As I sat in a local restaurant for breakfast the other day watching someone nearly fall on a slipper floor I was suddenly transported to another place and time.
In 1956 I was eight years old and often watched the snow fall from the living room window. In these New England winters it would snow until depths of five or six feet covered familiar yards with smooth, sparkling blankets of white terrain unfamiliar to us all. Every snowstorm was different because the wind would use different brushes depending on its mood.
Maybe it wasn’t that deep but it seems like it when you are only three feet tall. The bigger boys would get out early and shovel off the pond so they could spend the next ten or twelve hours skating or playing hockey. There would be a fire somewhere nearby and the smell of burning wood permeated the area. I would watch while they raced back and forth on the ice chasing a puck and enjoying themselves immensely. They smashed into each other and the ice while I limited my forays to the perimeter of this happy violence.
The cold numbed us to the core. I was only eight and had recently returned from a month long stay in a nearby hospital. I was content to watch and enjoy from a small distance.
This was life in a small town in Central Massachusetts back before the Beatles came to town and everyone’s mom stayed at home. Their job was to supervise little guys like me who would sometimes did things requiring quick medical attention. It was not a daycare environment.
And then there were the chores. Shovel all of the snow out of the driveway before Dad returned from a hard day at work. Make sure to shovel it wide enough so he can open the door of his car.
I tried. But the higher the snow bank the less wide would be the path. I tried to tell him one evening as he opened his door into a pile of snow. He seemed to become more determined with each effort as metal met ice and gradually created a small space.
I was always amazed by how much energy he had at the end of his day as he tried to find his way indoors. And we would eventually follow him when it started to become dark and the cool air suddenly became heavy and silent. And much colder. We would sit next to a radiator and slowly melt in a painful ritual that left us wondering if maybe we should have stayed outdoors.
My three sisters and myself and my parents would settle in for the evening around a television that looked remarkably like something I recently saw in the Boston Museum of Science.
Sometimes it would start to snow again as we looked out the window. All of our tracks were soon covered and, of course, the driveway was once again filling up with snow drifts.
This was around the time I began wondering why we made all the efforts we made. So much of it was repetitive motion that seemed futile to me.
Or at least it seemed that way to me. There was a deep sense of purpose in the effort to clear the pond. I could understand this because the mission was so clear.
But the driveway did not lend itself to the same interpretation. No matter that my parents tried to tell me they were the same. My father worked in a factory on an assembly line making automobiles. I had been there and watched the cars snake through the large cavern as each worker did the same task over and over again.
In my heart I knew these tasks were vastly different. And I enjoyed watching my father help me finish the job as the evening approached. Even if he didn’t want to do it. He made me laugh. And I needed very much to enjoy life again and laugh about the challenges that faced us all.
I doubt he really cared if I finished the driveway so that it met all his specifications. He was happy to see me alive and exercising outdoors with the other kids. And I was happy again to be part of a winter world that somehow seemed warmer than the one I had recently left.
And as the sun retreated I was trying to do one more thing for this gentle man who came to see me every day while I slept in my hospital bed.
I was trying to bring the ice pond to him so that we could be together at the end of his difficult day.