THE MUSIC OF SNOW by Carolyn Straub
Who knew San Diego could be so cold? Schlepping our luggage into the historic 1920s hotel, we leaned into an icy wind. It whipped our naked necks and ears, a not-so-gentle reminder that Thanksgiving, 2010, was almost here.
Through the night, two undersized radiators hissed and clanked, pretending to warm our room. Heat never happened.
Come morning, I layered my black jacket, the one with snowmen on the front, over a wool sweater, and headed outdoors.
Another hotel guest smiled my way. “I love your jacket! It puts me in the Christmas mood!”
I couldn’t help but respond, “Isn’t it funny that in California, snowmen mean Christmas? In Minnesota where I grew up, snowmen simply mean winter.”
“We’re originally from Michigan,” she said, “and you’re absolutely right. I never thought about it before.”
My mind slid back through winters of varying amounts of snow. Though Minneapolis was well prepared, a blizzard sometimes halted city life, closing schools and roads. Stucco and brick houses snuggled deep into unplowed snow blankets. Once or twice our faithful mailman, who walked his route, didn’t attempt to burrow through the deep drifts.
First snowfalls of each season were the most exciting. At bedtime Mom might say, “When you wake up tomorrow, the world will be white.” Hoping to witness the very first flakes, I’d prop my head on the window sill beside my bed, willing my eyes to stay open. That never worked.
Un-white Christmases were rare and some Thanksgivings were already white. January and February snowfalls brought the most sledding and ice skating, not to mention fresh supplies for creating people of snow. Frosty the Snowman lived several lifetimes, especially when snowstorms continued into April.
Music serenaded us as we ice skated on Lake Harriet or Minnehaha Creek. And we really did sing “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride” on sleigh rides, no matter the month. After all, neither song has anything to do with Christmas.
One evening, as we walked home from a Valentine’s Day toboggan party, large flakes fell around us in silent slow motion. Spontaneously, we erupted into “Let It Snow, Let It
Snow,” and “Winter Wonderland”. No mention of Christmas in those songs, either.
A few Februarys older, I cuddled with my boyfriend by the fireplace as we crooned along to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”
But snow often outlasted its welcome. Never was that truer than on those few Easter Sundays when we shivered our way to church, eager to show off new spring outfits, complete with flowered hats, white shoes and gloves, only to slip and fall in newly fallen snow.
One April 23rd, a spring blizzard shut down the schools. We built a larger-than-life snowman sitting on a toilet—an expression of our attitude toward too much winter. And then there was the May when a fresh snowfall interrupted my birthday celebration.
Where were spring’s daffodils, poking yellow faces through snow-muddy borders? May should bring fragrant lilacs, hinting of sultry summer days just around the corner. Days when the sun almost forgets to go to bed. Days when winter melodies wait light years away.
Today, bundled with holiday songs on CDs, the music of snow disappears until its next brief December appearance.
Snow deserves more than honorable mention in an occasional song.
Snow people might mean Christmas to Californians but, to our family, they’re winter-long friends. They’ll decorate our home for the holidays. And, since our glass collection of them won’t melt, they may stay a little longer.
Following that Thanksgiving, in January 2011, snow forced school closures in Southern California. In late February, San Francisco received its first snowfall at sea-level in more than eighty years. And all without music!