Snow Angel by A. Elizabeth Herting

A. Elizabeth Herting gifts us with a sweet seasonal story.

Image generated with OpenAI
Gloria loved the snow.

Hal could see her deep in his mind's eye, her long, pin-straight hair flowing halfway down her back, a porcelain goddess dancing and twirling in winter's first glow. The romantic strains of "Hang on Sloopy" played over his father's brand new transistor radio as they swayed together in perfect synchronicity. It was Christmastime, 1966, and all the world was vibrant and bright with the promise of young love.

He vividly remembered a random snowflake landing softly on her cheek, Hal moving in to kiss it away before his mother stormed out onto the porch like an avenging angel, dragging her lovesick son back into the house for dinner.

"Oh man, Glory! Ma was madder than a wet hen, d'ya remember?"

His wife's pale green eyes grew large as she appeared to listen to his reminiscing. Hal expertly raised his handkerchief, catching a long unbroken string of drool from the corner of her mouth without missing a beat as he continued in their one-sided conversation.

"It took a while, but she eventually came around. It was the times! Crazy times she called 'em: 'Long Haired hippies runnin' wild, Harold! Free lovin' and loose women!' Oh, but she had you pegged all wrong, Glory! You may have been a flower child darlin', but you was always made of steel. Ma never stood a chance against you, she was charmed in the end. Just like me. D'ya remember?"

Hal waited. His patience was fine-tuned to her every movement, his optimism ready to leap at any sign that his wife was present. That she wasn't the beautiful, empty husk she appeared to be.

"B1, 1 under the B!" the announcer's voice cut into his reminiscing. Maddie Travis had a voice that could peel paint, a natural consequence of a forty-year smoking habit. These days the only thing Maddie smoked was a rump roast at the Happy Haven End-of-Summer bar-b-que. Hal knew Maddie got the BINGO gig because her voice was the only one the residents of the Haven could hear without turning up their hearing aids.

"B1! That buzzard! The hardest one to get, Eh Hal?" Martha Jane O'Halloran, the "One-Eyed Knitter," said to him as she reached over and brazenly dabbed his BINGO card. On her worst day, Martha Jane was as talkative as a magpie, but lately the woman was in overdrive. Her chattering was almost as voluminous as her knitted creations. Just today she'd gifted him a set of brightly knitted Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls made from dish soap bottles.

Throughout the game she'd managed to keep her needles clacking while still having time to mark his card and the four in front of herself without even a lull in the conversation, all of it done with only one working eye. It was impressive.

"Thank you kindly, MJ. Glory, wasn't that nice of Martha Jane to join us today?"

Lost in her own world, Gloria gave a little hiccup. Hal didn't expect a response. Glory didn't say much and when she did, it was in ways he didn't recognize. His wife chattering away in the voice of a small child with her long dead mother; run-on sentences in Lithuanian, a language her parents spoke fluently but Glory hadn't used in decades. Most of the time, she sat in wide-eyed wonderment, enthralled by whatever thoughts were forever barred to him.

Martha Jane's one good eye softened in sympathy. "Oh, that's alright, Hal! It's nice to see Gloria out and about. Anyway, did I tell you what Marvin said to Denny at dinner last Thursday? Oh, you won't believe it - that old rascal! It was just like what I said to Maddie Travis - you do know that Maddie is sweet on Ralph Taylor? Ever since Jack and Mary-Kate got together. Anyway, what was I saying?" MJ trailed off in an epic word salad that Gloria would have laughed at back in the day.

They'd been married for over forty-seven years when Glory began to wander away in her thoughts. Hal didn't think much of it at first. Hell, he wandered plenty for a man of seventy-something, but this was something more. His headstrong hippie wife who always insisted on doing everything in her own precise manner began to slide. She allowed weeds in her garden; didn't berate Hal for mixing up her treasured spice rack. The woman who longed for the great outdoors would refuse to leave the house. More than once, she looked at Hal in pure, animalistic fear and he swore she'd forgotten who he was.

Glory began to withdraw, bit by bit, until even their kids took notice. Their daughter, Jennifer, had three children of her own; grandchildren that Glory loved and doted on up until the day they came over and his wife locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out. Kyle, their son, immediately saw something was off. He was the child closest to her heart, artistic and high-spirited. It was not surprising to Hal that Kyle should be the one to force his father to finally face the facts. Gloria needed more help than Hal was able to give her on his own.

Happy Haven Retirement Community was a facility that wore many hats. Independent Living to full-time nursing capabilities and everything in between. Their memory care unit was ranked in the top five of the tri-county area. Once Glory was established, Hal wasted no time. He sold their home of forty-two years and joined her in the Haven. Gloria was the love of his life, he would never leave her.

The snow fell in gentle waves outside their window. This was the tranquil part of the evening, when dinner service was over and the Haven finally quieted down. Glory was tucked into their bed, her hair brushed out and arranged into her favorite flowered nightcap. Hank made sure to brush it every night, one-hundred times on each side, just as he watched his wife do for countless years. Long and snowy white, Gloria's hair was still her proudest feature. The nurses wanted to cut it when they moved here, but Hal wouldn't hear of it. As long as he was there to help take care of his wife, Glory would keep her beautiful hair.

Satisfied that she was properly settled in, Hal hummed quietly in the purple dusk, watching as she drifted off into troubled slumber. It was two days before Christmas, but Hal wasn't feeling very festive. He reached out and softly touched her forehead, the off-key melody of his humming filling the silence. Gloria's eyes moved rapidly beneath her eyelids before calming, the balm of his touch lulling her back into peace. Hal was so tired, he decided to lay back in the chair for a few moments, just to rest his eyes for a bit. The snow continued to blow outside the window, the sound of the wind and patter of snowflakes on the panes delivering him into a deep, blessedly dreamless sleep.

"Harold Eugene Gustavson! Rise and shine, sleepyhead!"

Hal jumped up, startled by the sound of his wife's voice. Full and in charge. A voice he hadn't heard in years. She stood before him, in a downy jacket and wearing her old "holey" gardening jeans he'd brought along to the Haven because he couldn't bear the thought of throwing them away.

"Don't be an old fuddy-duddy, Hal. Why, just look at that blanket of snow on the hill! There's never been a more perfect time. It's almost Christmas, darling, just like the old days! Remember?"

Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Hal stared at Gloria in astonishment. This was his actual wife. The Glory of old. Commanding, beautiful, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. The years fell away as she held their old Speedaway Sled out in front of her like a trophy. Another item he couldn't bear to part with. I thought to save it for the kids, hoping to have the grandkids visit, all of us together, watching them play in the snow under Sully's watchful eye...

The Happy Haven Retirement Community sat on the top of a very large hill, just off Interstate 25. In the winters, the children and grandchildren of the Haven residents frolicked and played in the snow all over the grounds. It was the perfect sledding hill, except for the fact that the border of the Haven ran almost directly into the busy street below. Sean "Sully" Sullivan, the Haven's security man, patrolled the grounds very carefully starting in late October through the crazy Colorado spring storm season every March.

Last year, he put up bright orange mesh borders all around the perimeter, hoping to dissuade folks on the hill. It was rare, but occasionally some residents did wander past the main grounds. Sully was vigilant, but the man couldn't possibly be everywhere all at once.

Administration finally agreed to build a stone security fence around the Haven. Hal knew construction was due to begin in the spring, all of them happy that poor, overworked Sully could finally relax a little. Hal didn't realize his wife remembered the hill or much of anything else. He'd wheel her around the grounds when the weather was nice or put her by the window to watch the kids play in the snow as the One-Eyed Knitter droned on and on, endlessly into his ear.

"Harold! Did you hear me? We need to go now!"

"Glory, honey, why don't you sit down for a minute... let me think, I just need to think..."

"I've been sitting around plenty, Hal, dontcha think? The time is now! Just look at it out there!"

"How are you feeling? How is... this possible? What's happening? Gloria, I..."

"Hush, Hal. All is well. If we wrap the blanket around our shoulders, we can hide the sled. If you tell them we're taking a walk, we can make it. Sully doesn't even lock the main door til ten!"

"How could you possibly know that? Glory, have you really been here all this time?"

"I don't know how long I have. Please. Hal! Take me to the snow..."

"Gloria, this is crazy! We need to get the doctor!"

Hal looked up at her face. She was manic, her eyes wide and pleading. This was either some sort of miracle or a bizarre dream. His wife hadn't spoken a coherent sentence to him in over seven years.

A tear snaked its way down her cheek and his heart stopped. Before he knew what he was doing, Hal looped the frayed old rope handle of the Speedaway around one arm while wrapping the blanket around both of them with the other. The two of them awkwardly ambled into the hall, the old sled banging painfully against his leg with every step. Oh Lord, what a sight we make! Hal could only pray that Sully was occupied with the constant demands of the Haven's neediest tenants.

Gloria giggled softly into his ear, a conspirator to what Hal was convinced was a complete fool's errand.

"Hush, Glory!" he hissed through his teeth. Their door shut loudly behind them, they were truly past the point of no return. "MJ is at the end of the hall! You need to play possum, darlin'!"

"That old wind bag? Honestly Hal!"

Harold's knees nearly buckled. This simply wasn't possible. The One-Eyed Knitter made a beeline straight for them as Hal felt Glory go limp at his side. Between the sled, his wife and strangeness of the situation, Hal found himself trying to stifle a laugh. Gloria pinched him suggestively under the blanket, turning the top of his ears dark purple in embarrassment. He barely managed to compose himself as Martha Jane O'Halloran intercepted them in the hallway.

"Harold and Gloria! Whatever are you doing out and about?" her one good eye widened as she registered the two of them wrapped up like a giant burrito in Glory's favorite blanket. Hal looked over at his wife, her blank stare and slack-jaw a frightening return to normalcy. He cleared his throat, almost convinced that the entire evening was one long hallucination.

"Well, ya know, MJ... I thought we could use a quick stroll before bed. You know, take a look at the tree and decorations in the lobby. Glory's always loved the holidays, right honey?"

MJ scanned his wife's blank face, watching for any kind of response but of course, there wasn't any. Just a normal night for Mr. and Mrs. Harold E. Gustavson in Happy Haven.

"Ah, well. I was just looking for Marvin. Did he come past here? We have a running date on Friday nights, you know just like I was telling Maddie the other day..."

"Strange thing, MJ, I did see Marv!" he said, cutting her off, "he was just looking for you, wanted to see if you could find Sully and bring him up to his place? Something about a busted lock..."

"I have told that man over and over that lock needed fixing, but does he ever listen? Finally! It must be a miraculous day!" MJ, you don't know the half of it, Harold thought in amusement, miraculous day indeed! They all reached the lobby together, Sully seeing them too late to try to make his escape. The man was busy and any encounter with the One-Eyed Knitter was bound to be long. Hal took the opportunity to steer Glory down the adjoining hallway and out of Sully's sight.

"Mr. Sullivan! Come here please! I need you to come up to Marvin's right away - it's most urgent!" Sully sighed heavily, resigned to his fate.

"Mrs. O'Halloran, thank you. I will get to it as soon as I can..."

"Mr. Sullivan! I have been talking to Marvin about that lock for ages! We need to go. Right now, if you please!"

The harried man and determined woman set off down the hall, leaving Harold and Gloria a straight shot to the door. Hal let out a long breath, not even aware he was holding it.

"Let's make a run for it, honey!" Gloria whispered urgently, "Go! Go!"

Hal felt light headed, like an errant schoolboy hiding something from the head nun. He knew they were very lucky Sully was tangled up with the One-Eyed Knitter. He also knew that in this part of the Haven, the doors were locked at ten o'clock sharp, monitored by Sully's security team. To cap off the miraculous theme of the day ( YOU get a miracle, and YOU get a miracle. Merry Christmas!) the two night-shift guards weren't anywhere nearby.

Taking one final, guilty glance behind them, he scooped up his wife and made a break for the door. Squealing in delight, Glory leaned into him, egging him on as they stumbled out into the dark winter's night.

She twirled around and around, arms stretched wide, a look of pure joy on her wizened, childlike face. The world was bright and shining with possibility. Harold and Gloria, Glory and Hal, on and on, in a constant loop.

She laughed and picked up a handful of snow, playfully throwing it up into the air between them like pixie dust. Harold drank in the sight of her, the older woman magically morphing into the younger one. He remembered the long, lonely years; the pain of living without his wife while she still drew breath, watching her deteriorate before his eyes. All of it was lifted away like scales from his eyes as he gently laid the sled down on the snow, calling out to her.

Gloria came over, plopping herself down in front of him like a warm security blanket. As they prepared to hoist off, Hal heard Sully's deep voice frantically yelling from somewhere behind them. Gloria turned her face to his, eyes pleading, giving him a slight nod. He hesitated, his eyes darting between Sully and the length of the steep hill they were perched upon.

"Harold, please, honey."

"I can't, Glory. Let's go back, it's not too late to go back..."

"We need to go... Hal," she pleaded, "you need to let me go."

The snow fell silently between them. Hal reached out and gently brushed a random flake off of her cheek. He swore he could almost hear the strains of "Hang on Sloopy" playing on his father's old transistor radio some fifty-odd years before.

"Where you go, I go, my love..."

Harold Gustavson used every ounce of strength he had as he propelled the old Speedaway down the hill, Sully's voice petering out behind them. His wife clapped in delight as they flew. The sled picked up speed, Hal hanging onto Glory for dear life until the moment he felt her slump back against him, instinctively knowing she'd left him again. Rapidly approaching the highway, Harold figured they had about a fifty percent chance of making it.

The sled sped down the hill, faster and faster, headlights rushing past, looking like deranged Christmas lights. Sully threw himself bodily down the hill in a futile attempt to catch them. Hal felt bad for the man, this really wasn't his fault. He hoped Sully'd make peace with it somewhere down the line.

As the lights of the traffic flashed before them, so did his life. His parents. His kids and grandchildren. His headstrong, hippie wife who against all odds, had finally, mercifully returned to him, however briefly. It really was a true Christmas miracle. And it's been one hell of a ride, Glory darlin'!

Hal's final thought before they reached the street was the lingering memory of a beautiful girl, dancing and twirling on a cold winter's night and Harold knew that for good or ill, he'd made the right decision. The only one he could possibly make. In the end it would be exactly as it was in their beginning.

Gloria loved the snow.


  1. A.E. Herting’s “Snow Angel” asks as many questions as it answers: did Glory suffer a stroke, Alzheimer’s or what? It doesn’t matter. The story epitomizes the many, many such cases of strong, independent persons suffering from dementia. For a moment I thought that perhaps the ending would reveal that it was Hal and not his wife, who was afflicted and that miraculously he could discern her words and that he only imagined that his wife was suffering. In all events, we don’t know—but are led to suspect—that a resolution to their mutual struggle is reached. Along with almost everyone else nowadays, I have witnessed the tragedy of profound dementia. This was a sweet, wonderfully-told story, perfect for the holidays. Thank you, Ms. Herting.

  2. That last line is a killer! This story is heartbreakingly beautiful. Just gorgeous.

  3. Beautifully crafted and poignant. The double-meaning of Glory saying “You need to let me go” was heart-wrenching. But Hal didn’t let her go. He went with her. I think, except for the later years, Glory and Hal would say It’s a wonderful life.
    -D. Henson

  4. A beautiful story told perfectly--love, loyalty, loss, and renewal--a forever commitment. Thank you so much, A Elizabeth Herting, for this heartwarming tale.