Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blizzard Triptych: Des Moines 1973

ONE: The blizzard was a big one and, what made it unusual and what makes me recall it, it happened in the spring. In April.
When you live in the northern climes where winters are long and often brutal, spring becomes very important. Now, someone who lived north of Iowa, say in Duluth or the U.P. of Michigan, or a Canadian, they may look at Iowa and say what nice short winters we had. But they are not nice short winters. Tennessee has nice short winters. So, I can recall livng in Iowa and hating the month of March because in March winter was dissolving but never quite went away--the weather would tease you with snow melt and hints of warmth only to turn around and freeze and sleet and snow a little and piss you off. But April? Ah, April is crocuses and tulips and daffodils. I mean, it's not May, but April is usually more sun than snow, there's no more hinting that spring is here. But not that winter.
I think there may have been flowers out and leaf buds and the first insects of the year, but a huge winter storm came roiling in out of Colorado and across Nebraska and it dumped pound upon pound of wet heavy snow on Des Moines and Urbandale. Upon central Iowa. Whiteouts and roads closed, people and animals trapped, cities shut down. Schools closed (Yes!).
But despite all the trouble, a blizzard is fun, it demarcates the season, your life. Even though a feeling of spring had been trashed, I went out into the blizzard to goof around. The next day my neighborhood friends, my brothers and sister, went out to play. It was fun. Huge drifts, our boring landscape changed. Snow wet and thick, perfect for snowballs and snowforts and snowmen . . . Okay, if you're going to have one last shot of winter in April in Iowa, why not a blizzard?

TWO: I built a huge snowman. This may have been after a blizzard, but don't think it was the one mentioned above. I built the snowman out of a drift that had blown in against our front door covering the porch. I'd shoveled the porch, piling it upon the drift, and I then shaped that--because it was wet snow--into a ballish shape, then made another huge snowball, rolling it up in the front yard, then added a smaller one for a head, then packed snow all around that. Did the usual stuff with charcoal, carrot, hat, sticks and had me a snowman. But like I said, it was huge. It was maybe seven feet tall (I could reach its top by standing on the porch), big and fat and solid, as solid as a snowman can be, I'd say.
It stood by our front door like a sentinel, a winter god, a big oaf to scare off solicitors. It stood there for days and days.
Now, I was the kind of kid who liked to stay up late. Living in a smallish house with a family of seven, sharing rooms all my life, arguing over tv shows and such, I loved the night when everyone else was asleep and the house was dark, living room empty, streets outside empty. So, I was up one night after my snowman was into his second week of existence. I was up, alone, looking out the window, houselights off, streetlights on outside shining cold and yellow upon the snowed suburban landscape. And what do I see? I see the neighborhood kid from down the block come sneaking into our yard. This was one of the two boys (or were there three?) who lived across the street and about four houses down, maybe less. I don't recall their names. I don't recall which one it was. They were not friends. They were rough kids, mean-spirited (the Howles?)--to me at least--who would throw eggs on Halloween and mistreat animals. So, I see him sneaking up. He does not know I'm awake and watching. And he comes up to my snowman, looks it over, then goes behind it and braces his body up against it and heaves, trying to topple it.
I watched his push and push.
I don't know why I didn't tap the window or open the door or go out the back door and confront him. I wasn't afraid of them, just disliked them for the most part, but I was in my lonely groove and only watched as he pushed.
And he could not do it. My snowman did not budge. And I enjoyed that, seeing him unable to knock my giant snowman over. he tried and gave up and that was good enough for me . . . He may have been the one I had the snowball fight with where I had to pay for the broken window.

THREE: I was walking home from school on a winter day and when I got to 65Th Street--where I lived--there was one of the boys from down the street and he began to throw snowballs at me. And that's fine. There may have been a malicious intent on his part, but to me it was just a snowball fight. So, I dropped my books and bunched up some snow and tossed snaowballs back at him. The snow was heavy, icy (oh, ice balls--the worst of snowball fights; I got hit in the face by an iceball one of my first winters in Iowa, by a guy who was pretty much a friend, when I was walking to Joe Strayhall's house; it hit me in the nose and I bled all the way to Joe's). So we battled back and forth and I had him on the run. He backtracked to his own house, to his driveway where I had him cornered, though his garage door was open. So, I tossed a good fastball right at him as he backed into his garage and, as the snowball flew hard and straight, he reached up and pulled the door down. he got it closed just as the snowball came and--BLAMCRASH--my snowball went right through one the garage door's windows. Glass was strewn.
I didn't think too much of it, but within a day his mother called my mother and demanded that I pay for the broken window.
My mother was always of the mind to just pay it and be done with it--no arguments--and ignore people like that. So, she gave me the money in an envelope and I went and put it in their mailbox. But, what injustice! I can see that he never told his mother that he was the one who had lowered the door, who had stared the fight . . . but there's more to this, in a way.
The Howells (I'm pretty sure that was the family name) had two, maybe three boys, as said. But one of them was killed a few years later, maybe in the early eighties. I think maybe it was the oldest boy, not the one I had a snowball fight with, not the one who tried to topple the snowman, but then again, it could have been him. He wasn't murdered, I believe. I think he died in a hunting accident or some such thing. But he wasn't much older or younger than me.
Winter. Winter. Winter.

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