I love snowy white winters, but ever since the Navy moved us to Florida, the only flakes we see are floating in milk-filled cereal bowls. So, I sit on my sunny screened porch in January, surrounded by green grass, ocean breezes, and palm trees, and I dream of snow.
I know, I know, that’s nuts. Crazy. Certifiable. But I can’t help it. Something was imprinted in my psyche many years ago, something that makes me associate winter with snow, and snow with pleasure.
As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, my heart filled with anticipation at the first snow. To us, snow, especially in copious amounts, meant FUN. Snowballs, sled riding, hot chocolate, and one of the most joyous occasions in a child’s life – SNOW DAYS.
I can recall falling off my flying red plastic sled in a puff of white on the hill behind our house, and laying a minute or two, to make sure I was still in one piece and to listen to the silence – how the snow absorbs noise and brings a soft quietness to the air. Packed and padded in protective layers, I felt swaddled like a baby, watching my breath ascend over me into the air. It was pure joy.
Ironically, a serious sledding accident in the winter of 1977 only strengthened my positive association with snow.
I was in the fifth grade, and it was the last night of our winter break from school, and also my father’s poker night. While the men played cards in our basement rec room, my brother and I listened to radio reports of a blizzard, and hoped for school closures.
Fueled by bravado (and a few beers), my father and his buddies decided it would be a good idea to take our 12-man wooden toboggan out for a run down the hill behind our house. My brother and I couldn’t believe our luck, and eagerly followed.
With my legs crisscrossed under the toboggan’s wooden curl, I sat in the front, four men and my brother behind me. Visibility was nil due to the blizzard and dark night, but there was a wide path between the houses for our ride. With the weight of the men, we took off like a bullet, and I pulled the ties of my parka hood tight to keep the snow from hitting my face.
About halfway down the hill – WHAM! The rest came in flashes: my father’s friend looking down wearing one of my hats, someone saying “I think it’s broken”, riding in the back of a truck, being carried on the toboggan into the hospital, three layers of pants being cut off, wanting my mom and dad.
I had broken my femur. Apparently, our toboggan had drifted off course, running into a white flagpole in our neighbor’s yard. I spent the next two and a half months in a hospital bed, with a weight hanging off the end of my foot.
To add insult to injury, during my lengthy hospital stay, the historic 1977 blizzard blew into town. Schools were cancelled for over two weeks, and I was stuck in a hospital bed watching Don Ho and eating Jell-O.
One might think that the experience would have caused me to associate snow with pain; however, the pain of my broken leg paled in comparison to the envy I had for my peers who spent two glorious weeks out of school, sucking on icicles, throwing snowballs, and drinking hot chocolate.
So now, like Pavlov’s dog, when winter rolls around, I begin to drool.
Sometimes the Navy sends us somewhere that fulfills my nostalgic longings, like our last tour in snowy Stuttgart, Germany.
I must admit, there was a downside. Bundled up like the Michelin Man, I would trudge four flights down our military stairwell housing to our minivan, hazy with salt residue and laden with blackened hunks of snow behind each wheel. Despite spraying de-icing compound into the locks, the doors would often be frozen solid, requiring me to climb in from the trunk.
But now, even with the memories of crusted, frozen, gritty car doors still freshly juxtaposed against this balmy pastel Florida winter, I can’t help but long for snow. Big fluffy, white hunks dropping from tree branches. Delicate crystalline flakes drifting slowly from the sky.
Cold to the touch. Warm to my heart.