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The relentless search for snow on Christmas

A mom misses the frosty holidays of her youth and covers the miles, and the bed of her truck, to make snowy memories for her own sons.

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    Christmas trees sit covered in snow on the family-run Howell Tree Farm, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Cumming, Iowa.
    Charlie Neibergall/AP
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There’s only one Christmas from my childhood where I don’t remember snow. In Anchorage, Alaska, at the end of January, you can pretty much guarantee a white coating on the ground. Even if a fresh snowfall isn’t ready, the trees might be heavy with hoar frost as picturesque as any festive painting.

For the last fifteen years, I have lived in Arizona. My husband and I spent our first Thanksgiving in the backyard under stunning sun, feasting on smoked turkey and twice baked potatoes. Christmas is usually not shorts weather, but it's close. Blinking lights are still lovely when you drive around at night, but Santa hats on cactuses still don’t cut it for me.

We have a winter tradition in our family, starting when I was pregnant with our second child. We go visit some snow every year, usually the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The first time Cole touched snow at age three, he cried because he thought the snow was burning him. I laughed at the idea my son didn’t understand the concept of cold or freezing; all he could relate to was burning. But anyone who’s had frostbite or been struck by an icy packed snowball knows that those crystals really do burn with cold.

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Before driving the four hours across southern Arizona, back to our home, we had a brilliant idea. We drove our Nissan pickup as far up Mount Lemon as possible on the slippery roads and filled the bed with snow. We had no shovel of course, this being a whim, so my husband hefted chunks of sand dusted snow into the back. Over and over again, till we had a full load compressed in. And we headed out. The snow melted a bit as we left the higher elevation and some blew out on the freeway. But back home we had enough to unload and build a snowman on the grassy front lawn.

Our son was enchanted, finding eucalyptus sticks for arms and rocks for eyes. Neighbors stopped to take pictures for days, as our desert snowman shrunk smaller and smaller in the winter sun. He melted proportionately, no head falling off to ruin the effect. Day by day there was less and less snow, till the next weekend when we were left with a snowball sized dirt clod with only an icy center, right outside the front door.

We’ve gone to visit family in Utah and Idaho some years. When my brother was in college we took his kids past Palm Springs, up the mountain to Idyllwild, California. Our first day we had to hike to find just a little snow. The next morning we woke up to a perfect white wonderland, with fresh dry snow coming down. With borrowed snowsuits for the kids, including a pink and white checked one for the littlest boy, we frolicked and froze right in our cabin parking lot. Snowballs, snow angels, catching flakes on our eyelashes and tongues, I finally got to share the memories of my childhood with my own kids.  

These snatches of winter weather only come around once a year, but are one of our favorite family traditions. We step outside our comfortable desert life to be transported to a fantasy world for just a moment of fun, without the worries of shovels or traffic accidents, power outages or snow blowers.

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