Monday, June 17, 2013

Snowed In

Today's post is by Jim Heynen, from whom I had the wonderful privilege of taking a writing workshop in Iowa City this summer. 

I don’t miss much from my childhood on the farm, but I miss being snowed in.  Being snowed in is not waking in the morning to see that you’ll have to spend a half hour shoveling to your car before the snowplows come and you get towed.  If you’re really snowed in, the snowplows are snowed in.  And being snowed in at a your lakeside cabin where you’ll have to dust off your snowmobile before going out on the frozen lake simply does not count because you went to your cabin in the first place to escape normalcy.  Being truly snowed in means being greeted by an uninvited ravenous guest who swallows your whole day.  If you are truly snowed in, life as you know it comes to a complete standstill.  It means delicious imprisonment.  It means being wrapped in a straight jacket of silence.
            My sweet memories of being snowed in look like this.  It started a few days before the actual event with the dire forecast that a humongous blizzard was lumbering down from Canada.  The forecast did not produce dread.  Quite the opposite, it fueled excitement.   This could be the big one! Bigger than ’36!  Better get your kerosene lamps and candles ready! 
The grocery stores would be packed with people buying flour and sugar.  The hardware store would be packed with people buying batteries and shovels.  The variety store would be packed with people buying Monopoly games and jigsaw puzzles.  Getting ready for the big one generated as much anticipatory excitement as getting ready for Christmas.  Except this preparation was not in anticipation of a congregation of relatives.  It was preparation for a celebration of solitude.
The morning after the big one looked like this.  A wonderland of whiteness.  Snowbanks as high as telephone wires, the only thing moving the blue, wavering smoke from distant farmhouse chimneys.   Even though one family could not drive out to see another family, it was still a grand communal feeling.  We were all in this together, every family in its own survival cubicle.  We never felt more connected, and it would not be fair to say that misery loves company.  We were not miserable.  We were happy to have been chosen by the great mysteries of Midwest Weather.  We were special.  Though the power of all that snow trapped us in one place, we still felt blessed.  It was an awe that stopped just short of worship.
Being totally snowed in started with an awareness of what was outside and then burrowed its way inside us.  The body at first signaled a need to move.  Everybody, including the adults, felt stir-crazy.  Maybe even irritable.  “I’m bored!  But there was no easy resolution to boredom or irritability.  If parents or siblings fought, they had nowhere to escape.  They had no choice but to deal with it.  Nobody dared to do anything so drastic that they’d have to go to the doctor.  You couldn’t go to the doctor even if you needed to.  If you had a knockdown argument with a family member, you couldn’t resolve it by running off to a friend’s house.  You couldn’t even go for a walk.
No matter how much money was spent in anticipation of the snowed-in lock-down, it was still cheap therapy.  By mid morning, all able-bodied persons would have put their hands to the shovel.  On one big snowed-in day, my brother and I had to jump from an upstairs window with snow shovels so we could dig a path to the front door and let the other members of the family out.  We had to dig our way to the barns to make sure the animals were all right.  By mid afternoon, when boredom made its second threat, the board games and jig saw puzzles that were once regarded as themselves mediums of boredom, now called out for attention.  So did those neglected books.  Puzzles got made, books got read, towels got embroidered, socks got darned, pictures got framed, rooms got cleaned, photo albums got sorted, old family stories got told, and—by the time everyone was ready for bed—a good time had been had by all.

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