Snow Time

14 Dec

Not exactly Christmassy, but relevant for those who live in four-season climates. Here is an excerpt from a story in my book Foleytown, which is about the first time I encountered snow. It’s called The Religion of California: 

“I’ve decided that we’re going to the mountains,” my father grumbled, one early Saturday morning in late winter. “So, today, we’re all taking a car trip to see the snow.”

“Finally I will get to see and feel what snow is really like,” I told myself, gleeful beyond description. “Finally!”

We all packed into the car, my four sisters and my brother Bobby and I and my mother, and then my father drove us northward, up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, until we saw pine and fir forests and then, later, little patches of white on the ground. As we drove into higher elevations, we saw it frosting the tops of various large rocks and pine branches, and then, eventually we saw it everywhere.

The whiteness was almost blinding.

“Snow,” my father grumped. “Kids, kids—here it is, look out the window. We’ve come to the snow!”

“Oh, it’s so beautiful,” I said, excitedly pressing my face against the cold glass of the car window. “Just so, so beautiful.”

My father turned off the main highway into some small hamlet or other, and we found a little clearing with a small parking lot; it was a public park, completely buried in snow. A forlorn-looking merry-go-round and a steel jungle-gym jutted starkly out of the white snow blanket on the ground, some yards in the distance.

My mother had made us all dress in numerous layers of uncomfortable clothing and heavy rubber galoshes. She was sure that someone would come down with pneumonia, or at least a very bad cold, and she had not really approved of our trip to the snow. But she went along, resignedly.

“At least we have penicillin now,” she lectured. “When I was your age, Liz, if you got pneumonia from being out in the snow, you could die, like my poor Cousin Loppy, who passed on when he was only fourteen,” she added gloomily.

My mother was like that; she loved to look on the dark side of nearly everything. And she also had an inexhaustible supply of stories about relatives and in-laws and neighbors who had experienced dire misfortunes back there in Kentucky, usually because they did something or other that she disapproved of.

That would be things like staying out too long in the rain or snow, touching something that was infested with Germs and Disease, or playing with sharp sticks.

“Why did they call him Loppy?” I wondered aloud; I could never get my mother’s Kentucky relatives straight. It didn’t help that many of them seemed to have peculiar, scarcely human nicknames like Loppy, Bippy, Aunt Mag, and Meedge.

“Well, we called him that because he had long ears that drooped down, like a lop-eared rabbit,” my mother said. “I think that’s why he got pneumonia—his ear muffs didn’t cover them, and he got frostbite. Your Great Aunt Mag never recovered from it, poor thing—she later died from choking on a fishbone. That’s why I never let you kids eat any kind of fish, except fish sticks.”

That was another thing my mother disapproved of: eating fish. I started thinking about how often she said the bones were just too dangerous to justify eating it, as Great Aunt Mag could have clearly testified. That is, if the poor woman had lived to tell about it.

Now, for folks who didn’t approve of eating fish, it was rather hard to be a Catholic, because we were supposed to eat it every Friday. Fortunately, by the Sixties, there were frozen fish sticks easily available from the grocery store, even in a small, backwater town like Ulloa City.

Frozen fish sticks had made it possible for Mary Foley to fulfill her Friday religious obligations with an untroubled mind.

“The fish stick factory has machines that sift out all of the bones,” she’d once said, duly impressed. She had actually written a letter to the company to make sure, and they had written back to explain patiently how they de-boned all of their fish before squishing it into fish sticks.

“Thank God for Gorton’s of Gloucester, is all I can say,” my mother added.

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4 Responses to “Snow Time”

  1. razorbackwriteraus December 14, 2014 at 12:47 am #

    The first time I encountered snow…I didn’t have gloves.

    • foleytown December 14, 2014 at 1:36 am #

      Does it ever snow in Australia?

      • razorbackwriteraus December 14, 2014 at 1:45 am #

        Actually it does. In the southern states such as New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania. We have snow fields down there. Skiing – the whole box and dice.

      • foleytown December 14, 2014 at 2:50 am #

        It’s weird to think of going south to find snow! Everything is backwards there!

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