When was your best snow-day ever? There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned blizzard to remind me of the giddiness I felt when as a child, I unbelievably, was the first to make snow prints in our tiny pristine Chicago backyard. Or to recall the defeat of a wet scarf and numb fingers that forced me home while the other kids on the block where eclipsing the full-throttle, snow day peak of exhilaration.
Blizzard of 1979, 1999, 2011, 1967?
My parents, now in their eighties, still marvel at the Blizzard of 1967 and sure, I gotta hand it to them; 23 inches of snow forced my grandfather to abandon his car and walk home from downtown Chicago. Yep, pretty epic. I was 14 during the Blizzard of 1979 and mostly recall that my brown Eskimo coat couldn’t protect my icy hands and forehead from the chill, and since I was much too self-conscious for a hat and gloves, I spent a lot of time indoors with static-y hair, playing monopoly. That winter, the progressive high school I attended provided Petri dishes for my science project that I worked on in between Monopoly turns. Two weeks later, my mother began questioning the scientific integrity of the Petri dishes full of mold atop my dresser.
Ah, but the snow days of mid-childhood are where the memories sparkle!
How many times did we pack the Danaher’s stairs (the highest porch on the block) with snow for the sleekest sled hill? Hordes of kids happily working in unison using cardboard boxes and garbage can lids to zip down the stairs/hill and smoothly glide to the curb. As is common in big families, the initial search for matching mittens inevitably shifted to an attitude of begrudging appreciation that, matching or not, at least one was not stuck with two left mittens. We had snow angels, igloos, snowball fights, forts, skeeching, sledding, and skating. Plastic bread bags lined in our boots kept our feet dry and the hours of unadulterated play were legendary.
Years passed. For me, snowstorms in the ‘90’s meant delays, inconvenience, and dirty snow. Though, I do recall one poignant evening in an Evanston courtyard , surrounded by frozen silver branches of such beauty, that I was awakened from my 20-something ego centrism. I briefly yet profoundly felt God’s love as well as the goodness of all humanity. It passed. Mostly back then, snow was just another hassle.
Then I had kids. Now the giggles of joy from my own children were all I needed as I happily (for the most part) pulled the sled down the block.
“Faster! Faster!” the twins cried. The newfangled round sleds (not unlike our garbage can lids) made it easy to whip them into a snow drift. There were snowmen, snow-women, snowball makers and cross-country skis. There were messy piles of snow pants and boots, heart-stopping rosy cheeks and the sweet satisfaction of walking down our sidewalk surrounded on both sides by fresh snow piled astoundingly high.
This year, the boys are in college, our snow-blower died, and I let my 15-year-old daughter sleep while I shoveled, and shoveled and shoveled. For those of you who have never lived with a 15-year-old, please don’t judge. For those who have, you understand the humble necessity of compromise, (as well as the need for sleep) required with such creatures. The snow was sparkling bright and not too heavy, but the sheer amount required patience and effort. A precious few inches of progress was made with each haul. My back ached, and I searched my mind for distractions. It’s pretty. At least I’m fit enough that I can shovel. At least I’m not in the hospital like my poor father-in-law. My neighbor across the street waved sheepishly. He had a snow blower, but he also had his own obligations: he plowed his neighbor’s driveway to the north and began working on the widow’s sidewalk to the south. His blower kept sputtering, threatening defeat. He couldn’t save me. My husband shoveled the driveway this morning but now was at the hospital with his 91-year-old father. As a former mailman, my father-in-law traversed many a snow day in his time, and I imagined him lying in the hospital bed reviewing the highlights of those years. Okay, I’m making progress. The temperature is not too bad. At least I know that a kind neighbor in my old Chicago neighborhood is clearing my parent’s sidewalk right now. Ugh, I need to stretch this back. In a rare moment of longing, I missed my twin boys.
Eventually, the witty, teen boy from down the block came to my rescue. When I casually inquired about their family’s snow blower, his straight-faced response was,
“She’s a fickle mistress.” Although I’ve never had a mistress, and I assume, since he is 17, nor did he, we were immediately on the same page. He politely endured my typical adult questions about school, and as he shared his unique worldview, he effortlessly and efficiently flung snow. Together, we swiftly completed the job.
The highlight of my snow day finally arrived in the afternoon as I had the pleasure to cross-country ski past low-hanging branches in glimmering stillness. Immersed in cool brilliance, I had arrived.
Eventually, I watched snow day memories being created in real time. Dads pushed sleds filled with preschoolers, bundled beyond recognition and shrieking with delight, down small slopes in a park. Random busy kids were hunkered in snow drifts and side yards diligently engaged in important work. There were three teen boys lumbering down the center of our street with shovels over their shoulders as if they’d been working on the railroad all the live-long day.
My father-in-law amazingly accepts a litany of physical ailments with the Buddhist grace of a Zen master. My husband, sat helplessly by his hospital bed watching him once again, breath with the help of oxygen.
“I wish I had some words of wisdom for you Pops,” he says.
“Well, I have some words of wisdom for you” his father weakly responds through his raw throat. My husband leans in.
“Get yourself a snow blower.”