First Snow

The snow appeared as if magic. One second it wasn’t there, the next second it was, as soft white granules filled the air and very quickly began to cover the colder surfaces. It was the first snowfall of the coming winter and I had watched it begin.

It was a cold November day shortly before Thanksgiving, much like any such day in the Midwest at that time of year. Gray, lowering clouds pressed against the shadowless landscape. The threat of snow had hung in the still air all day.

My mother had picked me up from school for one reason or another and had parked on the main street of the small town where I went to school to run an errand. I waited in the car, which cooled rapidly in the late afternoon silence. I should mention that the main street of the town was only two blocks long and one parked diagonally to the curb, an arrangement which allowed for more cars to park along the street while allowing those waiting in cars a full view of the pedestrian traffic. Had the weather been warmer, the passenger side window would have been rolled down to allow conversation with those passersby who wished it. These two blocks included a grocery store, meat market, bank, drug store, dime store, department store, a couple of barber shops, and two bars. Except for the bars, the stores were getting ready to close as 5 0′ clock approached, and people were hurrying to finish last minute errands when the snow appeared. As I said, one second there was no snow and the next second there was. Magic!

I watched as people smiled into this first solid manifestation of winter, some even pausing as they hurried along to hold out their hands to touch the quiet snow. For just a few moments, everyone was a child again, staring in wonder at the snow’s sudden appearance, before remembering themselves and resuming their rush to finish their shopping and get home. Even I got out of the car to witness this event first hand and exchanged bits of conversation with a couple of people as to how much snow was likely to fall. Everyone, it seems, likes the first snowfall of the winter. The seasonal carol, Oh the first snowfall of the winter was a day that we all waited for may have run through my mind at the time since I had an album of Christmas songs by the Walter Schumann Chorus which included this song, although it is more likely that subsequent recollections altered my memory to include that reminiscence. Yet from the smiles and joking banter of the pedestrians as they passed one another on the sidewalk and spoke to me as I stood beside the car, it was obvious that most everyone enjoyed this first appearance. Quite soon, everything was covered with a thin layer of white and meandering paths on the sidewalk marked the passage of the foot traffic while the streets were highlighted by parallel black lines made by passing cars as they drove into the gathering whiteness. As the town closed up for the night, these reminders of our presence would disappear under the continuing snowfall, a landscape which would be largely undisturbed until the next morning when merchants would appear before opening up to rid the sidewalk of what by now had become a nuisance. The exception would be the two bars which took care to keep the sidewalk clear in front of their establishments in anticipation of the evening trade; the Comer Pocket, situated as it was on the corner of the block, had more to care for than the other bar, whose prominently hand lettered sign “No Miners” was its only distinguishing factor.

How quickly the simple joy engendered by such an event pales. The gray days ahead would more than fulfill our expectations of snow. Combined with the unrelenting cold, any residual joy taken from this first snow would finally be erased as the last Christmas present was opened. The coming short days and long nights conspired to keep people indoors and even such outdoor pleasures as sledding and ice skating soon lost their glamour. As children, we began to invent reasons to be out of doors.

One year, to fight the continuing boredom, we got together one Saturday morning in late February with the avowed purpose of building the world’s largest snowman. A damp snow was falling, perfect for snowman making, as we sketched plans for a snowman which was to reach at least 10 feet in height. Eagerly we began rolling the large ball that was to be the base but we soon ground to a halt when the ball became too large and too heavy to push any further. An exaggerated memory would tell you that it was at least 4 feet in diameter, but practically speaking, it was much smaller than that. Although it was not as large as later memory would make it, it was large enough that when we had the next ball all rolled out, also heavier than anticipated, our combined kid power could not raise it into place. We got some 2x4s with the bright idea of sliding the ball into place by means of a makeshift ramp. The attempt failed miserably as our hands pushed into the ball and, rather than moving, it began to crumble under our efforts on the sagging pieces of wood.

Undeterred, we abandoned the idea using the traditional method of building a snowman and fetched buckets and shovels. With these we converted the original first ball into a largish round base that was over three feet tall. We then piled snow onto this platform to create a second level which was above the heads of some of the smaller members of the company. The third and final level was added by a couple of boys foolhardy enough to balance precariously on a couple of rickety wooden step ladders. These two were able to form the head, or what passed for a head in our minds. Some large pieces of coal were stuck into this third level to give “Frosty” some semblance of a face. We stepped back and admired our handiwork, the largest snowman our neighborhood had ever seen, or, we thought at the time, would ever see. Some neighbors complimented us on our perseverance and were too kind to remark that “Frosty” looked more like a disheveled pyramid than an actual snowman.

“Frosty,” being as large as he was, took a long time to melt. Traces of him were visible long after the snows of winter had vanished, well into April as a matter of fact, and a disgruntled parent was heard to murmur that a repeat performance would not be appreciated in future winters, at least not in his yard.

As it was, that November afternoon was the first and only time I actually got to see it begin to snow. Almost, of course, does not count, as in “oh, look, it’s snowing,” nor does checking outside through the window to see if it has begun snowing. As an adult, I no longer have the desire or the patience to sit in a cooling car to wait for someone, even if it would mean witnessing the beginning of the first snowfall of the year.

And it showed no signs of stoppin’, every kind with eyes a poppin’, knew he’d soon be belly whoppin’ on his ear. Oh, the first snow fall of the winter, the first snow fall of the year.