The entire sled run — launching from our driveway, down the slope, along the microvalley between our house and the neighbors’, and almost to the curb — was maybe 30 feet. But when you’re small and riding an unsteerable silver saucer over snow, it’s exhilarating and, like a toddler comic’s joke, infinitely repeatable.
When I asked my daughter what she remembers about snow days, that was the first answer, in two words: “Pizza panning!”
Snow didn’t come every winter, and it seldom stayed long. So when it fell, we made do with what we had. A large pizza pan doubled as a saucer sled: sit on it, grip the sides, dig with your heels to push off, pick your feet up. Wheeee! She remembered another repurposing: “Wearing plastic bags on my feet because I didn’t have boots and my tennies would get wet.”
Snow days might provide some children with their first practical application of alphabetical order skills, and the wisdom of “trust, but verify.” She remembers “the anticipation while I watched for” her school district’s name “to scroll across the bottom of the screen. First, because I was hoping we’d be out, and then because I needed confirmation (I wanted to see it a few times).”
And she remembers what child-me felt (and still does) about snow, fresh crayon tips, and the temptations of a Bic pen’s glide across a sneaker’s outsole: “Being conflicted about going out and playing vs. leaving patches of snow untouched. It’s like when I stick a knife in new peanut butter—I like it, but I also feel like I’ve ruined it.”
For my brother and me, the sled run was longer: from the hedges at the top of the Towners’ back yard, down the hill, past the pump house, into the vacant lot beside the Painters’ and, if our shove-off was forceful enough and the snow was just right, over the sidewalk onto Jacquette Street.
There was a hand-me-down Flexible Flyer, big enough for both of us, its wood planks faded to the color of driftwood. One Christmas Santa brought blue plastic rectangles with yellow braided nylon handles where the front curled up, also unsteerable; on one of my first runs, I beaned myself on our swingset. Another Christmas, we each got ski-sleds handmade by the guy across the street, a flat oak seat on a thin pedestal above a single runner. Straddle the runner, sit down, grip the sides, push off, put your feet atop the runner, and do your wobbly best to balance your weight. Look for the most piled-up snow if you have to ditch. Wheeee!
Inside, afterwards, there would be hot chocolate, made with Hershey’s cocoa and whole milk (there were only three kinds of milk in the world back then: whole, chocolate, and butter-) and real marshmallows. Our boots would drip dry on newspapers spread on the kitchen floor. We’d marvel at how long it took our most chilled flesh to return to room temperature. The gas oven might be turned on and the door opened, a pretend fireplace with real warmth.
Attitudes about snow are not universal. “Yay! No school!” can live in the same house with “Please! Not again” and “Dang! How am I going to get to work?” A mother in New York is Tiggerish about snow upon snow, while a mother in Indiana is all Eyeore about predictions of spring’s return. A northern Washington mom posts pictures of her boys skiing and leaping from snowbank to snowbank for “stunt practice,” while a Michigan mom posts a video of cars driving through thick snow with more falling, with the caption, “Send whiskey.”
Either way, these are the makings of memorable days. In fact, one of my oldest memories is covered in snow.
I’m dressed in a puffy hooded coat, puffy pants with elastic under my heels, white rubber boots and something on my hands, sitting in a cardboard box with the top and one end torn off so my feet stick out but my sides are protected. There’s a towel or throw rug under me for warmth and cushioning. I’m on top of a wooden sled, pointing downhill on the street in front of our house, riding lower than the lowest car. The silver runners glide over the bumpy snow as Dad pulls me with the long gray rope that’s knotted through holes on either end of the steering bar. It’s not very fast at all but it’s exciting, especially when he tugs and the runners find a smooth patch and the rope goes slack as the sled gains on him.
When we get to the intersection, a man from the neighborhood greets Dad. I don’t recognize him but Dad seems to. He makes a joke, and there’s no way I could be remembering this accurately, but it seems like the kind of joke men make to each other about daughters’ pull on daddies, something I wouldn’t have recognized as a joke at the time.
If he were still here, I’d ask if he remembered that day, and whether the box was his idea or Mom’s. If she were still here, I’d tease her about Dad’s contention that she went sledding with the neighborhood kids on the neighborhood’s longest, steepest yard the winter she was pregnant with me, and call it my oldest memory: “I remember. It was dark, and we went very, very fast!”
Instead, I’ll put on my boots and walk to work through the sugar dusting of our first snow this winter, all smiles, bundled up with these mufflers of memory.
UPDATE: Four days later, we got real snow, 6 inches of it, record-setting for this date in this place. I took a nice long walk in it. By afternoon much of it had melted or been driven or tramped out of existence.
What are your snow memories? Might you be making some today? Snow grinches, yours are welcome too.
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