The storm that made a playground

"Too cold to snow but not to blow," my dad said. Our day had begun with white flakes that fell as thick as flour poured from a sack, a continuation of the storm that had started during the night. Gradually, the falling snow had diminished. The temperature had dropped. Before the last vestige of daylight was snuffed out, it was 30 below.

In the silence that follows newly fallen snow, it was the wind's turn. And slowly it arrived like a soft fluttering pulse.

This gentle touch-and-go - now here, now there - soon increased in sound and force. Impatient, as if seeking to provoke a fight, the tempo rose. The wind grew louder, rougher. In the feeble light I looked through our kitchen window and saw snow whipping and swirling in sheets. Within the haunting moan of the wind I seemed to hear a whisper calling my name.

Was the wind searching for me?

Apprehensive, enthralled, I stood at the window looking out at the churning scene. I heard noises I'd never heard before and sensed tension that belied the cozy warmth radiating from our kitchen range.

Mother looked up from the stove, the wooden spoon suspended above the simmering pot. She seemed to hold her breath at each screaming crescendo.

Father had brought his typewriter into the kitchen, positioned the lamp, and adjusted the wick. His typewriter cast a monster on the wall. He seemed unconcerned, but paused in his work at each wild surge.

Reassuring smiles followed each sudden blast. Our confinement in the kitchen brought a welcome family intimacy. The rest of the house was closed off, impossible to heat.

In spite of my parents' confident glances, the warm odor of bread rising, the steaming kettle, the heaping bowl of speckled eggs, and the firewood stacked neatly alongside the range, I sensed a vague uneasiness.

It seemed the hungry wind concentrated its fury against our house. There was no beyond. The world was only here - our house, our kitchen, and the wind outside. I was disturbed by the waiting resignation. I'd had enough snow, enough howling racket. When would it end?

The wind played a wild staccato as each blast ascended and grew in intensity. Then, just for a moment, there would be an eerie silence, as if the wind had to gather itself before returning with even greater force.

Finally, after one mighty convulsion, we sensed a lessening in the wind's intensity. The spaces between the angry rages grew longer and longer. The vigor of the blasts began to decrease. The brasses no longer blew fortissimo, only the strings moaned.

Slowly the wind crept away, whining in the distance.

It seemed as if a heavy oppression had been lifted. Dad reminded me it was past my bedtime. I was not sorry the drama had eased, but I didn't want to go to bed, to leave the warmth of the kitchen.

Shouldn't we celebrate? I wanted to talk about the storm. I had questions, just not the words. But Mother, now smiling and relaxed, laid my footed flannel pajamas across the lowered oven door. I reveled in my heated PJs, raced her upstairs, and found the hot-water bottle hidden beneath my blankets.

The next morning I awoke to brilliant sun on dazzling fields of snow. Dad had already shoveled out the entrance in front of the house. The banked snow towered over my head. After being cooped up by the storm, I was eager to go outside. But first, in spite of my protests, I was bundled in wool and leather. Well protected, I could roll as easily as I could walk.

Mother opened up the rest of the house. From one of the upstairs windows we looked out on a sloping bank of snow that reached all the way up to the window.

The wind had left a space between the house and the snow. Dad wanted to open the window.

Why? I thought we wanted it to get warm upstairs. We didn't want to let the cold air in! We could see the snow with the window closed. But Mother, without questioning, got heated wet towels to unfreeze the window frame.

I noticed Dad had brought my sled upstairs. What was I supposed to do, slide down the stairway?

I had waited with my sled while Dad finished shoveling the snow blocking our front door, but it was piled so high there was nowhere for me to go.

Dad didn't say much. He just picked up my sled - and threw it out the open window. It landed on the top of the packed snow.

Then he lifted me up and - before I knew what was happening - tossed me so I landed alongside the sled.

Still bundled against the cold, I struggled upright, wiped the flakes from my eyes, and looked out at a glistening white that stretched over the plain until, in the distance, it touched the sky. It was so still, so quiet. I could hear my breath filtered through the scarf wrapped below my eyes. I was on top of a white, unblemished world.

The ride down the hard-blown snow was over way too soon. I didn't want the sled to stop. Dad caught up with me.

Eagerly, I raced back to the house as fast as my bundling would allow and up the stairs to try it again, leaving Dad to bring the sled.

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