Snow Shoveling

John Sheirer

© Copyright 2003 by John Sheirer 


Winters these days don’t seem as interesting as they did when I was a kid. This piece is from
my memoir in progress, Growing Up Mostly Normal in the Middle of Nowhere, that I strated
writing last winter when I visted the farm where I grew up for the first time in twenty-five years.

I remember many long and usually snow-filled seasons during my youth. The winters we now get in my adopted home of New England every five years or so—the ones with seven or eight big snowstorms that paralyze entire states—were pretty typical every year when I was growing up. One year, school was canceled so many times from October to March that we had to keep going until after Independence Day to make it all up. Some winters were so bad that they couldn’t cancel any more days, so we just kept trudging off to school no matter how much snow we had.

I used to get up an hour earlier than usual when we had a snowy night. Well, to be more accurate, Mom (an early riser) would make me get up an hour early on those days. I then became close friends with the snow shovel. First I’d hike the hundred yards to our mailbox near the highway and clear the snow away so the mail could be delivered. Then I’d make a path from the back door to the cars, clear them off, then continue shoveling to the chicken house so that I could feed the chickens and add boiling water to their frozen drinking supply. Finally, I’d finish my work by shoveling a path from the front porch (Grandma’s porch) to the road—a particularly useless task because no one ever walked that way. But Mom insisted it be done so Grandma wouldn’t give her grief over the unshoveled path.

When I got home from school that afternoon after a long, dangerous bus ride over poorly plowed roads, I usually had to do all of the shoveling a second time to clear the snow that fell while I was trying to stay awake at school. In addition, if the snow happened to be deeper than usual, Dad would send me up onto the roof of the house to shovel the snow. He worried that the weight would collapse the roof of our ancient house, creating an unthinkably difficult repair job in the middle of a frigid winter.

I secretly loved this job. The roof was one of my favorite places to be anyway, and I’d often sneak out there at night to watch the stars and enjoy the open air. This was forbidden in normal circumstances, of course, so actually being required to climb out my bedroom window was a dream come true. I took my time with shoveling the roof, partly because it was a slightly dangerous job with the constant possibility that I might slip and fall. But mostly I just enjoyed the isolation and the view.

Dad would occasionally peek out a window and watch me work. I could tell he was proud of me for happily taking on this job that he dreaded doing himself. It must have been gratifying for him to see me growing into a tall, hard-working young man who shared many of the same values that he embraced. This pride was quite a contrast to his disappointment at my inability to master the clutch in his old pick-up truck.

He also got quite a laugh when I would send a shovelful of snow down onto the unsuspecting heads of a cat or a dog—or, when luck was with me—even a sister or two. Once I actually hit the trifecta, getting all three of them with one shot as they walked to the car. They screamed and yelled for Mom while feebly trying to hit me with snowballs that fell harmlessly several yards short of my perch. Dad tried to give me a reproachful look from the window, but I could see him fighting back a mischievous grin.

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