An elegy to snowstorms past

Great mountains of it drifted like white dunes beyond our kitchen window. I pulled on two pairs of socks, then Mother held my rubber boots while I stuffed my feet into them. “I’d like buckle-up galoshes like Harry’s,” I whined, still pushing to get my feet flat on the boots’ insoles.

“If we have the money, you’ll get some when you start school next year,” Mom answered with a grunt as my feet bottomed out.

Minutes later I waddled outside, cocooned, in sweater, coat, scarf, two pair of pants, wool mittens, and my winter helmet with furry earflaps and under-chin strap. Mother’s charge followed me into the white world beyond the doorway, “Now if you stay out for an hour, I’ll have hot biscuits when you come in. Don’t go far from the house. And don’t get snow in your boots.”

I stood on the big stone we used as a back step. The same wind that had piled the snow into huge drifts in the side yard, had swept the step clear. Its slate-grey surface coldly smirked up at me. I staggered into the snow, sank knee deep, and with laboured steps made my way to the side of the house. There I stared at the enormous snowdrift. I had never visited the Rockies but, with white hills like this, I didn’t need real mountains. I’d dig a snow cave and make an Eskimo house. Or I’d climb to the top and come sliding down.

I began digging with mittened hands. The snow pushed aside easily until I reached the bottom of last night’s snowfall. Then I struck the solid surface of last week’s snow, hardened by the wind into a crust that resisted my flailing fists and stamping feet. I’d need a heavy tool to break through. I gave up digging and on hands and knees climbed to the top of the drift. When I tried to slide the loose snow atop the crust held me back. I succeeded only in rolling down and gaining an outer coat of snow. Thinking I needed something to slide on, I remembered a cardboard box in the machine shed.

I plowed through the snow toward the shed. The thick padding of clothes stiffened my walk. That and the snow coating, made me look like a pre-incarnate Pillsbury Doughboy. Now sweating inside my cocoon, I reached the shed. Perspiration soaked me as I fought the heavy door.

Finally inside I collected the box and a rusted wrecking bar, then laboured back to the drift. My feet had become numb with the cold and my frozen breath had turned my scarf into a Santa Claus beard. Stumbling, falling, crying, and shivering, I dropped the tool and box and headed for the back door.

In the house, the smell of baking biscuits wafted from the oven. Would Mother give me any now? She stood akimbo for a long moment, before bending to remove my boots. “Wet feet. Crying like a baby. And back indoors after only 20 minutes. I told you it was too cold out, but no, you knew better.”

As I prepared this column, I looked out from a warm apartment during an Ontario winter that had struck early, invading us before the end of autumn. I laughed. The feeble snow that imprisons me as an adult would not have challenged me at age 6. Oh yes, I should tell you that Mother treated me with the biscuits, but sent me out later in the day to put away the box and wrecking bar.


Ray Wiseman