Well, this past Saturday, Halloween, I was traipsing through the Kodak Food City in search of candy for all the little ghouls and goblins that would soon be parading across my front porch. As I searched in earnest for the discounted candy, which I never found by the way, I couldn’t help but be a little distracted by the newly placed snow shovel and ice scraper container in one isle. I literally did a double take as I absorbed the ramifications of that display. It was a grim reminder that winter is just around the corner, soon to be followed by the white fluffy stuff that we greet with attitudes ranging from elation to disgust. Personally, I like the stuff. It brings back memories of my youth…
I was 7 years old and we had just moved to Tennessee. As a native of Florida, I had never experienced anything resembling cold, let alone seen snow.
That first year, it snowed on my birthday and I got out of school. I immediately realized that it might not be so bad living here and that snow was possibly the most glorious thing ever.
The next year, it snowed on my birthday again and I was excused from school again.
The year after that? You guessed it! Another snow, another snowday off from school.
I became convinced that this was my personal divine gift every year, and I grew to faithfully believe that I would have snow and a day off each year on my birthday. This lasted until I turned fourteen when fate, or perhaps global warming, ended my streak and started a new one which would have me attending school every birthday until I graduated high school.
I still remember the magic of that first snowfall, though. We had already gone to bed in preparation for school before the snow started. But after staying up until they received notice that enough snow had fallen to cancel school, my parents could not wait until morning to see our reactions, so they woke us up and we played in the snow that night, under the parking lot lights of our apartment complex. It was truly magical.
Unlike a child born in a colder climate, I can remember the first snowflake I ever touched, gazing at it with wonder as it melted onto my gloved finger. My parents had educated me that no two were alike, and I tried to commit to memory every single granular crystal should I ever find a match and prove them wrong.
I remember the first snowman we ever made, complete with its very own carrot nose and button eyes. To finish it off, it was warmly scarfed and finished with an actual corncob pipe which my father sacrificed from his personal collection. We had everything except a top hat, but an extra toboggan seemed to fit nicely.
It still brings back such special memories to me when I recall the amazement I felt upon seeing everything covered in white glistening snow, reflecting the moonlight back up to create an image worthy of Currier and Ives.
The next morning, I called my grandmother, whom we had left in Tampa, Florida, with the rest of our family, and tried unsuccessfully to put in words what I was experiencing. I quickly learned it was impossible.
She seemed fascinated by everything I shared with her and marveled at the idea of snowcream, which my mother, a grizzled snow veteran after living in Indiana for a time, had made us for breakfast.
“Granny, maybe it will snow there soon so you can see it too,” I naively assured her. Too kind to explain the incredible unlikelihood of that occurring, she agreed to hope with me. Neither she nor I had gotten accustomed to the long distance between us, and I think it was during that call that I first recognized the pain in her voice from our absence.
One week later on January 19, 1977, Tampa and most of Florida was hit with a meteorological anomaly and was subsequently blanketed with snow. My grandmother, aged 60 at the time, called me and with the same joy and excitement that I had expressed to her only a few days before, described to me their efforts to build a snowman, have a snowball fight and, yes, even make snowcream. I was elated for her and with her. The phone lines between us had gone from feeling like miles to inches long and the joy we shared connected us as if we were eating that snowcream from the same bowl, maybe even sharing the same spoon.
Granny outlived her husband by 46 years, her son by 22 years, and saw a full 95 years upon this earth before she passed. Of those, her 60th year was the only one in which she ever saw, touched or tasted a snowflake, and the fact that it was days apart from my first exposure to snow as well still amazes me. It was like receiving my own personal rainbow covenant from God, and I still have that feeling to this day. I don’t know what His intent was in giving us that new experience to share, but for a shy kid, just having moved far away from the only home I’d ever known, it somehow made Tampa feel much closer than it had just the day before.
I think it made Granny feel the same.
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© Michael L. Collins
*Originally published in the November 4, 2015 edition of The Mountain Press