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In Preparation of Snow

When I think back to 50+ years ago and to my youth in Wisconsin, one of the most joyful experiences was when the first snow of the season would fall. By mid-November, the gray skies and cold temperatures created doldrums that even the most positive person would feel. All the leaves were gone and stark branches like ribs on a skeleton were all that remained of the deciduous trees around our home. School was back in session and to many kids, this was exciting. I hated it. I missed the freedom of no alarm ringing in the morning, no bells during the day, and the simple un-regimented life of summer.

But the snow would help mute those doldrums and like clockwork, we prepared for it religiously every year.

Outdoor Christmas lights were strung around the perimeter of the house so that no one would end up slipping on icy roof shingles once it was covered in a white blanket.

Bird feeders were put up outdoors near the kitchen bay window. And inside, on a table by that window, a pair of binoculars and our worn and dog-eared edition of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Birds was ready for use.

In our basement, a large pile of fresh and dry oak was stacked neatly by the wood-burning stove. In the depth of the winter months, everything indoors and all our clothes smelled of oak wood smoke.

At the far end of the basement, the train set would be set up. My dad had created a huge wooden table that was probably about 12 x 6 feet in dimensions. The H-O gauge tracks were permanently nailed to the frame and once the table was righted and level, we'd spend hours creating miniature worlds of farmlands and cities. Pulling the string chord of the light which hung above the set and watching in awe as a single steam train light illuminated this beautiful miniature world in front of us.

But, outdoors when that first snow came the true magic really happened. Those Christmas lights on the roof seemed to glow more colorful when surrounded by a shiny, reflective batch of white snow. Beckoning Santa to land his sleigh on our roof and drop lots and lots of presents down our chimney.

There is a kind of silence that snow brings. Like that of a recording studio where the sound stops and does not bounce from wall to wall. The snow makes the world a little quieter. And, if you sit quietly, you can hear it hitting the ground as it gently falls to earth. I may not be able to hear it today with my loss of hearing, but then, in my youth, I could.

From the rafters above the cars in our garage, the sleds and toboggan were pulled down. Our backyard hill was steep and fast. Yet, I remember we always added jumps and poured water which quickly turned to ice on many parts of the slope. This really made things interesting!

Once our toes and fingers were numb, we'd waddle into the house and head down to the basement to shuck off our wet jackets, gloves, and hats and hang them on a clothesline by the wood-burning stove. Usually playing board games like Risk or Monopoly until it was time for bed.

I loved the taste of snow. Scooping up a handful of the fresh stuff in the palm of my glove and rehydrating with that pure flavor from the skies. I loved those wet snows too. The ones that created thick and very packable snowballs. Snowballs you could compress with all your might into a hardball ready for a battle with your siblings or friends. I cheated in many of those wars often. You see, sometimes in anticipation of battles I would initiate, I'd pack strategic placements of snowballs around our property. Some at the base of a tree, others by the horse barn or goat pen. Once the sledding became boring, I'd tell one of my friends that their mother dressed them stupid and the battle would ensue. I'd run after throwing my first attack with a verbal act of war. They'd follow in hot pursuit. Then, when I made it to my first arsenal of pre-made snowballs, I'd lay into them like a baseball pitching machine. I could throw 5 snowballs to their 1 and it was usually a slaughter. Eventually, they got wise to my exploits, but it was fun while it lasted.

Snow meant the possibility of snow days. In Wisconsin, this didn't happen very often, but sometimes it came down just too fast for the plows to keep up with. I can remember my mom getting us up and ready for school. "School is on today, kids. We really didn't get much last night," she'd say in the hopes that her wish would be the truth. We ignored her and ate our cereal as an AM radio broadcaster droned on in the background. "Ok, here are the school closings as of 6:30 AM: all Jefferson County Schools, Dodge County Schools, " our ears perked up as the broadcaster read through the list, "All preschool and kindergarten classes for the City of Waukesha, all after school activities for Waukesha County Schools..." But where was the announcement for Kettle Moraine Schools? It never happened. My mom's face seemed to glow with happiness. "See, I told you...you have school today. Now finish up your breakfast and I'll have your lunch packed when you are done brushing your teeth." We truly despised our mom when she was almost jumping for joy upon the verdict of school still being held. But, as the last check, mom would usually call the school to find out for sure. Sometimes, they had simply not updated the list and we got a snow day of sledding and snowball fights with friends. Other times, it was just another day of school.

Georgia doesn't have much snow. And I doubt I will ever experience the type of snows of 50 years ago again. But, they are locked away in my memory. Put up in the rafters of my garage. Ready to be pulled down whenever it gets cold and gray for me to become a kid again. If only in my mind.


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