush,” Susan urged her. “It’s crispy good with jam.”
“I – can’t eat,” Sharry murmured.
“I know,” Susan said. “Storms are upsetting. It used to take me days to get over one when we first came here.”
“The storm was awful,” Sharry said, “but it wasn’t just the storm. I said something mean – I wish I hadn’t …”
Brokenly she told Susan how she had flared out at Marie; that Sam had heard what she said. Now he knew how she felt about living in Alaska.
Susan turned another piece of mush, then she sat down in a chair opposite Sharry.
“Life is full of storms,” she said, her dark eyes tender with understanding. “We must ride them out, Sharry. Prayerfully and trustingly. Don’t ever let a shadow of any kind come between you and your husband. He is God’s blessing to you. You must always come first with each other.”
The clock on the table ticked on steadily. Sharry looked at Susan’s toilworn hands folded in her lap. Her face was lined and looked older than her years. She was only Jewel’s age. Time was running out for her husband, and she knew it. Each tick of the clock brought the parting nearer. And yet – Susan’s eyes were those of a woman who looks beyond the trials of each day toward some brighter tomorrow.
“We have had a good life together, Herman and I.” Her voice was so low Sharry bent her head to hear her. “We have fought things through together, storm or shine, sick or well. Herman always put med first. That to me is the sweetest part of marriage – you always come first with each other. What does it matter where you have to live if you have each other?”
Sharry couldn’t speak for the great hot lump in her throat. She held Susan’s hand for a long, quiet moment. Then Susan lifted her head. Her eyes held a new promise.
“I have sent for my son Swenson,” she said. “He should be here this week. That will make Marie happy, I hope.”
“Marie?” Sharry questioned as a little bell tinkled in her mind. Marie had told her she was in love with a boy who thought she was still a little girl. It must be Swenson!
“He has told us of girl friends,” Susan went on. “But there is no special girl. Does Marie have a special boy?”
Sharry shook her head.
“I think she has been waiting for Swenson,” she confided. “But that’s her secret. Susan, it would be wonderful for you if Swenson stayed here in Bristol.”
Susan’s face sobered. “That is too much to hope for,” she answered. “He is a surgeon. The hospital in Anchorage needs surgeons. I will be contented if he is there.”
The door opened and Marie came in. She looked fresh as a rosebud with no traces of the strenuous night on her bright face.
“Umm! Fried mush. My favorite,” she said. “Have you tried it, Sharry?”
“No – but I will,” Sharry said as Sam came in.
“Try what?” he laughed. “Susan, you’re a great cook. I’m hungry as a bear!”
He stooped to kiss Sharry. “How’s my sweetheart?” He asked her as though that was the most important thing in the world.
“Fine,” she answered, smiling up at him. He was clear-eyed and happy this morning. Sharry wondered if he had really forgotten what she had said to Marie last night. Maybe he hadn’t heard, she thought, hopefully. But she was still heartsick about it, wondering what he was really thinking under his pleasant manner. Sam was like that. He thought things through carefully before he discussed them.
During the next two days, everyone worked strenuously to get everything back to normal before Jewel and McFarland returned. There had been no word from them, and by the third day Sharry’s eyes were constantly anxious as she stood at the window peering through field glasses into the blue darkness.
“They are all right,” Susan assured her. “I feel it – here. I have a good feeling when I think of them.”
Marie said, “Come on, Sharry. Get your guitar. Let’s sing for Uncle Herman. You, too, Sam,” she called. He was enjoying McFarland’s books that lined the walls of the den. “We need your harmony.”
“That’s quite a library,” Sam said, as he sat down beside them. “He has every kind of book from encyclopedias to the latest fiction.”
“Yes,” Marie said. “My Dad has a theory. He says that to be a successful Alaskan you have to like to read a book. So you’re a successful Alaskan, Sam.” Her eyes met his with frank admiration. “In every way, I’d say. Very successful.”
Sharry looked at Sam. He winced. He put the book he had brought with him on the table. His smile was forced. Where was his boyish grin? she wondered. Sam usually liked a real compliment. He’s hurt deep inside, she thought with a little stab. He hasn’t forgotten what I said last night about Alaska.
“What song shall we sing, Uncle Herman?” Marie asked.
Susan arranged the pillows so Herman was in a sitting position. As Sharry watched them her throat tightened. How wistfully Herman looked at Susan as though treasuring every minute of his time with her, grateful for all the rugged years they had shared together. Sharry had realized in the last two days that Herman was a man of dauntless faith. It was the courage in his ready smile in spite of pain, in the unconquerable lift of his chin, and it was always shining in his loving blue eyes when Susan was near him. It was faith and courage that gave his voice a confident, lilting ring when he sang with them, forgetting the weakness of his failing body, strumming his guitar along with Sharry and Marie. Sharry was grateful for her own unwavering belief in eternal life when she watched Herman and Susan. Such love as theirs would never die, even though Herman would leave her for a while. They would be together again. So they could all sing bravely and cheerfully together.
“I like the ballads,” Herman said. “They have a rhythm to them. You take the first verse, Marie, and we’ll come in for the chorus.”
“Okay!” Sam said. “Swing off, Marie. Let’s start with ‘Ballad of Rocky Point.’”
They were still singing an hour later when the sound of dogs barking came across the snow. Then a long “Hellooo” in McFarland’s voice.
Marie ran to the door. “Hellooooo!” she called back.
McFarland and Jewel came in smiling, their faces the color of ripe peaches and their eyes shining. A little halo of happiness glowed around them. McFarland’s laugh was like big bells chiming.
“Greatest trip of my life!” he said, swinging Jewel’s hands. “the wind peppered the sleet against us like cold lead, the dogs were mean as wolves, but we plugged on. We finally got there, near morning. Katie was mighty sick. I was afraid we were too late. But Jewel pulled her through. I’ve never seen anyone, except Susan, work as hard as Jewel did to save a life. Massage, hot packs – you must have used a ton of mustard, Jewel.”
“Not quite,” she laughed. “But a mustard plaster is still mighty good for congestion. We had no professional medication– I had to ask myself what grandmother Haskell would do in a case like this.”
“I remembered you used hot fish oil last year, Susan,” McFarland added.
“She needs her tonsils out, too,” Jewel explained.
“I told Johnny to bring her in as soon as she can travel sled,” McFarland went on. “We’ll fly her to the hospital in Anchorage.”
“Wait for Swen,” Susan said unexpectedly. “He’ll be here this week. He can do it right here in the kitchen.”
Marie dropped the poker she had been using in the fireplace. Her blue eyes were fire-bright, as she looked up at Susan. Sharry knew he was the one Marie loved.
McFarland listened while they told about the windstorm.
“It was a dilly,” Marie said. “But afterwards it was nice and calm, as usual. Sam got up on the roof and mended the chimney so we can use it.”
“We need a lot of new things,” McFarland said. He reached for Jewel’s hands again, drawing her close to him. “I want everything new and wonderful for Jewel.”
He drew a long deep breath. Everyone was staring at them.
“Jewel has promised to marry me and live here in Bristol with me,” he said. His voice was rich with love and price. ‘I am the luckiest man in the world to have a wife like Jewel.”
Jewel’s eyes were tear-drenched with happiness and fulfillment.
“I am the lucky one,” she said, softly. “Sharry, remember – I caught your bouquet. I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.”
“But it did, Aunt Jewel!” Sharry breathed. “It really did. We are so glad!”
McFarland included them all in his big smile.
“Jewel and I are leaving tonight and flying to Los Angeles to be married in the temple. We have missed too many years together already, but …” he held his hand up, “we’ll return immediately for a wedding reception right here in Bristol Village.”
His voice mellowed as he looked at Herman and Susan. “Herman will be my best man,” he said, his eyes holding Herman’s in a long look of tender understanding. We all know what a wedding reception means to the people of Bristol Bay. It must be just the kind they want, the kind to which they are accustomed. Jewel has agreed with me on this. We wouldn’t cheat them out of it, if we had to fly around the world to get back. Susan knows how everything should be done. Marie, too.”
Marie’s eyes were dancing approval.
“Oh, goodie!” she cried, as she put her strong young arms around Jewel and hugged her tightly. “I think you’re just perfect for my Dad. Now I have two Mamas. Mama Sue and Mama Jewel. Am I a lucky girl!”
“You are!” Sam joined in. “A mighty lucky girl!”
McFarland put his parka on again.
“I’ll have to send messages from the radio station. And see that my plane is in tip-top condition to fly to Anchorage. We’ll take the jet plane from there. There’s a lot of planning to do for a wedding,” he said in his commanding way. “We must all get busy. Sam, ride sled with me while the girls get dinner.”
Sharry stood close by while Sam put on his heavy boots, parka, and fur cap.
“Hurry back,” she whispered as he stooped to kiss her.
He put his hand under her chin, tipping her face so he could look at her. His eyes were deep blue question marks as he went out into the azure darkness of the winter afternoon.