Last summer, when I was making plans to return to Kansas, there was one thing that caused some anxiety for me. It was the reason I had originally left the Midwest and the reason I had stayed away for over twenty years. I have hated winter ever since I was a small child. I never liked playing in the snow, catching flakes on my tongue, building snowmen, riding sleds, or having snowball fights. I have faced many challenges on my own, but I still whine like a spoiled child whenever I am cold.
I have a fear of falling on the snow and ice, so I tend to walk with very tiny steps and my toes pointed directly to the middle whenever I have to go outside. My mother noticed my little baby steps one time and laughed at me. “Jamie, what are you doing?” she asked in surprise. “You’ll be okay. Just walk normally. The way you actually pigeon walk on the ice is what makes you fall.” I did not take her advice, however. I still continue to walk in tiny little toe pinching steps across the snow.
I think my problem with winter began when I was just five-years-old. My mother did not have a driver’s license, so my maternal grandmother always took me to my kindergarten class which started at noon every weekday. One morning, Kansas City, Kansas, experienced a record-breaking snowstorm, which left over two feet of snow on the ground. My father had taken my two older sisters to school on his way to work that morning. As snow started to rain down out of the gray, wet sky, Mom was left at home with my baby brother, Tony, and me. My grandmother called to say she would not be taken me to school that day. She refused to drive in the snow. Yay! A snow day for me….no!
For some unknown reason, my mother was determined that I was going to school that afternoon. She dressed me in a pair of red tights, a plaid red dress, a white sweater, big white plastic snow boots, and a small blue jacket. She bundled Tony up in his little, puffy, blue snowsuit. Then, with baby Tony in her arms and gripping me by the hand, Mom left the house. She was determined she was going to walk me all the way up to school.
I was absolutely miserable! I cried and begged and whined for Mom to take me back home as we walked the three miles to Stony Point North Elementary School. The snow was so deep that it came to the middle of my tiny thighs. I remember gripping Mom’s hand as I raised my foot almost up to my chest every time I needed to take a step forward. I would put my foot back down on the icy surface and plunge into two feet of snow. Every step was a challenge. I was chilled to the very depths of my being as snow filled my boots and froze my feet and legs. Twice, I lost my balance and fell face forward into the snow. Mom would just yank me back up again by my hand and sigh wearily as she saw the snow encrusting my nose and mouth.
As Mom struggled to keep me moving forward, the challenge was made worse by my baby brother, who kicked and screamed and pounded his tiny fists. He was fascinated with the snow and wanted to dive head first into the clean, white powder. Mom struggled to keep me standing and Tony securely tucked into her arms as we made our way to the school.
I don’t know how my mother handled it all, but we made it to the school just fifteen minutes past twelve. I had arrived in class with a red, runny nose and cold, soaking wet feet. I don’t know how my mother was able to get me all the way to school and then make the long, wet, cold walk home. She never complained or talked about it again. It was just something she did and a choice she made as a mother.
I did not have to walk home. I was eternally grateful that my father had left work early to pick my sisters and me up from school. I am grateful to my parents for the sacrifices they made for me…and, yet…I still hate winter! This fact spun around and around in my head endlessly as I returned to my childhood home in Kansas.
At the beginning of November, I began to prepare for the upcoming winter. I bought coats, sweaters, gloves, boots, ice scrapers, defrosters…I had been living in the desert of sunny Southern California for the past eleven years. I didn’t even own a single pair of warm wool stockings! I felt completely unprepared and at the mercy of a harsh cold winter season. Throughout the months of November and December, I held my breath and waited for the snowstorms, freezing rain, sleet, and hail to begin.
November and December weather, though, was surprisingly warm, calm, and mild, except for a 5-day storm over the Thanksgiving weekend that was more rain than ice or snow. I prayed that the weather would stay tame throughout the holidays. Just let me get to Christmas, I prayed.
And it happened, my prayer was answered. Friday, December 25, 2015, was dry, warm, and beautiful with a high of 46 degrees. The first snow and ice storm didn’t occur until the following Monday, December 27, 2015. I was a little apprehensive as I listened to the news reports about the approaching storm. The storm would start late Sunday evening and continue all day on Monday. It would first produce rain which would later turn into freezing rain and sleet until a heavy snowfall closed out Monday evening.
I awoke Monday morning around 9 am to see the storm already in progress. Light freezing rain was falling from the leaden sky. “It’s not bad yet,” my brother, Tony, observed. He has lived in Kansas all of his life, so I decided to accept his word for it. Around eleven am, he stated, “Let’s go out for a while. Let’s go to lunch before it can get really bad.”
Over big bowls of hot soup and salty chips at the local Chili’s, Tony, my sister-in-law, Mary, my nephew, Logan, and I laughed and teased and bonded as we told stories of our childhoods. It was an extremely pleasant, enjoyable lunch that made all four of us feel warm and safe even as the storm continued to rage outside.
The only confrontation came when Tony noticed the way I was pigeon walking and toe hopping across the frozen parking lot. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “Why can’t you walk right?”
Mary quickly stuck up for me. “She hasn’t been in snow for years,” she said. “She’s not used to it. That’s why she’s walking funny.” I nodded at Mary as she gripped my arm and pigeon walked with me across the snow and ice.
The weather had gotten much worse as we left the restaurant. The sleet was now stinging our skin and pinging off the tops of the cars. Large snowflakes were beginning to drift in the air. “We better get home now,” Tony advised and I wasn’t going to argue with him. I quickly pigeon walked to the car and climbed into the backseat.
That afternoon, when we were warm and safe back home again, Mary called me over to the back door. “Come here but be very quiet. I want to show you something.” Mary was looking out of the large full-length window of one of the French doors that lead to the backyard. Through the glass, Mary pointed at the large, beautiful, fir tree only five feet away from the porch. She whispered, “Look. Do you see them? There are blue jays trying to find shelter from the sleet in that tree! Look to the inside of the tree and you will see them.”
I looked where Mary directed and laughed. Five beautiful blue jays were jumping from limb to limb as they searched for a warm, dry place to stay warm. As the sleet and snow continued to fall, the backyard was suddenly coming to life. Squirrels raced up and down the trees as they scurried around looking for food. Birds flew from tree to tree. Mary and I sat together for a while as we watched the animals running around the backyard. Mary’s face glowed with delight and wonder as she watched all of the critters still preparing for the rest of the winter.
I realized then that winter did not have to be a cold, lifeless, hard season. This day was a perfect example of what winter should be. I had a great moment bonding with my family. I had watched adorable little creatures preparing for the cold. I had felt the peacefulness of watching large white snowflakes tumbling to the ground.
I think I could grow to love winter….
…As soon as I perfect my pigeon walking technique!