The snow was falling in miniature but unrelenting flakes that accumulated faster than seemed possible. As we drove home, lawns rapidly disappeared, followed by sidewalks and then streets. Plows dropped their shovels with clangs that startled, even when you saw it happen.
My father slowed the car to a crawl. The headlights glared off the onslaught, compromising instead of providing visibility.
He had both hands on the steering wheel and leaned forward, leaving a gap between his coat and the seat. An unnamed tension sat like a fifth passenger in the silent car.
Putting the car in first gear, he jockeyed the delicate balance of clutch and brake while we inched downhill toward our house.
The right hand turn into our driveway proved impossible however, as the accumulation of unplowed snow did not yield. Tires spun. The car straddled the sidewalk. Several attempts to rock the car didn’t help. We were stuck, but home.
Shoveling, salting and planks were going to be necessary.
“Everybody out!” my father ordered.
The glow from the streetlamp illuminated our house and driveway. Lights were on in homes up and down the block, but no one was outside shoveling yet.
My sister and I followed a few yards behind our mother as she headed to the garage for shovels, our feet crunching the new snow, while Dad surveyed the situation. I was unsure whether I was expected to wait in the house or help. At eight years old, it could have gone either way.
But then, to my shock, a snowball exploded into powder on my mother’s back and stuck to her black wool coat, leaving a white bullseye.
We all whirled around to find my father forming another. His blue eyes twinkled with mischief and invitation.
It didn’t take long before the snowballs were flying in all directions. Our shrieks seemed so loud in the quiet, but we didn’t care. Eventually we dug a path for the car and it fishtailed up the driveway, but by then, we were all encased in snow and only distinguishable by height.
In the house, we peeled off our wet clothes, got in pajamas and warmed our hands around mugs of hot chocolate.
This night is etched in my memory, and decades later, after losing both parents, I learned it was crystal clear in my sister’s as well.
So why was this such a vivid memory for us?
Probably because up to that point, we didn’t think our parents were roll-in-the-snow people.
Mom and Dad each worked two jobs and our house was a busy one of people always in motion, transitioning from one task to the next, one job to the next. And this was the 60s; a time of traditional roles where children mostly played with each other.
My sister and I agree that it was Dad who was usually the instigator of our family fun. He was the risk-taker, the prankster, the one to throw-a-monkey-wrench in the middle of an organized plan.
And we loved him for it.
Dad was a man of few words, but he communicated his love through his sacrifices and hard work. And through his actions that night, he showed that he never lost sight of what was was most important.
Not shoveling, not wedging planks under tires, not throwing down salt so the car could be safely maneuvered into the driveway.
Throwing snowballs was more important.
Laughing was more important.
Hot chocolate was more important.
He taught us that even in the most stressful moments, there is opportunity for joy and laughter. And that sacrifices and hard work matter, but snowballs do too.