By Nick Grew
The soft, glossy sheen of shoes reflects upward in the gloomy November morning, while dark, foreboding clouds creep across the smooth surface of Lake Erie. A slightly wet snowflake surreptitiously sneaks in front of our eyes, a herald of the coming winter.
There is something familiarly comforting about the first snow.
It creeps in and quietly lands with a soft touch – instantly melting – on the crimson-brown spikelet on the tops of the green-red ornamental grass in the yard. It softly kisses the tiny red buds of the once vibrant rose that had grown with an upward splendor until it ran out of summer. The few remaining black-eyed Susans, which apparently forgot to bloom at the right time, shiver as a scatter of heavy, wet flakes faintly fall across their yellow eyelashes.
As I peered out into my front yard, I slowly opened the window and allowed the crisp, autumn air inside. The smell of cold – like the smell of the ice in a hockey rink – immediately pulled me back to my childhood:
“Don’t forget your gloves,” my mom said as she checked the chicken in the oven covered with her trademark seasoning of butter, salt and pepper.
“I won’t,” I replied. I pushed my small fingers into the black fabric gloves. “Bye!”
I raced out into the type of frigid air that made your breath tight. I ran past a snow fort that hid the mailbox behind a mountain of white and up my neighbor’s driveway and into their backyard. I lifted my black Kmart boots up and down as I trudged through the deep snow. In my mind, the snow was waist deep and the surface was like Hoth, from the "Star Wars" universe.
My childhood friend, Joe, was already standing on a patch of ice that had formed where the rainwater pooled in the backyard. In one corner of the small rink rested a half-leaning, half-broken hockey net with taped pipes holding the crossbar up, fishing line and rope holding the net together, and cut-up, old tires covering the corners.
“Watch this,” said Joe as he shot a frozen green tennis ball into one corner of the dilapidated net.
“Awesome!” I said, “Show me how to shoot like you.”
For the next hour or so, we played on that small, uneven patch of ice. We played until our toes and fingers felt numb – or until we lost the ball behind the fence or my dad whistled from the front door (which was how we were called to come home before cellphones existed). I am not exactly sure anymore as memories fade with age, but what I do remember was what happened next.
Walking back home, I had noticed that it had started to snow again. Not big, white flakes, but rather, small, reflective flakes – if you could call them flakes. The snow was fine, like the small shavings of ice used to make a snow cone, either store-bought or fresh from the yard.
Joe had gone home through the neighbor’s backyard, and as I crossed the street toward my house, I saw that snow wistfully descending in the yellow brilliance of the gas streetlight. The diminutive slivers of snow tipped and toppled in a reflective dance and imperceptibly landed. I stood there, wide-eyed, and quietly listened to the nothingness as I watched the scene unfold.
Those snapshots of my childhood come back every first snowfall. There is a comfort in those recollections – a sensation uniquely suited to the area. Even now I am gripped by those emotions as I watch the snow fall on the flowers in my yard. I reenact those memories when I look upward at parking lot lights and see the snow falling down ... as I am lost in a waking dream of my past frozen in the comforting nostalgia of time.
Nick Grew, of Lake View, teaches English at St. Francis High School.