There are things I liked as a kid that in my adult years I no longer enjoy, but my enthusiasm for snow has continued undiminished. My Grandpa Hank told me I wouldn’t like snow when I got to be his age. My grandfather was wrong about a number of things, but this was his biggest misjudgment.
I liked snow as a kid because it got me out of school. The cancellations would be announced on WGRT, our town’s radio station. Sometimes WGRT wouldn’t even wait for official word. They would predict the closing the night before, working themselves into a frenzy. My siblings and I would take their prophecies as gospel truth, put on our coats, and go for a walk around the block in the snow. I remember how the snow lit the night, and the smothered quiet, and the feel of snow landing on my exposed neck and running in rivulets to the collar of my long underwear. When we got home, Mom would make us hot chocolate, not the stuff in a packet with the pebble-hard marshmallows you dump into hot water, but the real kind with milk and cocoa and sugar. I would stay up late, sitting at my bedroom window, watching the snow fall, backlit by the street light. Cleo Walker would drive past in the snowplow, the strobe casting and retracting its yellow light against the houses. Cleo was a nice man, but it was hard to feel kindly toward a man working to get us back to school.
There were two sledding hills in our town. One of them was at the park but would be closed whenever a kid rammed into the basketball post at the bottom of the hill and cracked his head open. It was always the same kid, Donny Millardo, who had a permanent crease in his forehead from hitting the post.
The other hill was in our backyard. Kids from all over town would descend on our backyard. I went through 12 years of school without ever getting beat up. All the bullies wanted to stay on my good side so they could sled on our hill. Snow was my salvation. If our yard had been flat, I wouldn’t have lived past junior high.
The only thing I didn’t like about snow were the rubber boots my mother made me wear when the first flake hit the ground in mid-November. They had eight buckles, which iced over and froze shut. I couldn’t unlatch them until the spring thaw. There were five children in our family and I fell toward the end, so I wore hand-me-down boots from my brother Doug, who had the smallest feet in the state of Indiana. I would pull the boots on over my shoes, straining and grunting and stomping until the heel of my shoe cleared the back of the boot. I wore them all winter, even slept and showered in them, lest I snap a bone pulling them back on.
This was back in the day before good gloves. When I was a kid, only one kind of glove had been invented: the brown jersey glove. They were made of a special kind of cotton that absorbed 10 times their weight in water and within five minutes would freeze into an icy claw. I continue to like snow because it gets me out of work. On the days it snows, I shovel my driveway, clean my walks, spread salt, then drive over to my parents’ house and do it all over again. If I really want to avoid work, I shovel out my brother’s house, my sister’s house, and my neighbor’s house. Then I drive to the grocery store and buy doughnuts for the town workers plowing the streets. A good snow can occupy me for eight or more hours, by which time it’s too late to go to work. I can enjoy an entire day off from work and look virtuous doing it, even though I’m playing hooky.
We don’t seem to get as much snow as we did when I was a kid. It wasn’t uncommon, when I was five or six years old, for snow to be up past my knees. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Now it only reaches the top of my boots. I’m no weather expert, but I suspect this has something to do with global warming.
Still, to waken in the morning and see the glint and dazzle of snow upon the ground was, and remains, a deep and wondrous joy. I’m not sure what it was that turned my grandfather against snow, but I hope whatever it was never happens to me.