A week or so later we had our first real snow of the year. At least five inches had fallen the night before and it was still coming down. It was a dry snow. This meant that when it fell if the snowflake didn’t particularly like where it landed it would blow around until it found a few million of its friends creating huge snow drifts.
Unfortunately it landed on a Saturday so it didn’t have the rich feeling of a day of skipping school but it was still a chance to play. First order of business was to explore the drifts. Our house was situated on the side of a hill so the driveway was about twenty feet below the front porch on one side. The wind had built up an immense pile of snow nearly halfway up the retaining wall. It had to be at least ten feet deep.
Our first year in the house there was no rail on the patio. It was one of those small home improvement projects my stepdad was going to get to after we moved in. At some point in the two years before he could install a guard rail Bubba and I had an argument while playing outside. In the race to get inside and tell mom my side of the story I grabbed the screen door handle just as Bubba did. I pulled the door open and he went flying over the side of the porch down to the concrete below.
I watched fall in slow motion and I watched him hit and bounce once before running into the house for adult help. “Mom”
But she cut me off before I could continue. “What are you doing in here? Get out!" We had been banished from the house earlier in the day so she and her best friend could can tomatoes and she was used to us arguing.
“Bubba fell off the cliff!” I yelled. I don’t know why I said cliff. It was the only thing I could think of in the heat of the moment to convey a high place to fall from. It probably would have been less confusing if there weren’t actual stone cliffs fifteen feet behind the house.
Our mother picked up Bubbas lifeless body, checked to see if he was breathing then put him in the front seat of the station wagon and took off toward the hospital.
I watched this from the front porch wondering if my brother was dead. Wondering if I would get in trouble. Trying not to wonder what it would be like to finally have a room to myself.
Mom’s friend Yolanda put her hand on my shoulder and backed me away from the side. To comfort me she said “Don’t you worry none. Boys bounce a lot when they’re youngin’s. He’ll prolly be fine”
Unless you count the need to complain about it for the next forty years Bubba was fine. There wasn’t a scratch on him. I guess he was still a little traumatized though because it took a lot of talking to convince him to jump off the porch into the snowdrift below.
“Come on” I said “It’s just like jumping in to hay in the barns”
He didn’t move so I continued, “Snow is even softer than hay and look how how that drift is.”
It was a nice drift too. Whipped up like white cupcake frosting only smooth and sparkling. It looked sculpted and perfect. Like the top of peanut butter when you first open the jar or a clean sheet of construction paper. It was perfection that begged to be unperfected.
“So why don’t you jump?” Bubba asked.
No plausible response sprang to mind. It seemed the time for words was officially over so I pushed him.
He landed feet first in the snow and, when there was no immediate blood, I jumped myself. I still felt the need to be the one to jump first I just had to test it out scientifically so he didn’t count. Maybe I should have waited another minute or two.
There’s an art to jumping into snow just like there’s an art to jumping into water. When jumping into water you don’t know the depth of, or don’t know what is covering the bottom, you jump feet first with your arms out to your side. Snow may be made of water but the technique is very different. I pondered these differences after I found myself up to my shoulders in, what was now, tightly packed snow. My arms were trapped at forty five degree angles above my head a human letter Y. This would never happen in water.
Bubba was in nearly the same situation except that when he jumped he held his arms down to his said so they were trapped against his body. All I could see was his eyes and his stocking cap as he tried to wiggle free.
He looked like a mole waiting to be whacked and I looked like the upper half of a cheerleader.
After what felt like hours of being trapped but was most likely only a few minutes Bubba and I didn’t really improve our situation much. Moving around would give us a little more room but the surrounding snow became more packed and more impenetrable. We weren’t in danger of freezing since we were coated with layers of plastic and the variety of other unnatural fibers that made up our cold weather gear. We were getting desperate though. Any minute the snow plow could come up the road ruining it for any decent downhill action.
It was our younger sister Becky that ended up saving us but not without some negotiating. She looked like a pretty little girl in her pink plastic coat with the mittens pinned to the sleeves but she was shrewd.
“I’ll dig you out but you have to play with me” she knew she had us.
We hated playing with her. She couldn‘t keep up and if she didn‘t get her way she would run crying to her dad, our stepdad. It didn’t matter what the story was, or even if it was true or not, as the favorite she knew she would be believed and get her way.
“Fine” I conceded “Just dig Bubba out first”. My plan was to have Bubba dig me out but she must have figured out my plan and ignored me. The deal was struck now we had to play with her.
The layer of snow on the street was too soft for our sleds so we cast about looking for something we could make into a toboggan. A gray plastic cloth didn’t get us anywhere, the wheel barrow that was missing one handle tended to fall over even though we did get a little movement from it. I was figuring out if I could take the wheels off of an old wagon when I saw the perfect makeshift toboggan. Made of hard plastic, curved bottom side with handles for the rider to hold on to this bright yellow laundry basket was as close as we were going to get.
The downside of this particular bright yellow basket was that it was too small for anyone but Becky. All of the other baskets had been systematically destroyed. Their walls crushed under the weight of one sibling trapping another under it.
I sprayed the bottom of the basket with WD-40 and we headed out. A few cars had made it up and down the hill so there were two grooves of hard pack in the snow. I put Becky in the basket in one on of the ruts, her pink coat in bright contrast to the yellow basket. Thankfully Bubba always forgot about being talked into life threatening situations. With very little coaxing he laid down on his back in the rut parallel to the one Becky was in head facing down the hill.
The other neighborhood kids started coming out then carrying sleds and even one circular actual store bought toboggan. They gathered around for the race. I gave Becky a push and Bubba used his legs to push himself. After a few false starts Bubba pushed himself down the road. Even with cheating he was no match for the yellow basket.
The groove made by the car tires held kept Becky in a general path but since there were no runners to keep her facing the same direction the basket rotated. Any neighbors looking out the window at that exact moment would see a pink and yellow blur shooting down the street. A loud high pitched scream echoing from the surrounding homes.
The cross street provided fresh soft snow to slow and eventually stop the basket dumping her lightly into the road. . Becky jumped up and grabbed her basket, triumphant. She was a hero. Nobody ever made it all the way to the bottom of the hill and all the neighborhood kids saw it.
And it was my idea.
And I told everybody. Over and over and over again.
The hill was steep enough that Becky could only go a few more trips down before it was too dark and it was time to go to inside. During the night the snowplow came and scraped off the most useful part of the snow. It didn’t stop Becky for trying to recapture the previous days glory. With a slide a little and scoot a little approach she was able to make it laboriously about three quarters of the way down the hill before giving up.
The gravel poking through what was left of the snow wore a long jagged hole in the bottom of the basket ruining it forever for any snow sports. And for carrying laundry.
With sliding down the hill eliminated as an activity Becky decided to call in her debt to play with her.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her “ I played with you all day yesterday”. I only argued for myself, Bubba was on his own.
“No, I had to slide up and down by myself yesterday because I was the only one that would fit in the basket.” She said.
“But it was my idea! If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t get to sled at all!” I could argued more but my heart wasn’t in it. There was nobody else outside to play but the three of us so I may as well get this out of the way. I suggested a snowball fight.
She declined, and smartly so. The neighborhood snowball fights were near legendary. Days would be spent shoveling snow into fortresses to hide behind. Water, from the hose if it would flow, or carried out in pans if it wasn’t was used to reinforce walls and turrets. The arsenals were stockpiled.
Calling our weapons snowballs wasn’t exactly correct. They were round and snow made up part of the construction. But as the fight would wear on and it was important to increase fire power a high content of rocks, ice and the occasional frozen dog turd made it into the mix. The fight wasn’t over until someone bled. We were very serious about snowball fights.
“Let’s make a snowman” Becky decided.
I didn’t like making snowmen and I blame Television for that. Any time you see a snowman on TV or in a movie it’s body is white and pristine. The separate parts are perfect globes and various sizes of coal making up facial features. One try and I found out rolling snow into a giant ball isn’t easy. rolling into a cylinder is pretty easy though. After a few rolls the snow starts getting mixed with grass and dirt and your snowman starts to look more like a sod man.
Forget about finding coal in the modern day. The best we could do was charcoal briquettes. The disadvantage being that the briquettes only came in square and were all exactly the same size. This made eyes look ok but the smile never looked like he meant it.
Our snowman that day sported a wilted celery nose and hands made out of the sweatsocks we used instead of mittens until Christmas came and we got annual allotment of winter gear. The dried brown grass picked out of his body gave our snowman a bad comb over that made him look a little too much like a clown version of Adolf Hitler.