I’ve spent a childhood longing for snow and an adulthood running from it. Until I can move to Hawaii, snow, ice, slush, and cold will be a part of my life.
I was born in Wisconsin and lived there until I was nine. To play in the snow, I bundled up in snow pants and wore plastic baggies in my boots to help keep my socks dry.
1. The apartment complex we lived at had two gentle hills, one ending in a meadow-like central green space and one ending at the backs of the stand-alone garages. Sledding on the meadow hill was okay, but sledding into the garages was extra super-duper fun. We’d create speedbumps, and the thud our sleds made was glorious.
I apologize to the current residents for any cracks in their garage walls.
2. In first and second grade, I participated in Invent America, a competition for K-8 students to. . . invent stuff. (The last update on the website is from 2007, so I’m not sure if it still exists.) One invention I can’t remember at all and the other all too clearly: The Coat Keeper.
My elementary school had coatrooms at the back of each classroom. We’d stuff our hats, mittens, and scarves into the coat’s sleeves, which often meant hats, mittens, and scarves wound up on the floor. The Coat Keeper was a long strip of nylon with velcro on each end. One end was sewn into the coat (near the label). You could roll up your accoutrement in the nylon, then velcro it in place. My mother kindly made this for me.
I never actually used it. Sorry, Ma.
3. The photo has been lost, but I can picture it clearly: A Polaroid with a caption scrawled in a childish hand, “Snow! May 10th, 1990.” The image was of the tree in front of our apartment, branches bowed to the ground with snow.
While working on this piece, I decided to look up that snowstorm. I mean, snow in May in Wisconsin is unusual, but how unusual? Had it become one of those “When I was your age” stories in my head?
The 3” to 8” snow caused $4,000,000 in damages.
So how unusual was this storm? The short answer is once in a lifetime, or maybe twice? The record book going back to the late 1800s shows this date as well as May 3, 1935 as getting 3.2” of snow in Milwaukee (of course most of the damage on May 10th happened where amounts where 6”-8”). No other date in May has ever seen 2” or more. In fact we’ve never seen more than a trace of snow after May 11th.
So reports Fox News 6, Milwaukee. It was unusual, remarkable, and worth remembering. I wish I still had that picture.
In July 1992, my parents and I moved to Georgia. “Culture shock” is an understatement.
4. To my parents’ delight, a blizzard struck in the spring of 1993. We received just a few inches of snow, but the entire Atlanta metro area was shut down. Mom and Dad didn’t find it quite so hilarious when our power went out thanks to ice. As the years passed, they become more bearable, realizing the black ice in Georgia was often worse than the feet of snow in Wisconsin.
Just as with the snowstorm in 1990, the one in 1993 was actually pretty bad. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution explains,
The “Storm of the Century,” as it became known, hit metro Atlanta on Saturday, March 13, 1993. The snow began falling early that morning, and by the time it had tapered off, nearly 3 feet had fallen across parts of extreme north Georgia, with Union County reporting 35 inches.
Although only 4 inches of snow was officially recorded at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a foot or more of the white stuff fell across the northern suburbs, and winds whipping to 50 mph blew the snow into nearly waist-deep drifts.
Fifteen people were killed in Georgia, while the death toll across the U.S., Canada and Cuba hit 310.
It was a pretty strange introduction to southern winters.
5. Most winters, one only needed a heavy coat for just a few days a year. To my sister’s envy, my father let me wear his army coat when it was cold enough. She had begged when she was a teen (she’s a decade older than I), and he’d said no. I still use it as my super heavy winter coat. The cuffs are frayed and it needs to be cleaned, but it looks like this:
Ma said I always looked like a Russian spy in this coat, so she knitted me a green beret and matching scarf.
I moved to Nebraska for college. I wanted to study paleontology, you see. I switched to English before the first semester even began.
6. Like all freshmen, I lived in the dorms and either walked or took the bus to get around. My best friend, who was a few years ahead of me in school, also lived in the dorms but had a car. One cold, snowy day, she kindly offered to take me to the grocery store. I followed her to the parking lot. It had been snowing for several days, so mounds of snow surrounded each vehicle.
She opened the trunk and pulled out two shovels.
“What do I do with this?” I ask.
She stared at me. “Dig out the car.”
I wound up breaking the shovel.
7. During my third year of college, I modeled for life drawing classes. It was a fun, well-paying gig, and my only regret is doing it for just one year.
One January or February, I had a class scheduled for the evening. I wouldn’t have time to return home, so I’d brought my robe with me. Part of the morning was spent killing time in the student union. Only after I’d left the building did I realize I’d left my robe. I whirled around, only to fall on my ass on the ice. Bystanders helped me up and I rushed back to the union.
My robe wasn’t where I’d been sitting, nor was it at lost and found. I never found it at all.
Oddly, while the art class didn’t mind my nudity for the drawing, they didn’t like it that I remained nude during the breaks. A few classes later, the professor reminded me I could bring a robe or other cover up. I did buy a new one to make everyone feel better.
After receiving my Bachelor’s, I headed west to Oregon, and here I remain.
8. I was so mad the first time it snowed. So mad. I had left the Midwest to escape snow! Many of my classmates were from California, so they loved it. Many of my other classmates were from the east coast, so they scoffed at it. I was just angry. Snow in Oregon is often just a kind of heavy rain. People pull out umbrellas for it.
My husband is from California, and he still loves the snow. This weekend, we were walloped with several inches and he thought it was beautiful. I’ve been fuming basically all weekend.
9. During our second year of grad school, one of my friends agreed to housesit for a professor over the winter break. I agreed to keep my friend company. One morning, we went to the car to run errands only to discover that it had snowed and the windshield needed to be scraped of ice.
My friend, from California, did not have an ice scraper. We were afraid of damaging our credit cards, so we didn’t want to try that.
We raided the garage, looking for a spare scraper. Then we looked for anything that would do. Finally we found a nearly empty container of something (lotion?) that was in a container with a metallic edge. That is, the container was like the ones used for toothpaste or small tubes of paint. The bottom was sharp enough that we could scrape the windshield. We finally managed to leave the house.
After my father died and I’d left for college, my mother returned to Wisconsin. Except for a few cousins, both sides of my family live in the Milwaukee area. Ma was happy to return, but I found visits miserable.
I had last been to Wisconsin in 2006. My mother had been very ill, and my aunties were afraid it was time to say goodbye. She recovered, though. She visited me in Oregon in 2008, her first trip west of the Rockies. I don’t have any pictures from that visit.
10. In January 2009, my phone rang and rang. I have a phone phobia, so I let it go to voicemail. After the third or fourth call, I finally decided to check it. One of my aunties. Ma was in the ER and would soon be moved to hospice. My husband (then fiancé) and I quickly scrambled to arrange our work schedules, board the cats, and buy tickets, then headed to Wisconsin the following day.
This was my husband’s first time meeting my family, and his first time in Wisconsin. The snow was piled high on the side of the road. He didn’t have a winter coat, just a light three-season jacket. I bought him sweatshirts at Wal-Greens. During the day, the temperature was regularly below zero. All normal January weather.
He was charmed at first, having never experienced weather like this. Later, he came to wonder, as I did/do, just how people live like that.
My mother died the day after I arrived, two days after the phone call. My father had died in springtime, in beauty. Given our troubled relationship, though, it seemed oddly fitting Ma died in the cold grey of January.
I was teaching then, and one of my students missed an assignment because, he explained, he’d had to shovel the walk. My fury burned with the cold of Lake Michigan. I didn’t reply to him at all.
My husband still likes snow and enjoyed the snow storm we had this week. The snow is bright, a sweet blanket.
But snow and ice will never be sweet for me.