Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I don't dream about a White Christmas...

I don’t like snow.

It wasn’t always like that, but after having spent most of my winters in sunny Southern California, moving to a snowy clime was a rather radical change for me.

I was 19 when I moved to the greater Boston area and I arrived on a sultry, stormy summer’s day…between the humidity and the no-see-ums, a particularly odious species of nearly microscopic biting fly...I was not terribly impressed. But soon the weather cooled and I was faced with one of the most spectacular autumn landscapes I had ever seen in my life. I was enthralled, I was enchanted…I was impressed!

Unfortunately, the weather just couldn’t quit while it was ahead and those snappy, crisp autumn days segued into a bitter winter chill that settled into my bones and simply would not leave. No amount of layering, no wrapping in blankets, no degree of heat from the furnace could give me comfort, I simply huddled and shivered and prayed for deliverance. Paradoxically I was, at the same time, looking forward to my first white Christmas. It didn’t snow in San Diego…you had to go up to the Laguna Mountains for that…and our rare Christmas trips to Oregon hadn’t netted any snow that I could recall.

And so, at 19, while cursing the cold that left my fingers fumbly and my feet numb, I would still peer out the window every morning hoping to see that pristine blanket of snow heralding the beginning of the holiday season. And every morning I would find myself greeted by the depressingly brown landscape of dead lawns, barren flowerbeds, and naked trees. It was disheartening.

We lived in a government housing project out on a little spit of land that was surrounded by water. It was nearly an island, with nothing but a narrow two-lane causeway connecting us to the mainland. It was too cold to go for a walk or a bike ride or take the children out, there were no shops, no activities, not even a bus to take me to town. There was nothing to do all day except watch TV, clean the already immaculate little apartment, and occasionally glance out the window and past the dull brown landscape to the flat grey water of our little inlet.

Thanksgiving came and went, and we spent it with my in-laws, New Englanders to the core. On days when the sun was out and the winds did not whip frostily across the water, I would try to take the kids out for a little walk to the playground, the baby snuggled into his bunting and tucked securely into his carriage, my daughter toddling precariously in her rose-coloured hand-me-down snowsuit, looking for all the world like a miniature pink Michelin Man.

Christmas morning finally came and I was in a frenzy. We had a command performance with my formidable mother-in-law at noon, and she was a stickler for punctuality. With two kids to get ready, and needing to carve out enough time for myself so that she could not have anything to further sharpen her tongue on, I barely glanced in the mirror, let alone out the window. Our presents were already bagged and ready to carry with us to Braintree, but while my husband slept in, I had two little ones to bathe and dress and then myself to prepare. It wasn’t my daughter started squealing that I went out to the front door, looked through the storm door, and was greeted with a pristine panorama of white that blanketed the neighbourhood up to the tops of the car tyres. It was fabulous! Christmas morning and a fresh snowfall…I was entranced.

Eagerly I grabbed my boots and coat and reached for the storm door handle, only to find the door frozen shut! Apparently the blowing wind had stacked snow up against my front door and blown it into the cracks around the door and then it all froze solid. I was not amused…how was I going to get out there and make a snowman—my first—if I couldn’t get the blasted door open? Weighing my options, I finally decided to wake my husband up. He was going to have to get the door open sooner or later if we were going to make it to his mother’s house by noon, so now was as good a time as any.

He was not amused. While I was focussed on getting the door open so I could play in the snow, he immediately assessed the situation as being more dour than I had realized.

“Plow hasn’t been by,” he grunted in typically truncated New England fashion. “Gonna have a helluva time getting the car out before the plow comes.”

I nodded, not immediately realizing the ramifications of what he was saying…I just wanted him to get the damned door open so I could go out and play! An unspoiled mantle of snow stretched from the front door out to the car, the ugly desiccated lawn covered over with glittery white, and the naked trees now had an ethereal coating of ice on their branches. The dry barren earth of yesterday had been transformed into a breathtaking fairyland and I wanted access to it!

Finally, he got the door open and with a whoop of joy I rushed out onto the front stoop, a cement pad with three steps leading down to the sidewalk. The snow had developed a hard crust in the cold morning hours and so I was able to run on top of it for a few yards before one foot punched through the shell and I plummeted…with just one leg, mind you…down into the soft wet snow beneath. I was stuck.

My husband, knowing what was ahead of him, had gone back into the house to get dressed. I hollered and flailed about for a bit, eventually extricating myself from the hole I had made, but now sweaty inside my woollies. And I had snow inside my boots…or I should say, ice water. I carefully picked my way back to the house, only to be met with an exceedingly unhappy husband, dressed and wrapped like a mummy, who muttered the single word “Coffee” as he snatched the snow shovel from the front closet and headed outside.

He had a fearsome temper, so I put the coffee on before I stripped off my wet clothes. The water in my boots and my feet had equalized their temperatures by now, so I was stumbling around the house on numb stumps, and my hair was wet from sweat and exertion. I stripped down and put on my bathrobe and went to the window to watch my husband shovel a path from the front door to the curb, where the car was parked, our apartment having no garages or carports.

Suddenly, I realized what had my husband in such a bad mood…the road was invisible under the blanket of snow and the car was locked tightly into its place next to the curb. Not only was he going to have to dig a path to the car, and dig the car out, he was going to have to put tyre chains on the thing or we’d never get out of the projects and across that narrow causeway…it was Christmas day and we lived out in a low-income enclave…we weren’t likely to see a snow plough any time soon.

His father and uncle worked for the DPW—Department of Public Works—and a surreptitiously placed phone call worked wonders. As my husband, fuelled by caffeine and bile, dislodged and moved tons of snow, his uncle dispatched a snow plough to our neighbourhood. And, in a real life cliché, as the last few shovelfuls of snow freed the car from its icy imprisonment, the snow plough came around the bend and scraped the roadway clean, depositing the gathered snow in a sinuous, freezing hillock parallel to its path…and burying every car parked at the curb, including the one my husband had just dug out. I made another pot of coffee and hurried to make a hot breakfast, knowing he was going to have to start all over again.

His mother was not happy that we were going to be late. “You’ve known for weeks what time you had to be here!” she barked into the phone. “Why must everything always be last minute with you?” Who knew that my order for a white Christmas was going to be filled with such thoroughness and alacrity?

Before long my husband came back into the house, his face set in a grim line. “Is the car dug out?” I asked with false cheer, shushing the toddler and jiggling the fussy baby. “Shall I get the kids ready to go?”

He grunted and grabbed the coffee pot. “Undercarriage is frozen to the street,” he muttered, wrapping his reddened hands around the hot mug. It seems that the wind from our grey little bay had blown snow under the car and, when the temperatures dropped in the early morning, it had formed a crust of ice like the one I had broken through, only this crust of ice was a solid chunk linking the undercarriage of the car to the pavement below. He went next door to borrow tools and resumed his dismal, freezing endeavours.

Time passed and, with the exception of regular trips to the house for coffee, it was hours before he came in to say the car was finally freed. I was afraid to tell him how many times his mother had called, haranguing us…well, ME, in particular…for our lack of foresight and planning and giving me a blow-by-blow account of the ruination of her Christmas dinner.

As I dressed the kids, he went out to warm up the car, only to return minutes later, red-faced with frustration and suppressed rage. The door locks were frozen and he couldn’t’ get the car door open.

When he resolved that, the battery was low and couldn’t turn over the engine. A neighbour helped with that.

The windscreen wipers were frozen…not the blades frozen to the glass, mind you, but the joints where they pivoted, so we had no wipers.

Eventually, two hours late, we set off for his mother’s house where we were greeted with a furious mother-in-law and starving guests who had to wait even longer while my husband showered and cleaned up after his Herculean labours of the morning. His mother, so angry at our tardiness, focussed her fury on me and, when he finally presented himself, turned on him. His pent-up frustration over the morning’s events erupted and a fight of magnificent proportions ensued, culminating in my being commanded to pack up the kids and get into the car, we were going home.

Calmer heads eventually prevailed, but the day had been spoilt. The baby slept, my daughter…not yet two…was cross and wary, petulant and fussy, unlike her normal sunny self. Eventually the day ground to a close and, with a mountain of gifts for the children piled in the car, we wound our way through the slippery streets to home, only to find…

Someone had parked in the space my husband had worked for hours to clear, the parking space that had been ours every night for the three months we had lived in our little flat. Now, with a car full of presents and two sleepy children, we couldn’t park the car. As I juggled sleeping babies and trod ever-so-carefully on the now-icy walk, he went from door to door, banging noisily and rudely demanding to know whose car was parked in his hard-won space. I got the kids into the house and into their beds and skidded my way back to the car…standing in the middle of the road with the driver’s door open and the engine running...to unpack it. Several trips…and not a few pratfalls on the icy walk…later, I had fetched the contents of the car into the house, but he was still making his rounds, spreading his own particular brand of Christmas cheer to the neighbours.

As I changed the sleeping baby, I heard the car door slam and the engine rev. I tucked the little one into his crib and began undressing my limp little girl, expecting my husband to walk through the door any minute, the parking problem resolved. It didn’t happen.

Hours later I stood alone on the icy front step looking across the shimmering road…and our now-empty parking space…to the moonlight playing on the dark waters of the bay and wondered how something so pure and magical as the season’s first snowfall could initiate a day so full of acrimony and ill-will. It was now after 10, the children soundly sleeping and I was alone on this, my first white Christmas. My husband was, I knew by this time, drowning his sorrows at one of the local taverns, oblivious to the pile of unopened gifts scattered beneath the tree…he had wanted to get home before full dark and so we had not opened them at his mother’s house…and to the slumbering babies, and to his wife who was standing shivering on an icy stoop, gazing at the new moon and asking herself just what was so wonderful about a white Christmas, after all.

I hate snow.


  1. Sounds like a replay of the many frigid winters I spent growing up in Wisconsin.

  2. Oh! You had an awful day!

    I spent 20 years away from snow (having grown up in Northern Pennsylvania) in Florida, and have moved back to the DC area, but we live in an apartment complex and can end up shoveling our spaces for our two cars several times a day if we leave and come back. Many here do not own shovels and they wait for us to vacate our clean spots and move their cars.

    There still is something magical about that white blanket.... but it can create numerous headaches in an area where people are not used to much snow.


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