Winter bestows a gift

Recently, winter dealt one of its occasional hammer blows up here in Maine. At 9:30, on the evening of the storm, my teenage son, Alyosha was perched at the window, his head inclined toward the somber night sky, examining it, willing it to snow. Despite the late hour, he still had homework, but he was looking for liberation based on the most tentative of forecasts, which spoke of the "possibility" of significant accumulation.

I knew exactly what he was hoping for. "Alyosha," I counseled. "You can't count on having a snow day tomorrow. I'd do your homework, if I were you."

My son threw me a beguiling look. Then he returned to pondering the heavens, after which he went to bed, with visions, I gathered, of a blizzard dancing in his head.

At some level I know I should have pressed him on the homework issue. But instead I took his place at the window, watching for that first flake, that harbinger of many, many others to follow. On a night this cold, they would gather quickly, forming drifts that would bank up against the house.

I admit that I am still thrilled at the prospect of a snow day. I am a teacher and enjoy my work, but the gift of an unanticipated day off is as charged for me now as it was when I was a kid.

I sometimes feel that it is a cruel thing to wake a child up early from a deep sleep, especially in the dead of winter, when the morning is dark as night and the cold, if it could speak, would caution against emerging from the snug warmth of one's bed.

But there are grounds for joy when one goes to bed expecting to rise early, only to learn the next morning that all bets are off, plans have changed, school is an illusion after all (at least for a day).

When I was a boy, I shared a room with my younger brother. In New Jersey we didn't get substantial snowfalls that often, which made them even more precious.

I can still remember being gently nudged by my father at the crack of a winter dawn, the resistance rising in me as I contemplated having to get up to prepare for school. And then, suddenly, he'd bend down and whisper in my ear, "Go back to sleep. Snow day."

I'd immediately roll my head toward the window and peek out at the whiteness, with reinforcements issuing from a gray sky.

How grateful I was not to live in Florida, where every day was soft and warm, and the kids there didn't know the sweetness of the two most beautiful words in the juvenile dictionary: snow day.

Sometimes I think this is precisely why I moved to Maine. The North has an aspect of unpredictability, especially in winter, when one day might have nothing to do with what the next will bring.

And so, the day after I had relieved Alyosha from his night vigil at the window, I awoke to a magnificent blanket of white. It hung thick in the pines and spruces around our house, slung deep in the crooks of the naked silver maples along the river, spread out as dense pillows on every rooftop in the neighborhood.

I made my way quietly through the house, feeling the cold of the hardwood floor against my feet, the only sound the steady thrumming of the furnace. I turned on the radio and almost immediately received the official word: snow day. All schools closed.

Like the runner at Marathon, I skipped up the steps to Alyosha's room with my urgent tidings. Pausing on the threshold, I regarded my son's long, lanky frame bundled tight under his comforters. I slowly crept toward his bed, wondering if my own father had felt the way I did now, as if he were bestowing a gift.

I laid my hand on Alyosha's shoulder and he slowly rolled toward me. His eyes fluttered open a bit.

"Is it...?" he whispered, ripe with hope.

I hesitated a moment, for effect, and then nodded. "Snow day. Go back to sleep, buddy."

"Yes!" he whooped before turning over, and I, too, rejoiced when I reflected that at a time in my son's life when so many of our interests are diverging, we still have this to share.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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