I just grabbed a cup of coffee and the newspaper from the office and closed the door. The Royal Order of the 21sters has its small headquarters at the Crabby Coffee Shop. Not much, but that’s fine with us. There was a knock and the door opened.
There stood a man of winter himself, and the great holy day of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. You could practically smell the snowmobile exhaust on this guy’s parka. His beard was streaked with Pall Malls or charcoal ash or both and was so broad and unkempt that it brought into play the possibility that he didn’t have a neck.
“What?” It seemed dry and it was, but it was the Crabby Coffee Shop, where chatter and niceties are frowned upon.
“I’m here to apologize.”
“I know you?”
âYou know my type,â he said.
He sat down in front of the table and explained. He thought the Royal Order was stupid, just ridiculous. Like many, he belittled our harmless illusion, the idea that spring begins on December 22, the day we finally gain a few seconds of daylight.
Bill, his name was, said he moved from Minneapolis somewhere up north, and it wasn’t for me to know where, just why.
“Did you want to get away from the crime?” “
“No. I moved because I loved winter so much that I wanted more!
We hear that from time to time at the Order, but not often. Most members have had a time in their life when they made the most of the winter. Well, if I could skate without my knees flexing, I would still enjoy the winter, well, a little.
Bill ran a hand through the beard’s bird’s nest and let his shoulders slump. If we weren’t at the Crabby Coffee Shop, I might have said something heartwarming, like “Merry Christmas” or “Oh, come on, that can’t be that bad.” “
âBasically,â Bill said, âI got tired of the dark, dark in the morning, dark in the afternoon, cold, gray, and when you see the sun it’s unobtainable, too. flat. There are a lot of mornings when I have to shovel my way from the house to my workshop in the barn. Damn, I think it’s 1886.
We call people like Bill converts. The darkness of winter is catching up with our years and our years are getting rarer and rarer. Hence the magic of being a 21ster. Every day now we are gaining light, or as the 21sters say to themselves at the solstice, “we made it”.
âI sell everything,â Bill said, âmy sleds, my spear house, my ice house, my ice auger, my snowshoes, my cross country skis, whatever you want. Gonedo.
“A spear house?” “
âYeah, well. Do I have to take an oath or whatever, wear a uniform? “
âNot at all. You’ve already done what you have to do. You’ve seen the light, so to speak.
“I feel a little better, I have to admit.”
For the first time since entering our modest headquarters, Bill smiled. Hard to say with that wild mountain beard but it looked like a smile.
“How much more daylight? “
âIt’s just a few seconds every day for a few days,â I said. âBut it is being built. Let’s put it this way. On Super Bowl Sunday, you’ll think it’s July 4th.
“So, are you going to go back to the cities?” “
“No. Too many crimes.
As I left I heard him say “Merry Christmas” and in a rare moment of collegiality from the Crabby Coffee Shop, he had returned to him.