On Saturday I shoveled snow for about an hour. The landlord plows the driveway but the cars were almost completely buried. I loved it. I loved every thing about it – “suiting up” in multiple layers, the feel of the shovel in my hands, the satisfaction of moving a pile of powder from one place to another. I never thought of shoveling snow as particularly contemplative. It all surprised me – the peace, the crisp air, the sunlight after the storm. It was one of those “good to be alive” moments. It also gave me some time to think and pray.
The last time I saw this much snow, it was Easter Sunday of 1970. I was 6. My big sister was 9 and my little brother was 5. [Our baby sister wouldn’t come for another 18 months.] A huge and very unexpected snowstorm hit the NY metropolitan area on March 29. The storm was so big and powerful, it dumped 2-3 feet in the NJ/CT suburbs. It was Easter. We were going to go to Mass and then to my grandparents for the Easter Egg Hunt. I remember this so clearly for several reasons. First, we did NOT go to Mass. I couldn’t believe it! All the winter snow equipment had been put away in anticipation of spring. No town was prepared. I wasn’t disappointed about church as much as shocked. The Sunday observance was such a part of our life.
The snow was wet and heavy. All the little blooms of spring lay buried under a big, wet blanket. The tulips and forsythia were nowhere to be seen. How would we ever find all the eggs? Wouldn’t they be frozen solid anyway? Wait a minute…if we can get to church how will we get to Mamie & Pop Pop’s house? Just as the three of us children were about to despair, my Dad had a great idea…
What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Clothed in his shearling jacket and the boots he wore as a volunteer fireman, my Dad put me on his shoulders and began to walk. My grandparents lived about half a mile away, up two hills and on the right. They were big hills so the walking was more like a slow march. Each step meant a deep sink and pull, his knees lifting his snow-covered boots up and down. I don’t remember how long it took him to make three round trips. I just remember my ride – our time alone. I remember holding on to his forehead and his hands on my ankles. I remember the crunch, crunch of his boots in the pristine powder and the sun shining on all of it. When we got to my grandparents’ house, there was news of another miracle. The Easter Bunny must have known about the blizzard because my Pop Pop said he could see bright, round objects all over the mountain behind his house. The hunt was on!
I think the early memories that stick in us are important. There is so much we “flush” or store from the first decade of our lives. This snowstorm stands out in a lifetime of storms because of my Dad. I know there are times in every parent’s life when they feel like they failed or missed an opportunity to get something right. This memory of his strength and determination looms large in my mind. One by one he loaded us on his shoulders like little lambs. The tenderness of the gesture overwhelms me now. He was my Good Shepherd that day – and every day thereafter.
Peace to you all…