Today, in the first week of December, we had snow.  It was one of those storms with big, fat, wet snowflakes that, if you really listen and if it’s very quiet, you can hear them hit the ground with a squump.  And excuse my VERY technical terms, but I find that onomatopoeia is more accurate for some things that would need too many words to explain.  So, yes, Squump.  A cross between squish and soft thump. Squump.

It made me think of the years that I have spent here in a climate that snows.  I did not start my life here and came to these four seasons late in life.  I started out in paradise, where it is always warm and sunny.  But I didn’t know that I was in paradise:  it just was where I was from and I knew no different.   I remember a Christmas morning that I received a bike from Santa and wore shorts trying it out.  I remember a thanksgiving day that we played tennis before thanksgiving dinner, in shorts, of course.

Being an avid reader from a very young age, I read about winters with snowfall and sat dreamy eyed, picturing in my mind’s eye the beauty of a snowscape.  I read about leaves blowing in the wind and leaf piles big enough to jump on and tried to imagine it.

I had cousins that lived in Michigan and they told me how they really loved coming to the Rose Bowl Parade in January in Southern California because it was so warm and wonderful.  They told about going to their prom with feet of snow on the ground, and I had so many questions:  are you able to wear high heeled sandals with all that snow on the ground?  How do you look fabulous in a puffy coat?  Do you wear snow boots and carry your pretty shoes in your hand?  Or do you need a big carrying bag to carry your shoes and then stuff your coat into it?  Do you have hat-head the whole winter long?  On a regular day, what do people do with their coats in a movie theater?  My cousins went to the grocery store with me one day and marveled at the produce section, raving about all the fruit and vegetables that we had in the winter.  I looked at my mom and asked, “Don’t they have vegetables and fruit in the winter back east?  Does the produce section just go empty until spring?”  She didn’t know either, definitively, as she was born and raised in Southern California also and had never lived where there is REAL winter.

The first winter I spent in the East was one filled with revelations.  Those of you who have lived where there is real winter weather will laugh at me when I tell you how I adjusted.

On my first Halloween, I dressed the children in their costumes, which were adorable, and then ruined it by putting coats on over it all, and off we went.  It was a blustery, dark evening, and we walked from house to house among blowing leaves.  I kept telling my neighbors that I encountered along the way that I felt like I was in a movie, and I was so sad to have to take those sleepy children home and put them to bed.  I had wanted to roam the streets for hours, stomping on the leaves and chasing them.  I stomped out into the yard a few days later and announced that I wanted to be the one to rake the leaves.  After about an hour, I declared that it was like pushing the waves off the beach, and that noisy leaf blower that all the neighbors were using looked like the best tool for this job.

The first time I went to a lake during the summer and the lifeguards closed it because of thunder made me thunderstruck!  The children came running up to the towel and said that everyone had to stay out of the water because of the ‘thunder break.’  Confused, I went over to the lifeguard stand and asked just what a ‘thunder break’ was.  The 16-year-old lifeguard was not too sure, he just knew that the rule was that everyone had to get out of the water when there was thunder.  Later I found out that where there’s thunder, there is lightning, whether we see it or not, and it is too dangerous to be out in it.

My very first big thunderstorm on the East Coast made me want to stand out on the porch and watch the turmoil that was roiling around us.  As I was standing there, one of my neighbors drove by and shouted out her car window to get into the house because the lightning can be attracted to the rails that I was holding onto.  Wait … What?!  I didn’t know lightning was attracted to a house.  Oh, yeah, I know about lightning rods that I always saw on old houses, but I didn’t ever see any lightning rods installed on newly built houses, so that meant they weren’t needed, right?  So I ran inside and stood at the window, watching nature’s show.  The next day, a different neighbor cautioned against standing at windows during those big lightning storms, as she had seen newspaper stories describing people who got hit by lightning right through the window!  Also, she explained, don’t stand under a tree in a storm, as the lightning is attracted by the tree and you could get hit if you are standing under it.

I have to say, by the end of that first summer, I was kind of frightened to be out in a storm.  According to all the stories that people were telling me, you weren’t safe ANYWHERE because that lightning could get you:  through the windows, up the stair rails, through the phone, down from a tree, across the surface of the lake, and running across a soccer field.

And then there was my very first snowstorm.  It started late at night, so I watched from the window as the large snowflakes floated down and landed and started to accumulate in the dark (I made SURE that there was no lightning before I sat down next to the window).  And come sunrise, it was a beautiful and peaceful  snowscape.  The whole area was shut down because of those 12 inches of accumulation, so no one was going to work or school and there were no cars on the road.  All was quiet and glistening.   I couldn’t wait to get out in it!  I dressed and ran outside and stood in the middle of the street, listening to the quiet, turning round and trying to see the beauty of everything all at once.  And then I realized that all those ice crystals reflect that bright sunlight, and I was almost blinded.  There I was having stepped into a Currier and Ives winter painting and I couldn’t see it!  I stumbled back into the house to get my sunglasses.

The first time we had a heavy ice storm, I couldn’t see through the windshield to drive the the kids to the sitter’s and get to work.  I put the children in the car and drove the one block to my babysitter’s house with my head out the driver’s window, blasting the defroster hoping it would warm the glass enough to loosen the ice on the outside.  When I got there, I exclaimed that it was icy out there and that my windshield was iced over.  She said that yes, I needed to get an ice scraper.  Frustrated, I threw my arms into the air and said, “Oh great, another winter thing that I have to buy!  With all the snowsuits, boots, hats, and scarves that I had to buy all at once, along with the winterizing of the car, I don’t know how anyone can afford to live where it snows or ices!  Where do I get an ice scraper and how much is THAT going to cost?”  She looked at me and said, “At the gas station and they are about fifty nine cents.”  Boy did I feel about this big, as the saying goes, and sheepishly squeeked, “Oh” as she ran to get an extra one out of her car.  I scraped my windshield and set off to work, laughing at myself the whole way.

Those of you who grew up where the seasons change will laugh at me and my stories of adjustment.  But those of us who grew up with palm trees instead of deciduous trees, with the rhythm of breaking waves instead of thunder, and with walks in the sand instead of runs in crunchy leaves will understand the wonder and surprise that a first real snowfall brings.

Copyright © 2011, Maura White. All rights reserved.

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3 Responses to Chapter XXI – A SQUUMP IN WINTER

  1. Siobhan says:

    Ohhh…I love love love this story. It’s so true. Even though I grew up in the seasons, I think I was born knowing SoCal in my head and I never got sick of the wonder of a thunderstorm. That snow, though, I’m totally over. Have fun with that. 🙂

  2. I remember those balmy Christmases we raced out to show one another our new bikes or skates or whatever. Rarely even putting on a sweater. Those equally balmy Halloweens we tromped the streets of our Beach Town gathering our goodies.
    Now thousands of miles apart we both experience real winter, I honestly cannot tell you which i prefer better. I do love the winter and the picture postcard Holidays in snow. Then again can you ever complain about growing up in SoCal in the 60’s and 70’s? Each has it’s own uniqueness.
    I do love the beginning of the year. The winter causes us to slow down. We get lots of school done and I find it a nice respite from the rest of the year in our little farm. Thanks for another trip down memory lane my oldest dearest friend. You suppose we should get together the year our friendship turns 50? I think that is in 4 yrs!!!

  3. heather says:

    I love this!!! And can totally see it happening for you 🙂 I love you!!!

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