Wednesday, December 25, 2013

An honest to goodness winter

They say the only two things you can depend upon in life are death and taxes. Once upon a time here at the 42nd Parallel in North America at least, you could add two more things: cold and snow in winter. All that has changed in the past thirty years or so as winters have been getting milder, and white Christmases are are the exception rather than the rule.

Most folks I know are pretty OK with that. While this time of year as they eagerly put on tunes that extoll the virtues of dashing through the snow, jingling sleigh bells, and Jack Frost nipping at one's nose, most people it seems when push comes to shove, are content to leave cold and snow to the reminiscences of Johnny Mathis, Nat Cole, and Bing Crosby.

Photograph by Beth Iska
Not me. Despite noticing that my body is slightly little less tolerant to cold weather than it used to be, I've welcomed our recent arctic blast with much joy. Two weeks ago, my son and a friend were only slightly disappointed when their plan to play hockey was ruined because of the six inches of newly fallen snow on their outdoor ice rink. Instead, they grabbed their sleds and despite being improperly dressed, spent two hours on the good sized sledding hill at our local park. The rest of us joined them later and spent a good time ourselves on the frigid highest point in our neighborhood. For some reason, my six year old daughter never before had the desire to go sledding, so this was her first experience of it. After getting bored with going down the puny slopes for the little kids, she eventually overcame her apprehensions and took to the big hill like a seasoned professional. From the photograph taken by her mother, you can see the look of pure joy on her face. 

My son did get to play hockey this past weekend and when I dropped him off (I didn't play myself because I still had Christmas errands to run), the sound of the skates, sticks and pucks of the few kids who had already taken to the ice, took me back to my childhood and my love of the game. As it had gotten considerably warmer by that day, a fog of condensation hovered over the rink and despite being in the middle of the city, I could best describe that scene as something right out of a Currier & Ives print.

Yes I'm one of those people who truly appreciates the change of season. Despite its hassles, I love winter. I love the sight and smell of the freshly fallen snow that covers everything in its path like a soft blanket. I love the sounds of winter, the ones mentioned above as well as the squeaky sound of footsteps on the snow. I love the howl of the wind on a cold winter night. In a slightly perverted way I even like the sound of snow shovels and the whine of automobile tires (when they're not mine) as they futilely spin on the ice and snow.

My most memorable Christmas was the one of 1968. We recently moved into our new house and as luck would  have it, on a cold December 25th morning, our furnace went out. We spent the entire day huddled in the kitchen heated by our oven as the rest of our house became uninhabitable. That was the day the crew of Apollo 8 became the first human beings to circle the moon. As they came out from behind the moon's shadow and regained radio contact with the earth (thus becoming the first people to experience earthrise), the crew on that Christmas Day were moved to recite the passages from Genesis describing the creation of Earth, our beautiful planet seen for the first time as a lonely island floating in a desolate sea of emptiness. My Christmas present, the Mattel Matt Mason Space Station received the evening before had to wait as the real, live spacemen, even if seen only on a small black and white TV in the kitchen, were just so much more impressive. Despite the inconvenience, I will remember that as one of my best Christmases for as long as I live.

My worst Christmas came fourteen years later. My uncle had just died suddenly as well as our family's long time next door neighbor. On Christmas Day that year we visited my grandmother, (who due to her fragile condition was not informed of her son's death). Playing on a TV at the nursing home where she lived was a movie that had been very special to me as a child. Seeing glimpses of that movie, as well as my grandmother who didn't recognize me, only made the grief I was already experiencing all the more painful. Topping it all off, it was about 65 degrees outside that day. From that moment on, mild weather on Christmas has reminded me of a world thrown off kilter, just as it was on that day so long ago.

Well I'm happy to report that today, December 25, 2013, we have snow on the ground in Chicago. True, it's only a small dusting of the white stuff, but it's still a white Christmas.

Just the way it should be.

Merry Christmas everyone!

No comments: