The View From Away: Winter
For a minute there, it looked as if we were finally going to get the brutal winter my California friends warned me about when we decided to move to Maine. Warned in the sense of telling me how I wouldn't be able to handle it after 20 years of sunshine. For a state that does not have what you or I would call weather, California produces a surprising number of experts in meteorology. We had a lot of conversations about this.
"You know, your blood thins out after a few years."
"I'm from Michigan."
"Yeah, but we're talking about Maine. Maine. I think they have reindeer or something."
"Moose. You're thinking of Lapland. Or maybe an animated Christmas special. Maine is on the same latitude as Michigan."
"Yeah, but your blood thins out after a few years. And they have, like, Artic conditions up there." (Spelling intentional.)
In the end, there was a cold snap followed by a warm spell. When we finally got a few days of mild temperatures and the kind of light fluffy snow that snowmen and picture postcards are made of, I kept finding myself almost reliving my childhood winters.
Several times, I stood in the driveway, holding a shovel and discovering that I had spent the last 10 minutes building snowmen in Charlotte, Mich., with my brother and sister. There were three of us born in 3 1/2 years (for those of you who wonder why they called it the baby “boom"). Just before I turned 10, our sister Jacki was born, who loved the snow more than the three of us together. She would spend hours in the bitter cold, all by herself, making little snow people and snow angels. However, that was later and part of a different story. These flashbacks are about the time before she arrived on the scene.
Patti was the oldest and the bossy one, Don was the youngest and better than me at everything. I was just there. Together we were "the boys," a phrase Patti used several hundred times a day with a mixture of contempt and pity. We built a lot of snow men (for Patti) and snow forts (for "the boys"). We broke icicles off the house, had sword fights with the long ones, ate the small ones. We had to keep it on the down-low because our mother was convinced we would either stab each other or poison ourselves with "those dirty filthy things."
Some of the flashbacks were closer to PTSD, such as the time I worked myself into a rage remembering my father sending me out in "Artic conditions" to shovel the front walk, so the mailman could get to the house. As a kid, I could not understand why my father never shoveled it himself. Later, when I grew up, I got it. It was cold out, and he had kids, which is to say, indentured servants. Someday I hope to become a big enough person to forgive him for all the times he dragged us out of a huge snowball fight just when it was getting good. To this day, my father is the best driver in poor conditions I have ever seen. Surely, he could have navigated a foot of snow in a driveway without the help of three innocent children. Innocent children who had spent the last hour stockpiling 100 snowballs that would now be used by the children's mortal enemies to slaughter them.
It would take us hours to shovel the driveway because (a) snow is heavy, (b) we were little, and (c) we didn’t want to shovel the driveway. It took about 10 seconds for Patti to decide that "the boys" should do the heavy lifting while she supervised, i.e., did nothing. Don and I would race to see who could shovel faster for a minute and then start getting in each other's way. I did it on purpose. I can't speak for him. This inevitably led to "Quit it!" and "No, you quit it!" maybe a dozen times, followed by the mandatory shoving, one of us falling, the other washing his face with snow, more "Quit it!" and finally, Patti narcing on us. "Mom! Dad! The boys are fighting and they're not doing the driveway!" She would pick up a shovel to look like the good child when our father came to the door, which he would within seconds.
If getting from the living room to the front door of your house to yell at your kids were an Olympic sport, my father could have competed for his country. The cold made his breath look as if he were breathing fire when he yelled at us to "pick up those damn shovels." (For years, I thought "damn shovel" was the technical name for a snow shovel). Meanwhile, the neighborhood kids would wait patiently in the bushes to pelt us with our own snowballs.
My child's sense of injustice still flares up at the memory of all those times of being taken away from the serious business of play for something as trivial as work. But the experiences made me what I am, and they made my relationships with my siblings what they are. You could say they are in our blood. The kind of blood that doesn’t thin out after a couple of years. You know?