When I first moved from Iowa to the Phoenix valley, I noticed the centerpiece of my neighbor’s landscaped yard was a red plastic snow shovel buried upside down with “RIP” painted across the scoop. I soon discovered my neighbor’s sentiment was shared by many, if not most, of the folks who live in the Arizona desert.
In a way I understand. I don’t miss scraping ice off my windshield or trying to jump-start an Oldsmobile when it’s 10 degrees below zero. But I do miss the snow. Especially at Christmas time.
For those who dwell in the land of the frozen north, snow is like the weird uncle in your family. You talk about him every time you get together, but you’d miss him if he wasn’t around. One Christmas, back in ’87, we didn’t have snow. Oh, there was a sparkling hoar frost on the trees Christmas morning. But no snow. Everything was brown. It was still Christmas, but it wasn’t the same. All day I kept looking out the window the way you do when you’re expecting a friend to pull in the driveway at any moment. That particular day the snow didn’t show.
When your family has lived in cold country for generations, snow becomes part of your family history. In the early 1920’s when my Grandfather was pursuing and courting my Grandmother, she told him it “would be a cold day” before she would ever marry him. It was. A stormy 30 degrees below zero on Christmas Eve 1924.
Blizzards worthy of reputation are known by the year of their occurrence. The March Blizzard of ’66, The January Storms of ’75 and ’83. And if Christmas dinner conversations among my elders are any indicator, the winter of ’36 was the Grand Pooh-Bah of snow and cold. My Grandmother was snowbound in her farmhouse from December until March with a colicky one year old baby. My Grandfather joined with other neighbor men in walking six miles to town to get supplies because the drifts were too deep for cars or horses to move.
In the Midwest, snow rarely arrives as a solitary guest knocking softly on your door. Most often it pounds and wails against your house with a fierce wind. Snowflakes are like people that way. Alone, they’re pretty easy to get along with. But when they start running with the wrong crowd, they change. When snow runs with the wind it changes; from a soft white blanket into a wet leather glove, slapping you in the face. Icy and mean with a cold snarl it mocks you, “Go ahead. Grab your down vest. Put on that high-tech Thinsulate parka. Get as warm as you can. Then step outside, pal. I’ll blow through you like a screen door.” There’s nothing like the experience of opening the door to a wind chill with an attitude.
Yet there are moments. Brief and beautiful moments of winter that drop by unexpectedly to apologize for months of blowing and bluster.
It was a few days before Christmas in my thirteenth year. A neighbor kid and I were standing on the sidewalk along Main Street in Fairmont, Minnesota. It was an unusually quiet evening, save the music of the season piped over the downtown speakers and the jingle of bells on store doors announcing the comings and goings of holiday shoppers. We had just walked out of Jake’s Pizza when it happened. From a seemingly clear night sky, snow began to fall. Big fluffy wet flakes, floating straight and silent toward the ground. It was the loveliest snow I had ever seen. Embarrassingly polite, these snowflakes gently tapped you on the shoulder and whispered, “We’ll be no trouble. We’re just here to make things pretty.” It was a snow so magical and quiet that folks on the street just stopped to watch. In five minutes it was over.
It was only a moment on Main Street in a small Minnesota town. I’m glad I stopped to watch. Those big snowflakes melted into a memory. One I can enjoy anytime and share with anyone. Like right now with you.
Your friends at Sinclair hope that this Christmas, you and yours will stop to watch the simple beauties of the season!