Monday, March 2, 2009

On Unexpected Reminders

When I was little, I loved snow. Snow in the Midwest meant snowball fights, sledding, and, if we were lucky, no school. It was especially nice having a birthday in the middle of winter. I think I spent more birthdays outside of the school walls than inside thanks to this wonderful white stuff.

There was a large hill in the center of our small town that just beckoned to the neighborhood children when the ground was covered in white. An elderly woman lived there, and though many of us had never met her or even laid eyes on her, it was understood that we were welcome to sled on her property as long as we were safe about it. My brothers and I would bundle up in one layer atop another until we could have been mistaken for twins with a character in a certain classic Christmas movie. We would take our beat up sleds up the hill and spend hours designing ways to make each descent more enjoyable than the one before it. When we got home, we would change out of our wet clothes and sit by the wood stove, which was our only source of heat in the winter, drinking the fresh cups of hot chocolate our mom had prepared for us. These are some of my fondest winter memories.

As I grew older, I changed, as children so often do. Snow became more of a nuisance than a thing to be enjoyed. It did not take long for me to grow weary of scraping ice and brushing snow off of my car when I wanted to go somewhere, allowing extended time to get there once the clearing was completed, dodging it’s reflective glare on everything if the sun was out, and driving like the guy from the DMV was in the passenger’s seat the entire way to my destination. Amazingly, I only had one minor wreck on the ice/snow. But I no longer saw it as a thing of beauty either.

This hatred of snow I developed was one catalyst for my move to the Southeast. It turns out I’m not such a big fan of cold weather in general either and with every passing year, a house at/near the beach beckoned to me.

In some ways, it’s amazing we purchased a house here, considering what happened during our first winter in our new state. Our first nine months here, we lived in a third-floor apartment within walking distance to the local mall and many other stores and restaurants. It was a nice location. Until January. We had been told that it never snowed here. That we had moved close enough to the coast to avoid snow altogether. Apparently never ended in January, 2003.

In the Midwest, you go to school in the snow, on time, unless there is a strong wind and the roads are drifting shut, which of course becomes a safety hazard. In many parts of the Southeast, you cancel school if the weatherman says there might be a chance that a single snowflake could fall sometime prior to the opening of the school day. And you do not, under any circumstances attempt to drive anywhere in it, even if you are accustomed to driving on ice-laden roadways.

We had been holed-up in our upstairs apartment for about 36 hours when my wife announced that she could no longer stay there and she wanted to go look for a house. Thankfully everyone else had heeded the no driving advice and we were one of the few cars on the road that afternoon. We didn’t find our house that weekend, but did the next and had closed and moved in within two months time, which was not bad for first-time homebuyers with no money for a down payment.

That snowfall was the last one until this winter. It has been unseasonably cold for us, though not nearly as cold as it has been in many parts of the country. One day in November we had snow flurries, but miraculously they did not adjourn school early that day. There was a day in December with scattered flurries as well. We’ve had a few delays for ice, one in January and one in February, respectively.

But the big snowfall came while we were out of town. We were returning from a snow-covered visit to the Northeast when we found our connecting flight had been cancelled. It turns out that snow had started falling that afternoon and, true-to-form, everything had closed, including our local airport. We flew into a neighboring city and rented a car to complete the journey that night. I was already off work the following day, which was probably a good thing.

I have grown to despise snow and ice, but I was not even remotely prepared for the emotional impact this snowfall would have on me. I have seen and been in snow many times over the intervening six years between snowfalls here. I played in it with my daughter in the Midwest the week after Christmas. We spent two days traipsing around a major city in it together over MLK weekend. Those snows affected me the same way all other snows have since I turned sixteen almost half a lifetime ago.

But this one was different. This snow instantly took me back six years. We were still technically newlyweds. We lived in that tiny upstairs apartment with a cat and dog, both of whom have since passed. Our beautiful daughter was but a gleam in her Maker’s eye. It was a time when we would rent movies and huddle up under blankets to watch them together. A time when we would sleep in on Saturdays and stay in our pajamas most of the day after that. It was a time when college-living had begun to merge with real adulthood, but traces of both were still visible around the edges.

It was a time when she was healthy.

It was a time when she was here.

It’s snowing here again tonight. They’ve already called with a two-hour delay for school tomorrow, but we’re only supposed to get a dusting.

I hope they’re right.

I don’t think I could take another groundcover this winter.


  1. I have no words, just to say that my prayers are with you and your daughter. You write beautifully and I hope you find this an outlet for you.

  2. Tawny - Thank you for your kind words. It has taken me two years to be able to write about these things. If, in sharing my story, I can help others, then my time spent here will be worth it. Your prayers are much-appreciated.

  3. Snow can be bleak as it lays the landscape to waste.

    Here in England, we've had tons of snow this winter -- the first time for many years. I'm glad that my kids now have the experience of sledging on our local hills, since I had feared that would be a memory forever missing from their lives.

    Thinking back to happy, snowy times in the past is something different. Your writing reminds me of those playful scenes in Love Story, just before the story turns.

    It's good to take the time to remember, and then you have to try to take those happy memories forwards, and gather new ones with you as you go. Does that work? Not entirely, no.

    But it's the best that you can do.

  4. I found your blog through Matt and Maddy's blog. I have no words of comfort, but wanted you to know that you will be in my thoughts and prayers from here on out. I can't imagine how hard this has been, but I can tell how very much you love your daughter and wife. Thinking of you.

  5. Roads - I realized that from the moment my wife passed, everything would be a "first" without her. There are still some painful ones, but we are learning how to embrace the new ones. And regardless of my feelings on snow, my daughter is building her own happy memories of which it is a small part.

    Nizzle - Thank you for your kind words and prayers. The grief is always much more raw at this time of year, but spring is coming and things will be a bit better then.