Full Circle: The Snow Job
Shoveling the walk really paid off

When it is fully snow-soaked, corduroy has the smell of rotten rutabaga. Unlike wet wool, which is an unbathed sheepdog.

Come snow days, my mother, always the pessimist, dressed me for an Arctic expedition. Giant rubber galoshes with buckles as big as the Tacony bridge. Three pairs of socks. Long underwear, the itchy kind with the window in the back. Those ratted corduroys, a red plaid flannel shirt and the heaviest sweater in the world, knit by 12 muscle-bound Irish women.

She topped it with the thickest overcoat this side of Newfoundland, knit gloves topped with puffy nylon mittens, a wool cap that covered my head down to my eyebrows, and a 74-foot scarf, wrapped around me like a blanket on a pig.

Before she would let me out, she pulled on that scarf like she was trying to win the Rotary Club tug-o-war.

“That’s too tight,” I squealed.

“You can’t go out with your neck exposed,” she said. “You’ll catch your death.”

She pulled it even tighter. I just knew that one day they would find me face down in the snow on Robbins Avenue.

“What’s wrong with him, officer?”

“Ah, his scarf was pulled too tight. He’s dead.”

“Oh, my lord, have you told his mother?”

“We’ll be going there now to arrest her.”

“Arrest her? For what?” “Scarf asphyxiation. First degree.”

The scarf cinched, my mother would throw all of her 5´2˝ frame against the silver screen door. The wind would fight back, not about to give in easily. You could hear the sound of morning icicles cracking as she broke the seal. And finally, on her 5th try, the wind would give in. Holding the door steady with her left hand, she would push me out into the elements with her right.

You could smell the silent snow falling. There was snow in my face, there were tiny little needles that whipped with the wind and stuck to my eyebrows and my eyelashes and tingled the powder on my cheeks. It was like liquid crystal.

I was 8 years old. The snow of this February blizzard, this snow that never ends, came up to the top of my kneecaps. Driving was impossible. Walking was an Olympic event. My friend Danny came out and we started throwing snowballs at each other.

“Your father has a bad back,” my mother yelled. “Watch for one of the neighborhood kids with a snow shovel. I’ll pay him a dollar to clean the steps and the sidewalk.”

A lightbulb went on. Wait a minute, I was a neighborhood kid. We had a snow shovel. A dollar could buy me 20 packs of baseball cards. Or 50 jawbreakers.

I was about to become an entrepreneur. I pulled up my galoshes and looked at Danny. He was a big, strong kid. He once lifted a baby carriage with one hand, which would have been a major feat if he hadn’t forgotten to take the baby out first.

I told my mother we would do our steps and sidewalk.

“It’s freezing out there. You’ll get sick. You’ll get the croup.”

“The croup? Only babies get the croup.”

“When did you become a doctor? Then pneumonia, you’ll get pneumonia, and we’ll have to take you to the hospital, and your father can’t drive in this weather. And you probably inherited your father’s bad back. No shoveling. No shoveling for you.”

Drats. “OK, I won’t shovel much. I’ll just help Danny. He’ll do all the hard work.”

“Ten minutes, that’s all, you can shovel for 10 minutes. But don’t take the good shovel. I don’t want you breaking the good shovel.” We have a good shovel? Really? Wow, people will think we’re rich.

Two hours and 10 minutes later, the steps and the walk were clear. And Danny and I were each 50 cents richer. I stuck the 2 quarters away in my pocket. A frozen smile came to my face. And visions of jawbreakers danced through my head.

Read more Full Circle here


February 2021
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