27 January 2015
When a good friend asked, “What do you do with the memories?” I told her that I cry gently, though not for long, realizing how lucky I am that they are about love and loss rather than bad things, and added that the emotion is more about loss as I get older and I have to learn that loss isn’t bad, it’s just inevitable.
We all have our soft spots. Mine is for snow. When the media started a few days ago to trumpet a dire forecast about an approaching blizzard, I had mixed feelings. How could it be as much fun on this land as it used to be when five of us lived here? Would the snow be too deep for the plow on my lightweight Jeep to move? Should I surrender and ask a professional to bail me out? Could it still be fun without the family?
While pondering this minor league dilemma, I emailed my children: “With the forecast for a big snowstorm from Long Branch to Boston (you guys are in the epicenter), I’m wondering if any of you remember the fun we had in the ‘60s. I listened to the radio in the winter hoping to hear a forecast like this one today, hoping also that it would come in mid-week so you three would be home from school and Dad home from work. Somehow when it came on weekends it seemed a little wasted – until Dad put the rope tow in. Then it would be really fun until the power went out and that meant no lights, no heat, no water. We all peed in the woods, remember? The woods were still up around the house then. Those were the best of days. Love, me”
From one, “Yes, I do. Hot chocolate too and grandparents through the woods and down to the pond. And from another, “And toasting marshmallows after ice hockey with our frozen skates close to the fire. And speeding down the coasting hill with a quick ride via the rope tow back to the top.
And another, “I remember playing hockey with Steve Wood, Lou Kleinhans, the Hubers. Trying to start the rope tow, and it worked about half the time, pulling and pulling, exhausted. Building jumps at the crest of the hill, launching in toboggans into the air. Back and forth from hockey on the pond to skiing or coasting, in for hot chocolate and warmth, back out for more. It was like a sports club, a paradise.”
I loved hearing what they remembered and quickly thought also that their memories of their own childhoods are bare bones as mine were when I was their age. They are in their upper 50s and early 60s with grown children, full blown careers, and multiple responsibilities just as we were at that stage of life. What they will learn, I think is that the bones will flesh out with both detail and emotion. There isn’t room in their minds right now for all the flavoring, but it will come as they grow older and the great gift of old age – perspective and emotional freedom – creeps into them as it has done – if very slowly – to me.
I remember a little boy, five years old, in his first skates, holding onto a wooden chair with fear in his eyes as he tried not to be hit by the hockey players on the pond down the hill from our house. They were four years older than he. He never complained and when I went to bring him near the bonfire to warm his hands and feet, his laces and toes were frozen and he was uncomplaining and cold. In what might later seem like moments to him, he was eight himself and playing pond hockey with the big guys.
And the other remembering the fast trip up on the rope tow. One thing I remember especially about that is the barrage of hints from mothers asking why their children were coming home with the palms of their gloves worn through. That’s what a rope tow does. It slips through your hands as you gradually tighten your grip. People have to adjust to the unvarying speed of the rope; it never yields to its passengers. First timers would grasp tightly and be slammed to the ground. So yes, in those days, gloves were the casualty.
And so the snow began today, and I realized what I really wanted most was an old fashioned blizzard without the loss of power. The sky dropped just less than a foot, enough to cover the land in every direction and silence the outdoor world. No natural sounds – no wind, no crickets, no animals. My world was still. No one skates on the pond or coasts on the hill; the rope tow is long gone. But the beauty and the silence are the same. And when it was over I did my favorite thing: plowed the long road and thought about all this with peaceful pleasure.