When we lived in New Jersey, winter was strictly a movie experience: remote and connected with songs and more songs of the holiday kind. Until the arrival on screen of David Lean's "Dr. Zhivago," I never actually went numb with cold. December 1960 would be my first winter.
So when does it snow, Dad? I nagged every morning before he gave me a ride to school. Soon, he said. Feels like snow, he said. And he made a show of wetting a finger and holding it up to the mysterious elements. I made it a habit to look out the window each morning to check if the white stuff came down. I thought I saw something on the car's windshield so I ran down excitedly. It snowed! Dad, it snowed! Take a look at the car! From the window above the kitchen sink, he glanced out. Without missing a beat while scrambling eggs, he said, nah, that's just frost. When,
a few mornings later,
I triumphantly saw more than frost on the windshield, my father dismissed my snow announcement. Nah, just bird shit, he said.
Well, the white stuff did come down in buckets on the first week of December. Big white flakes landing smack if you stuck your tongue out to catch one! It was the first snowstorm in the Winter of 1960. Two more followed in succession. I couldn't get enough of it. I dressed hurriedly for class only to find out that snowstorms closed down universities and people stayed indoors. That December my father suffered his first heart attack from shoveling snow. It banked my excitement about snow.
But a winter even more memorable was a February during the annual winter festival in Quebec City, Canada . The streets were cemented in ice. You walked instead of driving. Those who tried maneuvering a car would go 3 miles an hour inviting pedestrians to jump on the hood and ride a short distance. There was an ice castle built in the center of the plaza and every house had an outlandish iced sculpture on its front yard. Homes opened their doors to crowds of passersby who could warm up on hot apple cider and proceed onward.
There were vendors selling what looked like colorful walking sticks. You needed one just to give you some traction in case you went off balance. But more than an aid to walking on ice, the stick was a hollow tube and contained wine. You removed the cap that covered the top and took a swig to warm you over. If you were freezing, you would be drunk half of the night as most people were.
It was so cold I had to keep stamping my feet so my toes wouldn't go numb. But far from being bundled up individuals on solo treks, this icy wintry evening encouraged a boisterous, singing camaraderie in the streets, with offers of hugs and most of us gladly accepting the hospitality of indoor warmth. In some streets you witnessed cars spinning off to the sidewalk; others went at a processional pace; some were honking because drivers couldn't see past the bodies riding on the hood of their car; and oh, the constant sight of colorful walking sticks being waved to flag down an approaching vehicle!
Today, I live in the Washington D.C. area where winters barely hint of snow. When the weatherman blips out a snowstorm forecast, grocery shelves empty out. Most sought after: a shovel. In the nation's capital snow is the main event and life stands still. Thank goodness there are issues of Our Own Voice I haven't fully read . . . and movies! Shakespeare in Love for the umpteenth time!