Sincere thanks to Suzan.
Ken Hutchinson was pacing the apartment, unmistakably in one of his bordering-on-sullen moods. “I don’t want to go to Duluth, Starsk. It’ll be all phony Christmas shit, like when I was a kid.” He almost pouted. “Why can’t we go to Tahoe?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Dave Starsky didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “No phony Christmas shit in Tahoe, no siree, Bob!”
“At least, up there, they know it’s glitzy crap and commercialism.”
Starsky turned serious. “Listen to me for a minute, Hutch.” He caught his partner’s hand and pulled him down to sit next to him on the sofa. “I just have this feeling…”
To Starsky’s surprise, Hutch didn’t make light of the words or his tone. “That’s a normal condition with you, buddy.” A half-smile took potential sting out of the words. “Go on, though, I’m listening.”
“You should try to work out whatever’s wrong between you and your folks. They’re not getting any younger and, having nearly checked out from the plague yourself last month, you need to be at peace with them.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be.”
“Aw, Hutch –”
Hutch patted his knee and stood up. “All right, Starsk. We’ll go. But if it turns out as badly as I expect, I’ll never go back again!”
Starsky knew it was the best deal he was going to get. “I’ll make the reservations.”
At the airport the next day, Starsky was still trying to coax Hutch into a better frame of mind while they waited for a ticket agent to become available. “I thought they sounded pleased that we’re coming. Didn’t you?”
“Mother, possibly. Her voice didn’t have its usual tone of disapproval but I’m not sure I heard pleasure. Father just did his usual non-committal routine.”
A uniformed lady beckoned from behind the counter and Starsky hurried forward with Hutch slowly following. “Hutchinson, Starsky, Duluth, Minnesota. I made reservations yesterday.”
The clerk’s expression went from professionally helpful to guarded. “Are you aware of the major storm heading straight for the mid-west from northeastern Canada?” She appeared to be genuinely concerned. “They don’t usually come from that direction but it’s definitely on its way.”
Starsky and Hutch looked at each other; it was news to them.
“There’s a distinct possibility you’ll end up somewhere other than Duluth, gentlemen. That happens a lot this time of year, although we don’t often have to divert westward.”
“I still think we should go to Tahoe, Starsk.”
Starsky hoped Hutch was being facetious. “We’re going to your parents’ place, Hutch. Even if we have to rent snowshoes and walk from Fargo to get there.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Douglas from the flight deck again. It appears as if we’re going to be lucky this day-before-The-Day-Before-Christmas because we’ll be the final flight allowed to land in Duluth. As soon as we’re on the ground, they’ll be closing the airport to all incoming and outgoing traffic.” He laughed lightly over the intercom and dropped into an unofficial-sounding drawl. “Sure hope none of y’all were secretly wishin’ to end up in North Dakota, ’cause we’re gonna get you to your destination in spite of this mean-tempered storm. Merry Christmas, everybody, and fasten your seatbelts, please.”
Hutch’s expression said he was one of those ‘y’alls’. “I’d almost prefer Fargo right now.”
Starsky patted his partner’s knee. “Believe me, Hutch, this trip’s going to turn out to be great. Just give it a chance, okay?”
Starsky lost every trace of his good cheer at the rental car counter and groused all the way to the garage. “Fairlanes are terrible in snow! No weight, no power, sloppy steering. Might as well be in a stupid sleigh.”
“What do you even know about driving in this stuff, Starsky? You weren’t old enough for a license when you left New York and it never snows enough in Bay City to accumulate on the streets!”
“I aced the department’s driving course. You know that.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot. But, snow?”
“They create all kinds of conditions, including snow and ice. Where were you that week anyway? I don’t remember?”
Starsky’s grumpiness vanished when he heard his best friend’s tone of voice. Hutch’s grandfather had been the only bright light in his life before he left Duluth. Not wanting Hutch to dwell on the loss, Starsky forced a lightness into his next words. “And, somehow, you managed to avoid taking the course after you got back.”
Hutch had the grace to look embarrassed. “Yeah… I did.”
Starsky opened the trunk and they stowed their duffle bags before getting in the car. “Well, you’ll get your chance today to see how lousy a Fairlane is in these conditions.”
Hutch laid a hand on his shoulder. “I have every faith in you, partner. You aced the course.”
Starsky couldn’t remember the last time Hutch said anything good about his driving and he filed the near-compliment away before starting the car and pulling out of the garage into a full-fledged blizzard.
Traffic was snarled to say the least. Spun-out cars blocked entire lanes while almost every other vehicle that was still moving was creeping so slowly Starsky felt as if he’d already ground years’ worth of enamel off his back teeth, and they weren’t half-way there yet.
“We’re late, Starsk, and getting later. Father’s not going to be pleased.” Hutch cast Starsky a despairing look. “If dinner isn’t on the table at seven o’clock sharp, everyone hears about it.”
“You called from the airport. Maybe they’ll start without us. At least, that way, only our dinners’ll be cold.”
“Oh, no, you don’t know my father. He’ll delay the meal until we get there and then play the put-upon host all night. Wait and see.”
“Any way we can get around this mess and pick up a few minutes?”
Hutch directed Starsky onto less-traveled streets but the trip still took more than twice as long as he said it should have.
When they finally arrived, Starsky maneuvered carefully along the circular drive and stopped in front of the huge… ‘house’ couldn’t be the right word. ‘Mansion’? It sure was a beautiful scene, though. Low floodlights spaced around the yard lit snow-covered trees and bathed the front of the structure in brilliance. What appeared to be miles of garland were wrapped around railings and support poles and swagged along the eaves of the entire second floor. All of it was on the point of being torn off by the wind though. Bright red bows that were probably intended to anchor each point of attachment were, themselves, being subjected to the forces of a seriously-pissed-off Mother Nature.
There were multi-pronged electric candles in every one of the eleven normal-sized windows Starsky could see. A tall Christmas tree in the living room sparkled through the floor-to-ceiling beveled panes of the large bay that extended out onto the full-width-of-the-house porch. From Hutch’s viewpoint, it was probably a phony Christmas scene but it was Christmas, and Starsky loved it! He put his hand on Hutch’s arm. “It’s like Currier and Ives.”
“What do you know about Currier and Ives?” Before Starsky could counter, Hutch opened his door. “Come on. Let’s go face the music.”
Richard and Margaret Hutchinson were waiting for them inside the glass storm door. Richard reached forward and opened it as soon as Starsky and Hutch mounted the top step of the porch. The elder Hutchinson didn’t look very welcoming. Margaret’s expression wasn’t quite as ominous but Starsky’s stomach clenched anyway, all his happiness evaporating.
Once they were on the mat inside, their bags on the floor, Richard closed the door firmly behind them. “You’re late. Your mother’s been cooking all day and now dinner’s undoubtedly ruined.”
Hutch cast a surprised look at Margaret. “What happened to Mrs. Dudley?”
Richard didn’t wait for her to respond. “She retired last year. I thought we told you.”
Hutch shook his head. “No, you didn’t.” He looked at his mother again. “I’m sorry you went to so much trouble, Mother.”
“Oh, it was no trouble, really.” She almost smiled. “After all these years, I find I actually enjoy cooking.” She glanced at Richard but he didn’t meet her eyes.
Hutch took his jacket off and hung it on the hall tree. “We called from the airport, Father. You should have started without us.”
No hands were shaken, no hugs were exchanged. Hutch had told Starsky his sister, Lenore, and her two sons, Kevin, aged nine, and Trevor, aged seven, would be there. The three of them were standing in the archway to the living room, Lenore physically keeping the boys back from any greeting. Her face showed compassion but she was apparently unwilling to intercede with her implacable father on behalf of her brother and his friend.
After hanging his jacket on the coat rack next to Hutch’s, Starsky silently put his hand on his partner’s back.
Dinner and an hour of ‘conversation’ afterward left Starsky exhausted and he knew Hutch was as ready as he was to call it a night. With one silent exchange of looks between them, Hutch excused himself and Starsky, claiming the wholly believable reason of being tired from the long flight and subsequent stressful drive.
Upstairs in Hutch’s childhood bedroom — which showed no sign that he’d ever slept there, it was simply a bedroom now — Starsky dropped his duffle next to the door and sat on the bed.
Hutch gestured around. “Father got rid of everything of mine that didn’t fit in a regular guest room. It’s as if I never lived here.” He began to unpack.
“Sweet.” Starsky was already sorry he’d insisted on this trip. “I knew your parents were masters of the ability to talk without actually saying anything, but they nearly drove me up the wall tonight.”
Hutch turned from putting two shirts in a dresser. “You only met them that one time, Starsk.”
“Yeah, when they arrived, unannounced, to tell you they’d hired a lawyer to keep Vanessa from getting any of their money. Damn, Hutch, they didn’t even show up for your graduation from the academy the year before!”
“It wasn’t important to them. They never approved of my giving up med school to become, as they said often enough, a mere cop.”
Starsky felt Hutch’s almost-physical pain. “Well, in my humble opinion, your folks are stuffed shirts. They have no idea whatsoever of what you’re worth to the department. Much less to me!”
Hutch sat down next to him and put his arm around his shoulders. “I know you mean that and I’m grateful. But I’m counting the hours.”
“Until we can go home?” Starsky tried a touch of levity. “Or until you rip somebody’s throat out?”
Hutch almost laughed. Instead, he put his other arm around Starsky and hugged him. “Thanks for not killing either one of them yourself, partner.” He stood up and headed for a side doorway. “Your room’s the next one down the hall on this side. Connects with this bathroom but I’m taking first dibs on the shower. See you in the morning.”
Starsky picked up his duffle and left the room. On his way down the hall, he found himself wondering why he’d been so sure his partner needed to come here. Hutch’s long-held view that Christmas was not a time of joy and family celebration was being reinforced to the point that Starsky was afraid he might never get Hutch into the Christmas spirit again. Ever!
Deciding he’d shower in the morning, he skinned out of his clothes and climbed into bed. “I’ll think of something we can do tomorrow, buddy,” he muttered as he burrowed under the covers. “We gotta get your positive attitude back.”
Having thought about it every time he was awake during the night, listening to the wind howl, Starsky voiced his suggestion at breakfast. “Let’s you and me snowshoe out to your grandfather’s farm, Hutch. It’s not all that far, is it? I’ve heard so much about it, I want to see it.”
“You’ve never been on snowshoes in your life, Starsk,” Hutch chided.
Starsky shrugged. “You can teach me.”
“In this weather?” Margaret Hutchinson raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Kenneth. I’m sure your doctor wouldn’t approve of such exertion.”
Starsky almost expected Hutch to bow to her wishes but, instead, he looked her in the eye. “We’re going, Mother.”
Lenore was enthusiastic. “Can I come with you?”
Before Hutch could respond, Kevin and Trevor began hollering, “Me, too! Me, too! We wanna come!”
Lenore silenced them with a stern look. “No! Absolutely not! Your uncle and his friend are here to relax for a few days. They do not need to be chasing all over the countryside trying to keep tabs on you two!”
“Then you’re not going either, young lady,” Richard said. “Your mother and I will not be left alone with those hellions.”
Hutch pushed his chair back. “If you’ll excuse us…” Not waiting for an answer, he hurried to the hall closet and dug out two pairs of well-worn snowshoes. Starsky followed and leaned against the living room archway. He figured he’d probably be pathetic on the things but he was more than willing to suffer sore muscles and humiliation if it meant getting Hutch out of the clutches of his father and mother for a while.
Hutch glanced at him. “You’ve been thinking about this ever since the ticket agent gave us that warning, haven’t you?” There was a touch of humor in Hutch’s ‘accusation’ and it lifted Starsky’s spirits. His partner continued to dig out ski jackets, pants, gloves, knitted hats, and scarves.
“Maybe,” Starsky admitted. “But I do want to see your grandfather’s place. And we both need some fresh air and exercise. This little jaunt’ll do us good.”
Hutch threw the gear over the banister and newel post. “I sure hope so.” He led the way upstairs, hurrying into his own room.
Starsky continued to his where he sorted through the few clothes he’d brought with him, trying to figure out which pair of jeans was the heaviest and which shirt the warmest.
Hutch flung the door open without knocking. “I’ve got wool socks, an old pair of long johns, and this great sweater my Aunt Erika knitted for me! Can’t have you freezing your butt off out there!”
“You think the socks’ll fit inside my new hiking boots?” Starsky held up a pair of Timberline Trekkers, unsure what Hutch’s reaction would be.
There was none at all for a moment until Hutch got over his visible shock. “I can’t believe it! You bought hiking boots for this trip? You knew I’d want to go and were probably planning on –”
“Making you drag me, kicking and screaming, all the way. Yeah.” Starsky tried one of the lop-sided grins he knew Hutch had a difficult time resisting. “But I wanted to be appropriately shod when you did.”
Hutch laughed. “Well, the storm has put the prospect of hiking to rest but maybe you’ll let me take you up into the Sierras soon. We can test them out there.”
Hutch headed back to his room while Starsky climbed into his own clothes as well as the loaned items. Aunt Erika’s sweater would definitely keep him snug and the socks were perfect inside his new boots.
Downstairs again, he and Hutch donned the outerwear, hats and scarves. Gloves went into pockets.
Lenore appeared from the direction of the kitchen, carrying two large cloth sacks. “I’ve packed your lunches.”
Margaret appeared embarrassed. “Oh, dear, I should have thought of that.”
Hutch accepted his bag and kissed Lenore’s cheek. “Thanks, Sis.”
She blushed. “It’s only sandwiches, chips, apples, and two Thermoses of coffee. If you get lost it’ll keep you alive until we can find you.”
Her reaction to Hutch’s gratitude made Starsky like her better. Impulsively, he kissed her cheek, too, as he took his own lunch bag. “Thank you.”
Hutch pulled two knapsacks out of the closet, handed one to Starsky and stashed his lunch in the other. Richard deigned to lend a hand getting the backpacks seated comfortably on their shoulders and the provisions stowed.
Hutch picked up his snowshoes, opened the door, and followed Starsky, carrying his pair, down to the lawn. The entire family poured out after them. They stood on the porch, shivering, while Hutch helped Starsky snap into the weird footwear and get used to using the poles for balance.
Hutch waved his family inside. “Don’t stand out here freezing. We’ll be back in time for dinner.” While they did as he suggested, Hutch turned to Starsky. “Since you’ve never been on these things before, will you let me give you a couple of pointers before we get going?”
“I’m all ears, buddy.” Starsky smiled at the serious look on Hutch’s face and those incredibly blue eyes smiled back at him. ‘Yep,’ Starsky thought, ‘things are gonna get better once we’re away from here.’
“First, pick your feet, and the shoes, up higher than you think you need to so that you’re on top of the heavy stuff and not trying to shuffle through it. Your legs won’t last long if you plow.”
Experimentally, Starsky did as instructed and nodded understanding. “Piece o’ cake.”
“Good. Next, widen your normal stride so that you’re not stepping on the edges of the webbed portion.”
Starsky nodded again. “Makes sense. Anything else?”
“Nope.” Hutch pulled the bottom of his knitted cap down over his ears. “If you get tired, holler. You’re not used to this cold. If I don’t hear you, poke me in the back with one of your poles. We’ll stop as often as you need to.”
“I’m not the one whose lungs are still recovering, Hutch.”
“I’m starting to feel pretty good out here, Starsk, so don’t remind me, okay? Let’s go!”
Starsky had no idea where they were going but they were away from the dreaded mansion! He trudged happily along in the track Hutch made for what seemed like hours, although it probably wasn’t. A tree materialized from the whiteout and Hutch stopped. When Starsky came up next to him, Hutch leaned close to make himself heard over the wind. “I’m glad you thought of this.” He reached over Starsky’s back, unzipped the pouch containing the lunch bag and removed the promised Thermos of coffee. He unscrewed the cap, poured it full and offered it.
Starsky drank and passed it back. “Figured you needed some time away from the scrutiny and displeasure. That’s all.”
“Not to mention having to listen to more of the beneficence Father’s decided to bestow on the community this holiday season. It was beginning to make me sick last night.” Hutch sipped the steaming liquid before giving the cup to Starsky again. “I don’t remember him ever being this heavy-handed with donations and largess before.”
“It did sound like he was layin’ it on with a trowel.” Starsky drank what he thought was half of the remaining coffee and gave the cup back to Hutch. “But I thought maybe it was his way of trying to express his gratitude that you’re still with us.”
“The day my father is grateful for a single thing regarding me, even the fact that I didn’t die, is a day I don’t think has dawned yet. And very likely never will.” He finished the rest of the coffee, put the cup back on the Thermos and returned the cylinder to Starsky’s pack.
Starsky didn’t want Hutch to get mired any deeper into the lack of familial bonding and nudged him. “Let’s keep going.” He also didn’t want to get any colder or stiffer than he already was. “Still know where we are? Not lost, are you?”
“‘Course not! I was born here, remember?” Hutch started off again, his poles and snowshoes in perfect synchronicity. “Come on, it’s only a little farther.”
Trusting his partner implicitly, Starsky strode along in the broad path Hutch cut through the deep snow.
After what seemed like no time at all they came to the farm and Hutch went immediately toward the large structure that was visible through the swirling flakes. “Since we’re here, I might as well see what’s left in the tack room. Might be something I can take back to Kiko and Molly, to help them with that riding class being offered to disadvantaged kids next summer.”
Inside the double doors, they took the snowshoes off and propped them against the wall before shrugging off their backpacks. Out of the wind, it felt warmer but Starsky wasn’t ready to shed his jacket. Hutch, also keeping his jacket on, led the way to the room at the back.
While Hutch poked around in cabinets, Starsky scanned all the items and objects he knew nothing about. He’d never been around horses or farm equipment and almost felt as if he was on a different planet. The smells of animals and leather were pleasant though.
“Hey, Hutch… what’s that?”
Hutch came over and glanced dismissively at the wall Starsky was staring at. “Looks like old bridles and rusted harness parts. It’s junk.” He went back to his search.
Starsky sighed; so much for the lightened mood he’d thought his partner had been cultivating. “Not those, Hutch. What’s behind them. The thing on the wall.”
Hutch turned back, looked closer, and his mouth dropped open. “It’s the Monarch.”
“Doesn’t look anything like a king to me,” Starsky muttered.
“No, no…” Hutch began taking the bits and pieces of leather and metal away from in front of the object and throwing them in a corner. When it was fully uncovered, he stepped back. “It’s Granddad’s toboggan.”
“He named his sled?” Starsky couldn’t hide his surprise, until he had a flash of memory from somewhere. “At least it’s not ‘Rosebud’.”
Almost reverently, Hutch lifted the long wooden object down and stood it on its square back end. The curved front reached a foot or more above his head. “The tree this was made from was known as the Monarch.”
“Ah…” Starsky had hoped Hutch would find a few good memories on this trip and it appeared that, perhaps, now he had. He waited patiently.
“It used to stand on the top of Looks Back Hill. In my grandfather’s time, it was hit by lightning twice the same night.” Hutch carefully tilted the rolled end down and fitted the width of the body under his right arm. A smile ghosted onto his face. “My arms weren’t long enough the last time I tried to carry it.”
Starsky led the way out into the stable and quickly spread old straw between the empty stalls. Hutch laid the toboggan on top and, kneeling, ran his hands along the curl. “Granddad got a book from the library and did all the work himself. He sawed the planks, planed and sanded them, cut tongue-and-groove joinery, steamed and rolled the front, and put it all together. It’s wood-doweled, too, not a screw or nail in it.”
“It’s beautiful.” Starsky didn’t have to fake the emotions he was feeling. “I wish I’d known him.”
“He’d have loved you, Starsk.”
Starsky had to swallow the instant tears that threatened to engulf him. For some strange reason that statement made him feel closer to Hutch than ever.
His partner bent over the curve and inhaled. “You can still smell it!”
Starsky knelt and leaned in. “What am I trying to smell?”
“Johnson’s Wax.” Hutch sat on his heels, a memory-laden look on his face that melted Starsky’s heart. “Granddad was a great believer in it. Said it wasn’t fake, wasn’t all chemicals, it took care of the wood you applied it to. Floors, tools, paneling, almost anything made from trees. And that odor!” Hutch bent again and breathed in, deeply this time. His eyes nearly glowed. “Nothing else smells exactly like Johnson’s Wax!”
Hutch jumped to his feet and ran back into the tack room. Starsky followed more slowly and found Hutch going through the cabinets, drawers, and cupboards. Old unidentifiable bottles, cans, and jars were pulled out and discarded. Starsky set his shoulder against the door jamb and watched.
In a low cabinet, inside a dusty bucket, Hutch found what he was looking for and held it up. “Here it is!”
Starsky walked over and Hutch displayed the big, round, flattish tin. Black lettering on a dark, almost Kodak-yellow background identified ‘Johnson’s Wax.’ “You think it’ll still be good after all these years?”
Hutch headed out the door. “Guess we’ll find out.” He stopped next to the sled and fell to his knees. With some effort, he managed to get the lid off the tin and, for a moment, simply held the contents-half up to his face.
Starsky didn’t remember ever being emotional about a particular scent but he couldn’t bring himself to break the spell Hutch had cast over the old barn. Silently, he held out his hand. When Hutch gave it to him, somewhat reluctantly Starsky thought, he smelled it. Then sniffed more deeply. Earthy, pungent, strong but subtle, and pure pleasure to one who knew his car waxes inside out. Smiling into Hutch’s reminiscent eyes, he handed it back. “Memorable.”
Hutch appeared grateful that Starsky hadn’t made a sarcastic remark and held the can to his face again. Starsky sat on the floor, crossing his ankles. If his partner wanted to sniff the stuff all night, Starsky’d wait right where he was.
The applicator was somewhat melted into the deep circular indentation worn into the brick-colored substance but Hutch carefully pried it out. Miraculously, the bottom of the sponge was damp. With a knowing smile, Hutch began to apply the wax to the curved portion of the wood with slow, loving strokes.
“Got another sponge there, partner?”
“Nope. But there’s lots of surface here, Starsk. You’ll get your chance.” He gestured with his head over his shoulder toward the mess he’d left in the tack room. “See if you can find some soft cloths. This needs to be buffed after it’s dry.”
“You got it!”
They ate their lunches and drank both containers of coffee during the refurbishment. With the toboggan rubbed and shiny again, they put their jackets back on, helped each other into the backpacks, pulled gloves, hats and scarves into place, and headed outside. Starsky towed while Hutch broke trail through the additional foot of snow that had accumulated during their discovery and ministrations. The wind was dying and the flakes were drifting lazily now instead of falling with determination. Maybe the storm would blow itself out during the night.
“The family’s not going to believe this, Starsk.” Hutch no longer had to shout to make himself heard. “You found the Monarch.”
“It was never lost, Hutch. It was… forgotten.”
Hutch stopped and turned to look at him. “There is a difference, isn’t there?”
“Sure there is!” Starsky halted, too, happy to give himself a rest. “Very few things are ever really lost, Hutch. They’re just…”
“Forgotten.” Hutch put a gloved hand on Starsky’s arm, a look of pure contentment in his eyes. “Thanks, partner.” He turned, set his poles, and started off again. “Almost there! And I think I smell Christmas Eve roast beast!”
“Good, ‘cause I’m starved!”
The Monarch was propped in a corner of the dining room and Starsky noticed that Richard couldn’t seem to take his eyes off it. “It was right there on the wall all this time?” Richard’s voice had the least edge to it Starsky had ever heard; it sounded almost mellow. “I always wondered what had happened to it.”
“It was hiding in plain sight under a bunch of old bits and pieces of stuff.” Hutch, having spoken around his mouthful and received not a single reprimand or irritated glance from anyone at the table, turned to Margaret. “This is wonderful, Mother. I’m glad Starsky and I weren’t late. It would have been a shame to ruin whatever you’ve done to make this the most delicious roast I can remember.”
She beamed. “I learned a trick, dear. High heat to start with, to sear the outside, then much lower for one hour only, allowing the center to remain rare.”
“Best I’ve ever tasted, Mrs. Hutchinson,” Starsky vowed.
She turned her smile on him. “Thank you, David. But please call me Margaret.”
“Yes, ma’am. I sure will.”
“What do you plan on doing with the Monarch, Ken?” his father asked.
Hutch glanced at Starsky, silently reaffirming part of the conversation they’d had on the way home. “Starsky and I talked about that, Father. We’d like the first ride down Looks Back Hill in the morning but, after that…” He returned his gaze to Richard. “I’m sure Granddad would be happy if everybody in the neighborhood had a chance to enjoy it.”
“Yippeeeeeeeeeee,” Kevin and Trevor shouted at the same time.
“Settle down!” Lenore’s words were stern but her expression was laced with pleasure and anticipation.
“That sounds like a fine idea, son.” Richard stared at Hutch with the most kindness in his eyes Starsky had ever seen the old man exhibit. And he had never heard him call Hutch, ‘son’ before.
“When’s the last time you rode it, Father?” Hutch asked.
“What?” Hutch and Lenore both spoke at the same time.
Richard shook his head. “It’s a long story.”
Lenore put her fork down. “Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for stories. I know I’d like to hear it.” She looked around the table and got encouraging nods. “I think we all would.”
Richard’s expression showed his uncertainty. “Are you sure? It’ll probably be pretty boring.”
“Not if it’s got anything to do with our great grandfather! We never get tired of hearing stories about him! Right, Trev?” Kevin poked his brother in the ribs and Trevor giggled.
“Well…” Richard took a sip of wine. “The Monarch was struck by lightning in 1928 and my father began building the toboggan from what was left. I was seven-years-old.”
“That’s how old I am!” Trevor held up seven youthful fingers and everyone smiled.
Richard nodded, solemnly. “That’s right, Trev, seven-years-old.” He returned his gaze to his wine glass. “Unfortunately, I was never good with my hands so I wasn’t allowed to touch any of the pieces or do any of the work. I was offered menial fetching and carrying tasks only.” He swallowed another gulp of wine and Starsky thought he looked sad. “Even at that young age, I knew the word ‘menial’ would never be in my vocabulary. Stupidly, I turned away from my father and his down-to-earth views of the world, and began spending all of my time with my mother’s proper, socially-climbing family.” He stared at Hutch. “It wasn’t until you came along that my father… found the son I should have been. A boy who thought the way he did, felt as he did about things.”
Hutch returned the gaze. “I never knew any of this, sir. Please, go on.”
Starsky finished the last morsels on his plate and listened, almost mesmerized, as Richard spun out the past.
Next morning, Kevin and Trevor tore open their presents in record time, said their ‘thank you’s’ peremptorily and began their entreaties. “Can we go now?” “Please?” “The storm’s over and everyone’s gonna be taking their new sleds to Looks Back.” “We need to get there first!” “Don’t wanna hafta come down in other peoples’ tracks.” “Wanna make our own grooves!” The boys’ pleas overlapped and echoed off the walls.
The adults chuckled and Richard nodded. Starsky thought the ‘long story’ told the night before had loosened something in Richard Hutchinson. He appeared much more relaxed, less rigidly controlled. Margaret, her eyes soft and approving, found reasons to look at her husband often.
“Go get suited up,” Lenore told them. Yelling wordlessly, they scampered off.
Soon after, with the entire family dressed in their warmest clothes, Kevin and Trevor were in the lead, trying to run in their leggings and fur-lined boots through three feet of heavy whiteness. They appeared to be having a tough time of it.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like one of the adults to break trail for a while, Kevin? Trevor?” Richard asked at one point. “You’re wearing yourselves out.”
“We’re fine, Grandfather.” Kevin was doing his best not to let anyone see he was huffing and puffing. “I promise I won’t let Trev do too much. If he needs a break, we’ll let someone else take over.”
“Speak for yourself, Kev!” Trevor, undoubtedly trying to prove that he wasn’t flagging, flung himself into the next drift.
“Let them go,” Lenore said. “I haven’t seen them this excited about anything in a long time. Even their presents this morning paled next to the idea of this expedition.” Seemingly on impulse, she threaded her arms through her parents’ elbows. “Besides, it’ll mean they’ll sleep well tonight.”
Richard and Margaret laughed along with Lenore.
“It appears as if everyone is still opening gifts.” The elder Hutchinson gestured around. “Ours are the only tracks. We’ll have Looks Back to ourselves, at least for a little while.”
Bringing up the rear, Starsky and Hutch each had a hand on the ‘reins’ of the toboggan, a leather strap meant for pulling when walking, or guiding when riding. It had only required several applications of saddle soap the day before until it was soft and supple again.
“Weird name for a place, Hutch. What’s it mean?”
“I believe it’s the English translation from the Ojibwa. Chippewa. They were the tribe that lived around here and along the west shore of Lake Superior.”
“Gitchi Gumee. Big Sea Water.”
Hutch stopped and stared at him. “You never cease to amaze me, Starsk.”
Starsky shrugged, self-consciously. Hutch so rarely praised him or his trivia-stuffed-attic of a mind that he struggled to cover the pleased embarrassment it gave him. “I was a Hiawatha fan.”
Hutch added to his benediction with a dazzling smile and began walking again. “Well, the story about the name says that every time someone left the village for more than a day, they stopped at the top and… looked back.”
“Might never see home again, huh?”
“Probably something like that.”
“Must have been a really difficult life.” Starsky digested everything Hutch had said and decided it was a, “Good name.”
“I still can’t believe Father and Mother have joined us.” Hutch kept his voice low enough that Starsky was sure no one else could hear.
“I think it’s a sign, buddy,” Starsky said, equally softly. “They nearly lost you, and I believe they really do want to get to know who you’ve become. Start loving you, like they should have all along.”
“Maybe…” With all the shit that Starsky knew had gone under the bridge and over the dam, Hutch was understandably reluctant to put too much faith in his parents’ seeming change of attitude. Yet.
“Listen, uh… Hutch…” Starsky wasn’t happy with the way his stomach had started doing flip-flops as soon as he’d caught sight of their destination.
Hutch stopped again. “What’s wrong, Starsk?”
“You know I’ve never been on a sled in my life, right?”
“Technically…” Hutch smirked a little. “It’s a toboggan. No runners.”
“Smartass.” Starsky tried to sound irritated but was glad for the chance to try bantering his way through his sudden anxiety. “Whatever it’s called, I’ve never been on one.”
“Didn’t suppose you had.”
“Oh, we got snow in New York plenty of times. But it always turned to slush right away. None of us kids could afford a sled, and the few times we tried to ride down the poor excuses for hills we had in Brooklyn on trash can lids, the cops and our parents hassled us.”
Starsky slowed his pace. “You also know I don’t like heights.” Hutch tried to smother impending laughter and Starsky glared. “It’s not funny. That thing’s gotta be a hundred feet, if it’s an inch!”
“Fifty-four, Starsk.” Hutch’s voice was utterly neutral and he banished any sign of humor from his features. “That’s why it’s never been called anything but a ‘hill’.” He put an arm around Starsky’s shoulders. “It’ll be fine, babe. I promise. I won’t let you fall off.”
“Better not.” Somewhere inside, Starsky was glad that his partner wasn’t going to allow him to back out.
Probably using the last of their strength, Kevin and Trevor beat a path to the top of the rise and stood panting but victorious. After a few minutes, their grandparents and mother gathered around them. The Monarch, with Starsky and Hutch towing, reached the summit last.
Hutch positioned the curled front end at the edge of the drop-off and waited, anticipation plain on his face. “First time for everything, Starsk.”
Starsky took a deep breath, sucking courage from his partner’s sky-blue eyes. He sat down on the toboggan, extending his feet under the front curve.
Hutch sat behind and fitted his long legs around him. His arms snaked around Starsky’s waist, holding the rein in both hands now. He leaned over Starsky’s shoulder so that their heads were next to each other. “Ready, partner?”
Starsky didn’t know whether he was or not but it was too late to turn back. “Let ‘er rip!”
Hutch laughed. “Somebody give us a push, please.”
Starsky had no idea who had done as asked but before he could take another breath, the sled was moving forward, tilting over what looked decidedly like a precipice, and gaining momentum on the shit-that’s-a-long-way-down slope. Hutch’s arms tightened around him and he gripped Hutch’s knees. “Tell me this is fun, Hutch,” Starsky screamed into the wind.
“This is fun, Starsk!”
And, immediately, it was! The soft, deep snow flew out to both sides of them as the Monarch plowed into and through the thick stuff. Starsky knew the expression on his face at the top had been one of tightly-controlled terror; the kind that said he was doing this only in support of, and love for his very best friend. But by the time — much too quickly, he realized — they reached the bottom, he hoped it had changed into one that left no one in doubt as to the sheer exhilarating joy he’d just experienced. “Damn! That was fun!” He grinned over his shoulder. “Let’s do it again!”
“You’ve created a Christmas miracle, Starsk.”
Not wanting to lose any of the lightness and happiness everyone had been sharing for the last hour, Starsky spun around, glancing everywhere. “What? Where? I don’t see any stars in the east.”
Hutch chucked and put an arm around Starsky’s shoulders. “Not that kind of miracle, dummy.” He pointed to the slope where Richard and Margaret were on their way down, grins on their faces that Starsky still had trouble believing. “To my knowledge, neither one of them has ever done anything like this before. Seeing them together, on Granddad’s toboggan, laughing and enjoying themselves, is something I would have said couldn’t happen.”
Reaching the bottom, the elder Hutchinsons rolled off in each other’s arms. Their uninhibited laughter could probably be heard in the middle of town.
At the top of the hill, Lenore, Kevin, and Trevor waited, impatiently. “Come on, come on!”
Richard helped his wife to her feet and they towed the sled back up the hill. A few people were lined up behind Lenore and her sons, clearly hoping for a turn. Others were gliding down the broad slope on their Flexible Flyers, making their own grooves.
Lenore, with the boys in front of her, came sliding down, all three of them yelling at the top of their lungs. They rolled off at Starsky’s and Hutch’s feet. The youngsters began tussling but Lenore handed Kevin the rein. “Run it back up, please. I’ll bring Uncle Ken and Dave along in a minute.”
“Sure, Mom!” Kevin and Trevor, seeming to have all the energy in the world, obeyed.
Lenore linked her arms through Starsky’s and Hutch’s elbows and, at a much more leisurely pace, followed them. “Dad says you guys haven’t been taking your turns.”
“‘Dad’?” Hutch sounded stunned.
She laughed. “Yeah! Can you believe it? I tried it on him a few minutes ago and he smiled at me.”
Hutch shook his head. “Will wonders never cease.”
Suddenly, Lenore leaned up and kissed Starsky’s cheek. “This is all your fault, Dave.”
Starsky didn’t know what to say. “Uh… what’s my fault?”
“You found the Monarch, you both brought it home, and Dad talked all evening. Really talked.” She turned to Hutch. “I’d never heard our father tell stories about his childhood before. Had you?”
“Although neither of them said anything about it to me,” Lenore went on, “I believe they were caught completely unprepared when we nearly lost you.” She jostled Hutch’s arm. “What do you say, Big Brother? Want to help me mend some fences?”
Hutch kissed her cheek. “Just let me find my bailing wire, Sis.”
Lenore looked up at Starsky again. “How about you, Big Brother’s Very Best Friend? You started it all.”
Starsky couldn’t help but grin as they reached the top. “Count me in.”
Richard brought the toboggan to them and handed the rein to Hutch. “We’ve all been monopolizing the run, Ken. Your mother and I thought you and Dave should have another turn.”
Hutch gazed straight into his father’s eyes. “Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re welcome.” Starsky found he suddenly had tears in his eyes and he could have sworn Richard did, too, but the old man put his arm across Hutch’s shoulders and the three of them walked to the edge.
Starsky took his place on the toboggan. “Come on, Hutch! Third time’s the charm.”
Chuckling, Hutch sat down behind him. “Going to be faster this time, Starsk. The run’s all packed down and slick.”
Starsky gripped his partner’s knee. “You said the magic word, pal. Faster!” Somebody behind pushed and they were, again, racing down the hill. “Merry Christmas, Hutch!”
“Merry Christmas, Starsk.”
Forgotten, not lost
Feelings and emotions, too
discovered in snow