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
No truer statement: I can tell the stories, but I can’t always connect the dots.
I’m the same way with endings at times. Story beginnings? I’m a champ. Endings? Sometimes, not so much.
I hope you get a new flight and make it out to CA for your holiday events.
Ah snow. In July I moved from warm and dry Alpine, Texas, to Hillsville, VA, about 3 hrs west of Charlottesville. Happy to be near my east coast family at Christmas for the first time in 31 years, I am now mired in the biggest December snowstorm in Virginia history (or something like that) and, for he first time in 48 years, will spend Christmas all by myself. You just never can tell about winter!
I hear the snow in NYC is bigger than in 1995 when I saw people sledding in the streets on the upper west side. It was a beautiful, other-world experience & the bars were jammed! If you haven’t prepared, walk to the neighborhood bar…
What a surprise! I was absolutely WAITING for you to howl like you were demented in the 2009 taxi!
Hope you eventually got out of NYC for California! Have a wonderful Christmas (be it white or not…probably not in Cali), howl dementedly at things worthy of a good howl, and have a great start to 2010. I look forward to reading many more posts from Ruth!
Don’t be too sad about being snowbound. You’re in New York! And Christmas in New York is wonderful, no matter what.
I hope you can escape NYC to see your kids. It’s actually going to rain here in Buffalo on Christmas this year. We often don’t have a white Christmas here. I can recall several years where we had a heat wave and had a 60 degree day. Crazy. Merry Christmas!
I can’t remember howling dementedly, although I’m sure my mother could point to a few early incidents. Now I feel I’ve missed something. Hmmm.
November 1989: Mother dies. I arrived late into this house. I was called “the old-age insurance.” I have just ticked the last name off the policy. It’s paid. I will teach again come fall. December arrives. I erect a tabletop tree in the parlor. Arrange gifts from friends beneath it. Decorate again the mantel with candles, ribbon and backyard greenery. Christmas morning. I rise early. Tap the coffeemaker. Plug in the tree. Raise the blind. Behold! At long last, my childhood wish– a White Christmas. I pull a bow from a gift– stop. Stare out the window. In that solitary room, voices murmur from 38 Christmases Past. My eyes sting. Ebenezer would understand.
Hopefully you are not settled in California, far away from the (now)-dirty snow that covers NYC!
Ouch! I’m sorry the taxi rear-ended another car. I’m sorry you are snowed in. It is so hard to be far from family–wanting to get to CA to be with your children–and not be able to go (at least for the time being). I loved reading these tales of snowstorms past. Hang in there!
The TV news was droning in the background when I read your post and I couldn’t help but think “it could have been worse” when I heard about the breakdown of the trains in NYC today! There’s always a silver lining. Ruth, I don’t always comment but I am here, lurking and reading. I love you blog. Wishing you a very Merry (white) Christmas and sending you a big hug!
My goodness, what a story! I remember when my in-laws we’re trying to get out of NY and the forecasters were saying that we were going to have the “storm of the century.” The storm ended up being a little more than an inch or two–nothing like the foot or two that you’re probably still digging out from!
What you had was an adventure. That’s what I always call it when I can’t think of anything else to name what just happened. It’s an ADVENTURE!
Loved your story!.
It is awful to be stranded, but of all the places to be, NYC is kinda wonderful during a snowstorm. I hope you found your way to Cali.
Oh. I’m such a snow lightweight. I like to look at it – from inside a house, perched by a warm fire. For about an hour. And yet, there is always that dream of a white Christmas. Where in NorCal are your kids? I’m originally from Sonoma County, and most recently the Sierra foothills.
Wow. That Winston is a bit Dickensian. If he’s not a writer, he should be.
Connecting the dots…hmmm. You’ll wake up one morning and it will all be clear – the ultimate aha! moment. I actually love posts that recap the years like this. I enjoyed it.
I grew up in Wisconsin and really miss snow at Christmas-time. Maybe next year! Happy New Year, Ruth – Jen
I see a pattern in your memories. It is all beautiful humanity, full of joy, frustration, and overwhelming sadness.
You made me laugh with the first memory, because we do the same thing in Carolina. We make Harper Lee’s “mud men” and try to cover them with snow. I used to get excited about snow until I moved up north and had to drive in three foot drifts to get to work every day. Nothing ever closed. Then I moved back home, and we had an inch of snow that same week. Everything closed, even the state capitol. I kissed the pansies on the muddy ground.
I hope you make it to see your kids, Ruth. Best wishes for a beautiful New Year!
Wow. It snowed here in the Bay Area a few weeks ago, and it was craziness.
I have family in Texas, and I hear it snowed there over Christmas as well.