One winter was particularly kind, providing a ground cover of freshened snow from Christmas to Easter.
This sparkling winter was all white and silver. There were no commerce-crippling blizzards, only gentle snowfalls of new white powder to cover the signs of traffic and sand and overly zealous plow crews. Our whole world was one beautiful crystal.
Grampa helped us celebrate the first snowfall. The last flake had barely kissed the ground when he appeared wearing work pants and boots.
Carrying a shovel, he peered in at us through the picture window with 24 separate panes of glass, the bottom 12 etched by the storm. I was fidgety with joyful anticipation and couldn't dress fast enough.
Grampa, you see, knew what a snow shovel was for, and it was nothing so mundane as removing snow from driveways, sidewalks, and steps. Leave that, his demeanor implied, to my father.
Indeed, Grampa's shovel was an implement of creativity that he bore with the full knowledge that snow was given for the purpose of building up, not clearing away. Once that was understood, everyone's perspective fell easily into place.
Grampa worked with enthusiasm, his shovel creating forts and snow soldiers, igloos with chimneys for fireplaces, and palaces elaborate enough to make modern ice sculptures by talented chefs drip away into oblivion.
We never actually used the forts for snowball fights, because, after all, in the presence of Grampa's villages, who cared about clumsy snowballs?
After Grampa had finished packing down the snow on his latest creation, we moved inside for the post-construction ceremony.
Grampa would initiate things by carefully leaning the esteemed shovel against the garage door, and we would make our way to the backyard, carefully stepping in each other's footprints to preserve the pristine whiteness.
My mother, by this time, was beginning her small, but not insignificant role in the post-construction scenario. It was her responsibility to make the hot cocoa.
After her initial preparations, the cocoa was gently poured into each mug, creating the exquisitely familiar steam and rapidly softening the marshmallows. Grampa always cut a slit in each to hasten the process.
At precisely this melting moment, the cocoa was transported, on a black-lacquered tray with jewel-colored flowers, into the ''other room'' where the 24-paned picture window offered an unencumbered view of the snow development.
There, we focused on the aroma of rich chocolate, the taste of smooth, sweet marshmallows, and the sight of a perfect, crystalline creation.