Love for winter doesn’t melt

My first four babies wore cloth diapers, which I washed weekly and hung on a line in the backyard. The singular satisfaction of seeing stains disappear after a few hours in the bright sun is both simple and immeasurable.

I feel similarly when the sun melts the residual snow on sidewalks I’ve shoveled. From the chair at my desk, I periodically stand up and look over the front porch roof to admire exposed pathways, the sun evaporating what my shovel could not remove.

Hearty winters are one of the things I liked about moving to Northeast Ohio. For nearly a decade, I lived in Columbus where winters are grayer than they are here. Making it worse, it rarely snows in Columbus and when it does, it often quickly melts. 

During my first 14 winters here, bright snow made the darkest months of the year cheerful and fun. My children learned to ski at Boston Mills and Brandywine ski resorts where, yes, the slopes are small, but the skills needed are the same as anywhere. In recent years my big boys have skied on slopes across the country.

Since 2014, however, winters here have been annoyingly mild. Far too many weeks have been as dismally gray and snowless as they are in Columbus. Temperatures have not been cold enough to provide the important benefit of killing off invasive plant and insect species or reducing the pesky indigenous ones. Northeast Ohio pet owners know too well that treatments to prevent ticks and fleas must now be given 12 months of the year. 

Last fall, I received a rare phone call from my stepfather. He lives in Dallas, but grew up and lived much of his adult life in Ohio. 

“I could never live in Ohio again, I can’t take the winters,” he told me. 

“Pshaw,” I told him, “We hardly get below freezing here anymore.” 

Perhaps trickster gods overheard our conversation because 2021 is a banner year for winter in Ohio — and in Texas. Snow and cold have repeatedly visited Akron and set records in the Lone Star State. My son Claude is studying at Texas A&M and several days this past week endured rolling blackouts when it was colder there than here. 

Many, like me, love a good winter. Others do not. But remember, it could be worse. 

Last weekend, I took my two youngest children to Rockford, Illinois, to visit my second son, Hugo, his girlfriend, Claudia, and (most importantly) their dog, Rutabaga. During our four days there, the temperature never rose above 2 degrees. Claudia tells us it’s a typical winter for northern Illinois. 

On our way home, I accidentally chose a GPS route that took us through downtown Chicago. It was the first time Leif and Lyra had seen the city, but they didn’t see much. The region was enveloped in whiteout conditions. With traffic crawling at 3 miles per hour, it was safe driving until we reached the Chicago Skyway where traffic let up. Then, and for the next hour, I white-knuckled us through the storm on roads not recently plowed. 

Twenty years ago almost to the day, I was in the left lane on the outer belt south of Chicago when I hit black ice. My car spun so that I was facing oncoming traffic and then slid sideways across five busy lanes of traffic before hitting the guardrail next to the right lane. 

My three children, ages 7, 4 and 6 months, were sleeping in car seats behind me. They awoke at the moment of impact. A couple who stopped to see if we were OK were nearly as shaken from watching our accident as I was having experienced it. 

The car’s hood had been knocked sideways and no longer lined up with the latch. The couple helped me bungie-cord the hood to the grille and we all continued on. I crossed the border to Indiana and picked up speed when suddenly the car hood flew up and smashed the windshield.

None of my children were asleep that time and they all screamed before sobbing.

Flanking both sides of the interstate were farm fields covered in waist-deep snow. The nearest exit was too far to walk to with three small children and, like many people 20 years ago, I didn’t have a cellphone. 

I have family in LaPorte, Indiana, not far from the Illinois border. I again tied the hood down, this time to the bumper, and slowly drove in the right lane with my hazards on. Before long, but not far from a toll station, the hood again flew up, smashed the windshield and sent bits of safety glass into the car. 

Somehow, I made it to the toll station where the very kind workers let me call my grand-aunt and grand-uncle who came and collected us. 

Then, as now, we made it home safely, this time just before last week’s big storm. Now, as then, the dangers of driving in snow and ice have not diminished my love of a vigorous winter. 

I spent this morning clearing the snow from the storm. Several times since, I’ve peered out my office window to admire entire slabs of sidewalk being slowly revealed by winter sunshine. Such satisfaction.

This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on February 21, 2021.


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