Thursday, December 30, 2010

Confessions of a Snow-Man

I have a confession to make.
While it's nothing too serious, having nothing to do with my political attitudes, religious views or even my favorite prime-time television show, it's still something that might give you pause.
Because here's the thing:
I like snow.
Not just the light, soft, fluffy covering most folks hope for when Christmas Eve rolls around.
I like snow. Real snow. Big snow.
My sister, who lives on the shores of Lake Superior, where they, no doubt, coined the term "lake effect snow," puts it this way.
"I'd rather have snow than frozen mud."
Me, too.
For me, it's probably an attitude born in the days when a whopper snowstorm meant a day off school.
While an ordinary school day would find me literally having to be dragged out of bed to face the math test I hadn't studied for or the book report I had failed to write, the mere mention of some possible wintertime accumulation from the lips of TV weather-king Don Wooten would leave me trembling with anticipation. Ordinarily a sound sleeper, I would rise from my bed time after time during the night to peek out my window. But like a watched pot, a hoped-for snowstorm never comes, and I would, finally, sleep until I would hear my dad and mom stirring in the early morning light.
It was the critical moment.
Instead of looking outside for myself, I would stay huddled under the blankets in my mostly unheated bedroom, waiting anxiously for what would come next. If it had not snowed enough--or not at all--I would soon hear my dad call my name in the first step of a multi-phase strategy intended to get me out of bed and off to school. But if--wonders of wonders--enough snow had fallen to clog the country roads and force the cancellation of classes, they would leave me undisturbed.
I would count the seconds and minutes, knowing that every moment that passed increased the chances of the news I hoped for. Sometimes I would jump the gun, creeping downstairs in certainty that school had been called, only to be greeted with a knowing smile by my mother, who understood, and even sympathized, with my day-off dreams.
"Oh good, you're up early," she'd say. "You'll have time to shovel the walk before you go to school."
Now, my mother didn't have a mean bone in her body, but those off-hand words would chill me like an icicle plunged deep into my heart, as the combination of "up early," "shovel the walk" and "go to school" were almost more than my tender sensibilities could bear.
Suddenly, I was exhausted, wanting nothing more than to return to my bed until phase two of the getting-up process, which consisted of lying on the floor in front of the heat register in the bathroom until someone pounded on the door to drive me out and into the cold, cruel world.
But once in awhile, something wonderful would happen.
"No school," my dad would say.
My heart would leap with joy. Noschoolnoschoolnoschool!
No math test. No book report. No problems whatsoever.
Of course, the thought that my one-day reprieve might offer a good chance to actually study and do my homework never entered my mind, as I was instantly engulfed with a desperate need to get out there and play in the wonderful white stuff that had granted me my freedom. Of course, liberty had its price. The 16-mile front walk at our house really did need to be shoveled. And so did the eight zillion square miles of snow around my dad's pharmacy building in downtown Galva.
But soon enough, I was free. Free to go sledding, free to build snow forts, to throw snowballs, trudge through drifts and dig snow caves with my buddies as we played our own versions of North to Alaska and arctic explorer. Free to play all day until, with half-froze noses and toes, we would pile into the nearest mom's kitchen for hot chocolate, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
All pretty simple stuff, I know. But if you can think of anything better, let me know.
You might think I would have outgrown my thing for snow by now.
Certainly, my 25-year commute to Peoria made me less thrilled about traveling when the winter wind blows and the drifts are high. And if that didn't do it, my current gig as a sportswriter, complete with off-the-beaten-track remote locations, late nights and the need for speed when deadlines loom, completed my disinclination to face wintery road conditions with anything less than something akin to dread.
But I still like snow. I like the way it looks as big, lazy flakes float through the pool of light cast by the streetlamp in front of my house late at night. I like the way the sun shines and finds a million tiny diamonds, and the way the long, low light of late afternoon turns the snowy landscape into something surreal. I like walking through the park after dark, with soft powder spraying from my boots in a quiet night so still that my own breathing is the loudest sound around. I love watching kids play in that same park in daytime, turning the snowplow-built hills into Matterhorn Mountains and the playground slides into dizzying downhill adventures. I even sort of like digging out, as my neighbors and I work together to rejoin our sidewalks and kind of conquer winter's grip for awhile. And while highway driving is no treat for anyone, bopping around town in the unstoppable 4-wheel Trooper still gives me a bit of a buzz.
But most of all, I like just looking. Looking and remembering those precious early-morning days when simple things like snowstorms and grilled cheese were enough to fill my heart with boundless joy. When mom would smile and dad would say the words I longed to hear.
It's no wonder.
I like snow.

1 comment:

  1. Great column, John. I too remember the great fun of snow forts, caves and snowball fights. Also, liked the reference to the 16 mile front sidewalk.
    Jeff Hatch