1959 or so: My parents, sister and I live in a middle-class neighborhood in Wichita Falls, Texas. The block is full of kids, since parents were required to have several offspring so we can call ourselves Baby Boomers. All of us kids are thrilled by the snowfall that winter. Two or three inches, probably. We all go outside to build snowmen.
But this is Texas, and snow rarely lingers. After a few days of clear skies and sunshine, you can find remnants of the snow only on the sides of houses, in the deepest shade. One of these icy treasure troves is at the side of my friend Lisa’s house down the street. She and I guard it jealously. One afternoon, an interloper from a few houses away begins to poach it. I tell him to leave, since it’s our snow, not his. He won’t. I pull on his arm. He smashes me in the face with a snowball.
I march up the street, past people peering out windows, my glasses askew, nose bleeding, ice dripping down my coat, howling at the top of my lungs. I was 10 years old and must have been quite a sight. I don’t miss my childhood or the 1950s at all — but I do miss the freedom to howl dementedly whenever I’ve been wronged.
1978: My husband and I are living in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the weather forecasters are predicting lots of snow. We head to the grocery store, fighting off the crowds, then to the liquor store for a bottle of bourbon. As I exit the car, the bourbon slips out of my hands and shatters in the street. If there was ever a time to howl dementedly, this would be it. But, no. I’m an adult now.
1997: You have to understand something. When you grow up in Texas, the idea of a white Christmas is a dream you carry with you all our life, nurtured by the annual croonings of Bing Crosby. It happens to everybody else, you assume, but never to you. Still, you keep hoping for that one perfect confluence.
On Christmas Eve 1997, my father, who’s visiting us in Austin, gets a phone call from the care facility where my long-sick mother is being treated. She is dying, he is told.
My father and I leave behind a warm household and holiday meal with my husband and two kids to drive the 300 miles to Midland, in West Texas. It’s dark and lonely on the prairie. We sing Christmas carols to comfort ourselves and stay awake. By the time we reach Midland, the doctor has stabilized Mother by ordering her to be taken to the hospital against our express wishes and a Do Not Resuscitate order. He and I have words. My father says nothing. She will live another week, till New Year’s Eve.
Oh, and did I mention that it snows that night? My only white Christmas — and the saddest, most desolate one I’ve ever had.
2009: My husband and I are scheduled to leave New York for Christmas in Northern California with our two kids. A blizzard sweeps in overnight. We’re still New York lightweights: What does a blizzard really mean in this part of the country? We consult with New York friends who advise us to take the train to JFK airport the next day.
We take the subway, then train, congratulating ourselves on our savoir-faire. Every five minutes, my husband checks the airline schedule; our flight is on time. We get on Airtrans from the train station to the airport. The Airtrans car breaks down. But it doesn’t matter: As we sit there, stranded, we learn our flight’s been canceled, anyway. So we get out and hail a taxi. About a mile from home, the taxi rear-ends another car.
Is there a point or pattern to all of this — aside from snow? Don’t ask me. Like everything else in this blog, these stories are as true as I can make them. I can tell the stories, but I can’t always connect the dots.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about luxury holiday ads for the recession