Allister was a younger man, then. The United States was younger then, too, and months away from entering the Great War. In recollection, the war seemed to be the only elder element, having waged on for two years without a hint as to when it might stop. And though peace temporarily dangled, the unrest was felt in the Carolinas as pure and strong as the heat of that unusually humid December. Soon, there would be a move made. But, for that moment, that December, all was still. And Allister peeled potatos in the sweat of Camp Jackson's mess hall.
He peeled in supposed punishment. But Allister, having volunteered to help early on in the mess hall and having demonstrated his expertise in fine peeling and mashing (of which General Gregory was said to have praised as, "a divine culinary perfection"), had so impressed the commanding officers that Allister speculated that this order to peel and mash was less punishment and more Christmas gift to the commanding officers. And so, he peeled and sliced. He sliced smaller, finer, turning the slices to flakes. Allister mashed the flakes in butter and milk, wiped the sweat from his brow, and repeated the process. Allister worked passionately, furiously to fill the large metal vats. And his thoughts were filled not with potato, but with Catherine.
Theirs was a relationship that never materialized passed giggly conversation. But, to discard this as simply friendship would be to ignore the connection that sailed simply from iris to iris. The connection that pulled up the corners of the mouth to smile without fail. It was to misunderstand the words that Allister tried to say, the words that seemed to turn to soup and kept Allister's mouth shut for fear of leaving the soupy mess on the floor. And so, their conversation was simple, was giggly. It had sparked in appropriate simple and giggly fashion at a Camp Jackson dance. The simpleness came of the cliche of chance meetings at dances and the giggliness came of Allister's feet colliding with Catherine's feet and shins as if he were not dancing, but playing soccer.
Allister's duties kept them from more than a few meetings, the last being a discussion of what each wanted for Christmas. Allister could think of nothing and Catherine could think of only snow. Their talk turned to the stories of the town, of the heat, of how streams of salty water trickled down the street, formed by and still collecting the drops of citizens' perspiration. There was more giggling. There was an invitation from Catherine to her Christmas eve party. There was a smile from Allister. There was a hug and a goodbye.
Two days would pass, an order would be given, and Allister would find himself in the unfortunate position of mashing heavenly potatos on Christmas eve instead of attending Catherine's party. And, as he mashed, the vats slowly filling, the sweat slowly beading, the evening slowly nearing, Allister felt as though fate had kicked him in the abdomen. Allister knew multiple vats were not needed, that one would have served the entire company with room for second and third helpings. His teeth gritted. His hands clenched. And Allister suddenly realized that, that even in this furious clenching, he was not sweating. Not a drop. The temperature had dipped.
Soldiers who had been serving with Allister recalled the smile that appeared on his face at this point, that he even volunteered to clean the extra vats on his own. Similarly, the over-night guests who had chosen to stay at Catherine's recalled fondly that when they awoke on Christmas morning, Catherine was at the front window beaming as the snow fell in flakes.
And, as Allister walked home to his bunk that Christmas eve, he saw his breath puff out in front of him. He saw the first tiny flake fall from the sky. And he knew that Catherine would never know that beneath the layer of snow around her home, lay a layer of the finest mashed potato.
Allister would always admit that he knew little of fate. That he and Catherine would have no other meetings before his battalion was moved from Camp Jackson and then, eventually, sent overseas. That when the war had tired and passed on, it would age all that were involved. That when he arrived back he and Catherine would be on different paths that did not cross again. To some, this could be felt as a cruel joke. A jab at love and happy endings.
Allister, though, always wondered who had the idea to snow for Catherine first-himself or the sky. And, though Allister never did see Catherine's smile on the morning of the snow, it was the thought of it that would carry Allister through many long nights and dark battles to come and to simply say that it "was not meant to be" would be to rob Allister of a miracle.