[I wrote this essay several years back, but it still resonates today.]
1983. Age: 9.
Wake up languidly around 8:30 a.m. Instantly and simultaneously realize two things: Mom has not woken me up for school, and that means it’s a snow day. Mom watches news religiously and weatherman was predicting at least six inches of snow, so went to bed knowing this was entirely possible. Huge smile spreads over face. Stretch once, then hop joyfully out of bed and put on robe and Garfield slippers. Mom is already in kitchen making breakfast. Have scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice after running to window to check depth of snow. Marvel at how pretty everything looks with no cars going by on street and huge drifts of snow blanketing bushes, driveway, trees. Hope snowplows cannot get out.
After breakfast, defer playing outside and acquiesce to younger sister’s request to play Connect Four. Whup her ass because I have two years on her and thus strategic part of brain is more developed. Snow time further delayed due to mandatory viewing of “The Price Is Right,” which is special weekday treat viewed only on summers and vacation days. Rejoice when favorite game, Plinko, is on. Moan with contestant and audience that not once does Plinko chip slide into $10,000 slot. Vaguely wonder if Plinko game is rigged.
Finally suit up for snow play. Entails outrageously high knee socks, long pants, snow pants over those, shirt and sweatshirt, heavy winter coat, knit cap with bimple-bomple on top, scarf wound around face approximately five times, thick padded gloves clipped to coat sleeves, and moon boots with squishy insides like foam mattress. Dash outside with sister and proceed to defile virgin snow by breaking paths through knee-high drifts. Complete requisite construction of several snowballs and pelt each other with them (not near face to avoid wrath of mom). Snap icicle off tree and eat it. Follow mom’s dictate not to eat yellow snow. Brush snow off swings, slide and trapeze on swing set, as this is “being helpful” to mom. Lie down and make snow angels, giggling madly. Begin construction on traditional snowman. Younger sister makes head; we both make middle and bottom. Find rocks to use for eyes and mouth. Snap spindly branches off tree for cool-looking snowman arms. Knock on back door and request carrot for nose and extra scarf for snowman. Know better than to drag snowy boots through house to get them ourselves. Mom obliges. Snowman complete. Return inside and de-suit, leaving outerwear in heap by door, for lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Much to our delight, mom has made fresh chocolate chip cookies. Gorge.
Fortified and sugar-buzzing, re-suit for afternoon play. Foot had slipped out of moon boot during morning and boot interior became cold and soggy. Mom insists on boots for outside. Improvises by having me put on regular shoes and shoving two Wonderbread plastic bags over shoes, securing them on calves with giant rubber bands, rendering shoes waterproof. Hurrah! Snow has resumed falling. Spot neighbor children, good friends Adam and Susan Biggs, clattering out their back door. Invite them to hop chain-link fence and join us. They oblige. (Even padded with clothing like a tick about to burst, hopping chain-link fence is not difficult.) Decide snow fort would be industrious and productive use of time. Discover difficulty of constructing adequate walls with absence of tools other than hands. Stand in snow and think hard. Struck by heavenly inspiration, knock on back door and request Tupperware containers from mom. Receive rectangle-shaped containers and proceed to construct large, perfect snow bricks. Skip He-Man and Voltron cartoons in favor of seeing how much of snow fort can get done. Spend afternoon happily piling snow bricks into fort, leaving space for door. Thrilled with architectural prowess as can actually walk in and have room to sit down. Succeed in building snow fort almost head-high. Make snowballs to pile inside for arsenal. Sun has set and streetlights have come on, illuminating still-falling snow and bathing snow fort in Hollywood-esque light. Decide finishing touch is needed. Borrow extra yardstick from mom and tie yellow plastic Post-Dispatch wrapper to stick, crowning snow fort with homemade flag, which looks more like windsock. Cold but far from tired, retire inside, delighted to find favorite dinner of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries with ketchup. Compliment mom on her “cooking.” Puzzled when she responds by rolling eyes.
Still snowing. Probability of second snow day discussed. Sister and I snuggle on couch wrapped in sheep- and duck-printed wool blankets. Mom puts in “Sound of Music” videotape, taped off network television. Settle in for three hours of singing and dancing, with bowls of popcorn and a glass of Pepsi each. Wonder what Liesel ever saw in Rolf. Unanimous agreement of the von Trapps’ bravery for singing at the festival before fleeing the Nazis.
Finally retire for night. Snuggle with Heart-to-Heart Bear (teddy bear with heartbeat). Mom tucks in and kisses forehead. Say prayers. Fall asleep immediately with utter sense of contentment, safety, happiness and peace.
2009. Age: 33.
Bolt awake at 2 a.m. Panic. Quietly raise window blinds of bedroom. Fully aware of previous night’s forecast of six to eight inches of snow, peer outside to check road condition. Swear inwardly as view street blanketed with snow and drifts on lawn nearly burying flower garden. Sinking suspicion that eight inches has already been reached. Swear further at absence of snowplows. Pray that highways are being cleared. Attempt to stockpile more sleep.
Don’t so much “awaken” as swim blearily toward consciousness at 6:30 a.m. Sigh into electric blanket. Grab robe, nearly trip over inquisitive cat, check school closings online. Am employed by seminary which closes only in cases of massive ice storms or citywide power outage. Doubt that eight inches of snow will dissuade them from educating future pastors. Suspicions confirmed. Seminary opening only 30 minutes later than usual. Vividly and colorfully swearing inside head, put on work uniform and top with heavy overcoat, scarf wound around head five times, leather gloves and 14-year-old Timberland waterproof boots.
Retrieve snow shovel from garage. Begin laborious and highly distasteful task of shoveling eight inches off driveway. Sweat profusely and become short of breath. Upon reaching end of driveway, invent new curse words when realize city plowing has created hard-packed ridge of snow to be cleared. Remark to self on incredulity of snow being so heavy.
Husband sticks head out door and begins to criticize shoveling technique. Respond that if he knows what’s good for him he’ll see if there’s a second snow shovel in garage and lend assistance at once. Husband shuts door in pissy manner to suit up. Lean on snow shovel despondently at end of driveway, dreaming of hot breakfast and coffee. Realize driveway only one-quarter cleared. Dream of fast-forwarding 30 years to retirement. Think dismally how much 30 years resembles life sentence. Resume shoveling despite growing ache in lower back. Husband appears and searches for second snow shovel. Husband asks with amazement and contempt in voice why I am shoveling from edge instead of starting in middle of driveway. Not at best at 7:30 a.m. with no food or coffee, not to mention freezing and tired with dread of two-hour commute ahead, exchange heated words and insults with husband. Upon completion of my side of driveway, fling snow shovel to ground in dramatic display of temper and frustration.
Stalk inside. Realize have sweated so much in work uniform as to require shower. Strip and enjoy hot shower. Phone rings. With foresight, have brought both landline and cell phone into bathroom in case of boss phoning. Congratulate self on advance planning. Boss notifies me of office’s late opening. One leg in shower and one out, hold phone at distance from ear to adequately hear, yet avoid getting shampoo in phone. Ask boss, since work has been slow, of any possibility of taking day off. Boss thinks for several seconds and grants request. Elated, hang up and wipe water off phone. As finish shower, bless boss for her kindness and praise God for amassed hours of paid time off. Ask God’s forgiveness for swearing and childish behavior while shoveling. Instead of feeling better, feel worse for snapping at husband. Grumpily mutter to self about shoveling being man’s work anyway. Mean side of brain mutters back that husband has done laundry and cooking for past seven years. Snap at brain to shut up.
Change into sweats and thick winter socks. Make fried egg sandwich for breakfast. Read paper rescued from snowdrift. Cat jumps into lap and gets kiss on head. Husband’s earliest clients have cancelled because of snow, pushing his work start time to 2 p.m. Answer emails from friends. Call mother-in-law in boonies to assure she has power. Debate possibilities of reading novel, sewing, doing scrapbook page or cleaning bathroom. Worn out after start of day, chuck all options and lie on couch. Curl up with sheep-print wool blanket still in possession from childhood. Do not watch “The Price is Right” since Bob Barker retired. Watch “Little House on the Prairie” marathon. Marvel at how stupid Italian immigrant is who went to Deadwood with Ingalls to pan for gold, running down street of Deadwood hollering of good fortune. Correctly predict Italian immigrant will be shot and robbed within 20 minutes. Eat two pieces of cheese for lunch.
Husband leaves for work. Channel surf and watch show on beaches on Travel Channel. Wistfully remember honeymoon in Mexico. Try to remember what 80 degrees feels like. Would like to get mail, but on principle will not step foot outside again. Make huge mug of Ghirardelli hot chocolate and mourn absence of mini marshmallows. Make popcorn. Watch part of “Casino Royale” for twentieth time. Appreciate Daniel Craig’s beauty. Snuggle lower on couch. Cat jumps on couch, curls up on gut and goes to sleep. Self follows suit, dozing off for full hour.
Wake to setting sun. Make plain spaghetti for dinner. Am in possession of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries but am too tired for all that trouble. Wish was at mom’s house eating meatloaf and homemade mashed potatoes and playing with dog. Return to couch and watch classic Disney movie from 1960s. Experience happiest moment of day when one cat lies on lap and another lies on chest and both go to sleep.
Get ready for bed. Check street conditions outside. Slushy yet passable. Curl into electric blanket and read favorite author.
Fall asleep slowly and with great difficulty while worrying about friend’s marital problems, state of economy, personal finances, what’s on docket at work tomorrow. Think how long it’s been since felt happy, peaceful and safe all at once. Remember how nice it was when mom tucked us in and kissed foreheads. Realize that last vestiges of childhood fall away when one acquires mortgage and curses snow.
Contemplate moving to Gulf Coast in 30 years to enjoy white sand beaches and pretty blue-green surf.