I profit two ways from a spring surprise

It was a Saturday morning in May, with not too many more days of school. I was in second grade. During the night, there had been a flutter of snow, the last gasp of winter, so an inch or two of "that white stuff" lay on everything and made it pretty.

At breakfast my father said, "This is a real robin snow!" Our peas in the garden had sprouted and were up. But my father said a robin snow wouldn't bother them, and if things went according to the printed program, the sun would melt the snow before noon.

So after breakfast my mother handed me the kitchen broom, and I swept the steps, the porches, and the little footpath to our hen coop. My father said, "Sometimes a robin snow is called 'poor man's fertilizer' because it's good for the land and doesn't cost anything."

Then Henry O'Flynn, my kitty-corner neighbor and pal du jour, came for our usual no-school conference on strategy for the occasion. He said his father had gone to the junction to see if the railroad needed shovelers to clear snow from the yard switches, although he doubted there had been enough snow for that.

Henry's father always went after a snowstorm to clear switches and pick up a little extra money. Now Henry suggested we go ask around the neighborhood if people would like us to shovel walks and sweep steps and porches. Off we went with shovels and brooms, and the sun was already warm, so we didn't take our mittens.

It was a beautiful day. At almost every home, somebody was sweeping snow. They were calling and joshing over fences, everybody having a good time, and nobody needed two kids to do what little needed to be done.

The robin snow was a happy snow. Some 40 years later, Shorty Gilman would sum things up about snow. When he heard it cost New York City $8 million to remove the snow from one storm, he said, "Gracious sakes! Why don't they just tread it down, same as I do?"

And in a way, that May morning, folks were treadin' down the snow and having fun. People we didn't know called good morning to us and said, "Isn't this beautiful?" Then they said, "No, thanks, we can handle this one."

Henry and I were at the far side of town and had given up, except we'd try "one more place." Then Henry said he had an aunt who lived on the next street and we'd try her. When we came to her house, it was a bungalow with a picket fence and a short walk to the front steps and porch.

The new snow lay unblemished by footsteps. It may well have been the only place Henry and I had seen that morning with undisturbed snow. We knocked at the front door and Henry said, "You'll like my aunt."

The door opened, and the sweetest, dearest, daintiest, happiest lady looked us over and said, "Why, Henry! Aren't you a dear to come to shovel my snow! And who is your friend? Stomp your feet and come in! I've just taken the cookies from the oven!"

Anybody would be glad to have an auntie like her. She hugged Henry first and then me, and she smelled good, like vanilla, raisins, and molasses. We swept her steps, porch, and walk. Then we stomped and rapped at the door again, and she let us in.

She explained that she did her baking on Saturday mornings, as soon as she'd had breakfast, so this morning she hadn't swept away the snow and she was pleased that we'd come to do it for her. The cookies were hermits, fresh from the oven, and Henry and I helped ourselves and could have had more.

Then she said, "My gracious, Henry, but you get to look more like your father every day! Let me show you!" She left the kitchen and came back with an album that bulged with pictures not yet pasted in. They were "blue prints" of early-day amateur photography. My father had made the same kind of snapshots in our family.

"Here," she said, "This is a picture of my brother when he was your age! If you aren't the spittin' image, then I declare!" Henry did look like his father, same as I looked like mine.

We had another hermit, and then she said, "Now, I know you boys came in the goodness of your hearts, but that makes no difference. I'm going to pay you just's if I'd hired you! I'm going to give you 15 cents, and you can go halves on it! You don't need to thank me!"

We went home. By that time the sun was high and all the snow had melted. The streets were wet, and there was still some drip from the trees.

When we were out of sight of Auntie's house, we looked at the coins his aunt had given Henry. We had two nickels and five copper cents.

How do you take half of 15? That was the first question my father asked when I told him about this at supper.

"Well, she was Henry's aunt," I said, "so I let him have the odd cent."

"Seems fair enough," he said. And he said, "I think she's a widder lady, and her husband left her a few million and the rubber factory. You found some pretty high-class shoveling!"

Then my father got up from the supper table and went to his desk. He came back with an envelope and pen, and he wrote on the envelope: THE FIRST MONEY EVER EARNED BY JOHN GOULD. He told me to put in my seven cents and lay them away. "Don't open the envelope, and you'll never be without money."

And I never have.

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