Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Snow Watch: A Family Tradition

The holidays are over ... for the most part.  The Christmas parties are over.  The presents have been opened.  The food eaten.  The laughter has faded, but the good memories remain.  Looking ahead, my slate is clear except for my brother's birthday coming up this weekend.  Again, there will be food with cake and bad singing.  There will be presents and laughter and games.

Looking out my office window as the sky grows dark, I am somewhat saddened that there has been no snow.  Now, I'm not looking for or expecting a blizzard like they get north of me.  We've had a few measly flakes that seem to melt before even touching the ground.  I'm looking for something a little more than a dusting, where I see a solid blanket of white rolling over the earth.  The Cincinnati area is a strange one when it comes to weather.  The running joke is that it's the one place where you can use the air conditioner and the heater in your car on the same day.  I've done Christmas shopping in December with the top on my old convertible down and I've slogged through a foot of snow to shop for presents.

But there's something about the holiday season that has you dreaming of snow.  Maybe it's all the songs about a White Christmas and sleigh bells that gets to me.

I grew up in a crowded little town called Latonia, which was surrounded by a bigger crowded city called Covington, which was just outside a large crowded city called Cincinnati.  The houses were old and simple and close together.  The backyards were bounded by chain-link fences to keep in the kids and dogs.  Driveways were rare, resulting in most people parking on street when they got home from work.  During the summer, moms gathered together in little huddles on the sidewalks, gossiping, exchanging recipes, and complaining about work.  Dads mowed the lawns and all the kids on the street knew it was time to come in when the street lamps flickered on as the sun set.

During the winter, everyone huddled inside, praying the heater would hold out and you wouldn't have to throw on another pair of socks so you could sleep through the night without your toes freezing.  We didn't see our neighbors until the thaw, with life becoming focused on school and work. 

And then somewhere along the way, my parents had a great idea.  Now, so many years later, I don't know who thought of it, but it really was brilliant.  It was winter in our little crowded neighborhood and the city had just taken on its first real blanket of snow.  It wasn't much.  Probably less than an inch.  But it was enough to cover the grass and the steps and the sidewalks.  My father gathered up some old pieces of wood that had been laying around our backyard while my mom made up a batch of hot chocolate.

My oldest brother and I scattered, hitting our friends' houses (because we were too young to use the phone and besides, it was just faster to run, right?) and told them to dress warm and come down to our house with an old wire hanger.  By the time my brother and I got back, the fire was snapping in the pit my Dad had made and my mom was carrying out a large container of hot chocolate and two bags of marshmallows.  Sticks from trees kept breaking and we didn't have fancy roasters you might find at camping stores.  So we straightened out old wire clothes hangers and put marshmallows on the end. (Sure, it might sound dangerous, but this was in the old days before kids were put in bubble wrap before going out to play)  For the next couple hours, the parents chatted easily over hot chocolate while occasionally yelling at a kid to stop running around with a flaming marshmallow.  And then, when it got late and too cold to move and we all had to go to bed for school the next day, everyone left.  It was over until the next year when the first real snow covered the ground. 

The next year, even more kids came to the first snow marshmallow roast.  Kids that my brother and I knew but didn't necessarily play with.  But no one minded.  Everyone on the street was welcome to stand by the fire, roasting a marshmallow while sipping hot chocolate and chatting with friends and neighbors they hadn't seen in a few months.

It wasn't until years later that I came to realize how important that tradition was to all the kids on the street.  My family moved away after enjoying that tradition for several years and I ran into some kids (now grown adults) who I knew on that street in Latonia.  They told me stories of how they would call my house when the first flakes starting falling to find out if my father would declare this "The First Snow Of The Year".    I heard tales of how the marshmallow roast was the one thing they looked forward to each winter besides Christmas.

Now, a couple decades later, I have to say that those memories of standing in the dark next to neighbors, watching the fire flicker around my marshmallow as I slowly turned it, rise in my mind every December and January as I look out the window, watching for the first snow.  Old traditions like hanging stockings, turkey dinners, and trimming trees are nice, but it's the ones that your family creates that can often be the best.


Andrew said...

Awe. Put that in a Hallmark moment.

Frauke said...

Our across-the-street-neighbours would make softice on may 1rst and call all the village's children to come and get a cone.It always heralded the beginning of summer :-).Even the older kids got some and I really miss that little tradtion ( and the nice neighbour)