Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Ghosts of Snow Storms Past

It was Christmas Day 1966 in Brooklyn, NY. For me, that meant getting up early, opening the gazillion gifts under the tree that – as an only child – were all mine, then getting into the car and picking up Nana and Baba, my maternal grandparents. This was tradition. This is what we did. Every Christmas for my whole, entire nine years of life.

But when I looked past the glittery, foil-wrapped packages and out the living room window, I saw an incredible sight: snow. And an awful lot of it! In fact, from the whispered voices of my parents in the kitchen, probably too much of it to allow us to pick up Nana and Baba.

A wiggly worm of fear started crawling its way into my Christmas joy. Surely it was not possible that this … this … white stuff … could ruin our family tradition! Could keep us from the people we loved!
My father walked outside to survey the situation. I pulled on my red rubber snow boots and awkwardly followed after him in the deep snow. He shook his head slowly. We didn’t have a snow-blower. (I’m not too sure anyone had a snow blower.) And the snow was up to my waist. But surely Daddy could fix this … Daddy fixed everything.

Gently, he stated the unacceptable: that we probably wouldn’t be able to pick up Nana and Baba.
My Christmas was ruined.

Well, OK, if Daddy couldn’t fix this, then I would, damn it! (I may have said “damn it!” in my head, but I’m sure that as a good Catholic girl, I didn’t say it out loud.) I marched resolutely into the garage as quickly as the snow would allow, which was not very quickly at all, and I grabbed my baby snow shovel, and I started to dig. And I dug and I dug and my Daddy laughed and told me to stop but I dug and I dug and I dug. And my breath came out in big steamy puffs and my face got cold and red and my toes and fingers got cold and numb and I dug and I dug and I dug some more. And when I stepped back to admire my handiwork, I saw that I had barely scratched the surface. This white stuff. This white SHIT (which of course I also did not say) had ruined my Christmas. Was ruining my Christmas. Would continue to ruin my Christmas.

Daddy gently took away my baby shovel, and I dejectedly returned to the house.

I do not remember what was inside those glittery, foil-wrapped packages. I do not remember what we ate for dinner. I just remember my bitter tears of defeat.

I’m not sure if what happened next took place that day or the day after. But Mommy and Daddy had found a solution after all! The minute the buses were running, we threw Nana and Baba’s gifts into shopping bags and trudged our way down the street to the bus stop. We had to take two different buses to get to their house, and the 10-minute trip probably took us a couple of hours in the snow, but we got there. Christmas was saved. Different … but saved. The people who made it Christmas were together. The snow had not won this game!

I never felt the same about snow after that Christmas. Although I admire it and respect it, I still hold a resentment toward it. You will not ruin my joy. You will not alter my plans. You will not keep me from the people I love.

I remembered that yesterday as I shoveled – this time with a small aluminum shovel probably not much bigger than my baby shovel had been but much more effective – and my husband shoveled and ran the snow blower and cleared out our driveway from three feet of record-breaking snow that had fallen the night before. And when we stood looking back at what we had accomplished, backs and shoulders sore, my 9-year-old self smiled and thought, “Here we come, Nana and Baba! We won another round! Nothing will keep us away!”

For information on the “Donner & Blitzen” storm of 1966, follow this link to the Old Farmer’s Almanac: