It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .
Dickens, of course, was referring to snow.
It blankets the town where I live, a blanket upon a blanket. When the old bedclothes become dirty and worn, a thick new cover arrives until the bed is finally stripped in spring.
The snow starts to lightly fall late in the evening. It is hard to see, but it sparkles down within the halo around our post light.
My younger kids wear their pajamas inside out and backward in some pagan belief that their actions will bring enough snow to cancel school. I tell them that across upstate New York, where summer is a month of bad skiing, kids clean their rooms to bring on the snow.
They tell me this is why we don’t live in Buffalo.
My teenage son is less superstitious. He plays Snow Day Roulette by abandoning his homework for the evening.
Very early the next morning the phone rings. It is an automated call announcing a school closing. It is automated because the school administrators responsible for the decision they made the night before are fast asleep.
A few minutes later, as I am drifting back to my winter’s nap, we receive another phone call because my children are spread across two different schools. A few minutes after that the noisy alarm goes off so I can see for myself whether there is enough snow on the ground to warrant going back to bed.
At this early hour, under the heavy skies, it is too dark to tell whether there is much white stuff. But in the AcuView Storm Center TV Ten News Watch Room at Five Six and Eleven a television meteorologist sits intently before a row of computers. The sleeves of his wrinkled shirt are rolled up and his tie is askew; he has bags under his eyes. He has been up all night because his kids have snow days too.
The exhausted weatherman informs me there is lots of snow outside. Up to 14 inches in some areas.
As dawn opens I see an endless, pristine bed of white spread across the lawns and over the streets. The evergreen branches are frosted and heavy. White beards hang from signs and high cone hats sit atop fence posts. Outside it is still, as if a single breath will disrupt everything.
The weatherman is right, there is lots of snow outside. Up to 14 inches. I want his job.
Here is the thing about snow. It is absolutely beautiful until it needs to be shoveled. Then it becomes the reason why sane people move to the Sunbelt.
Because once the mesmerizing drop is over, the snow must be moved out of the way. Soon great hulking mounds infused with gritty car exhaust will offer impenetrable barriers to those without high boots. Gray puddles will form and freeze, form and freeze. Shed of their spindly stick arms, the men of snow will lose their smile and lilt.
It rapidly becomes the worst of times.
Where we live, nature has a way of correcting this psychic imbalance. First it offers the Caribbean. And if that doesn’t work, it offers the next best thing: more snow.
On the most recent snowy occasion my family is together in the middle of the week. The obligations that keep us apart have been temporarily suspended so that we may share an unexpected vacation for a couple of hours; one requiring gloves and snow pants. It is the best of times.
Outside it is quiet. Too quiet. A perfect snowball strikes me in the back and sends slivers of ice in an explosive poof down my neck. I will not let my rebellious kids get away with such an assault. I scramble for cover: This means war! Thumping safely against the far side of a long-limbed Hemlock, the drooping branches dump their precarious load on my head. I hear laughter from the bushes.
After an hour in battle my face is numb and wet. Snowplows are starting to rumble and scrape their way up the street. I will need to move the car soon.
I have one last weapon in my arsenal. They must face the consequences of their aggression, these ungrateful kids who don’t go to school. I hand them each a snow shovel.
What about me, they want to know as I turn to go inside. Don’t I get a snow shovel too?
Under my heavy coat I am still in my pajamas. They are inside out and backward. I won’t be working today.
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.