Making a Snowball
Howling like an unseen wolf, the wind makes its presence known, pawing at the suddenly insufficient layers of clothing, while the snowflakes paradoxically caress like the lover who is no longer there. A single tear bravely tracks its way down the stubble covered cheek and onto the brown leather jacket, congealing into just another snowflake. “Can the heart freeze like my stupid toes are starting to?” the lone figure asks himself, adding “And can my inner dialogue get any more dramatic?” Still, drama aside, it’s been a rough, raw kind of day. Rough enough that the frozen feet that the aforementioned frozen toes are attached to have walked themselves to the span of Adams Street that becomes a bridge across Interstate 180. The whir of the cars passing underneath is like steel hummingbirds while the occasional truck rumbles and shakes the asphalt and chain link as the tread of giants might. “This” he sighs, “Is a freakin’ stupid idea” and climbs down from the fence that some engineer thought was proof against drunks and jumpers. The last swig of Jack Daniels (Old #7 Tennessee Whiskey, Lem Motlow proprietor) disappears as does the bottle (into some bushes). Then, as the traffic thins and the silence grows, he bends over, squatting in the snow and begins to make a snowball. At least he knows how to do that.
He remembers a day, decades past. running around with his brothers and sisters, ecstatic that school was cancelled, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception having deemed the day too raw even for those hardened by rulers across knuckles; he’s bent over, squatting in the snow, muttering under his breath. “Why don’t I know how to make a stupid snowball?” he whines, the double layers of wool that wrap his feet like Brill-O pads disguised cleverly as socks keeping his feet as warm as Mom intended. He remembers getting dressed, each layer of clothes like the armor of some medieval knight, specially fitted for Arctic adventures. The green knit cap that Aunt Sissy made him for Christmas beginning to absorb some of the sweat earned by chasing his brother Mike around the yard. And suddenly there’s Dad, just home from work, tucking his service revolver into the garage, ready to join in. “So son, let’s make some snowballs” Dad growls, not letting on that he knows that his boy doesn’t have the slightest idea how to construct this simplest of snow creations.
His dad was a city cop. Rosedale was a cop neighborhood. The city had a rule then that a cop had to live within city limits, so the neighborhoods on the border of the city, as far from the dirty, nasty center as possible and still with the city, were cop neighborhoods. Every booth at the church bazaar was manned by a guy with a gun, school kids shared the bus ride to school with men who read newspapers and carried brown bag lunches but had guns strapped to their ankles. That was his dad. He was also the guy who umpired Little League and coached his kids’ hockey team and went to church every day. His dad spent three hours a day, an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening commuting by bus and train. That was his dad. He was also the guy who made a point of putting his gun and badge away when he got home to spend time with his five kids.
Even though there’s a pack of kids running around, siblings and cousins and neighbors and school pals, it’s as if there’s no one else there but father and son. Crunching snow echoes as Dad walks across the yard and picks up a handful of snow and motions for his son to do the same. Having recently graduated from colorful, hard to lose in the snow mittens, to gloves, fleece on the inside, suede on the outside, and leather on the palms, the boy holds the loosely cohering snow in his cupped hands and following along with Dad, slowly and methodically applies pressure to the not wet enough snow, pushing and pressing, smoothing and molding until Dad has a perfect ivory sphere and the boy has a lumpy mass that resembles a rogue asteroid. “Take your gloves off son” he is instructed. And miming the apparent expert motions, he uses the heat from his bare hands to slightly melt the crust of his little globe, working magic that he never thought he could until he too had a perfect ivory sphere. “Dad, I did it!” he yelled, a little embarrassed at what he thought was a girlish squeak to his voice. “It’s perfect”. Dad chuckled, “So now we need to make a hundred more so we can ambush your Uncle Richie and your cousins!”
Memory skipped forwards a generation to a day when he was the Dad and it was his kids running around the yard, off from school. Except that he didn’t feel like a dad, not like ‘Dad” was a dad. In a thousand ways he felt that he didn’t measure up, he didn’t have a job that defined him like his father’s did; he didn’t have the seemingly effortless ability to do the right thing, but today he was going to try.
“The perfect ivory sphere, that’s what grandpa’s snowballs looked like” he found himself reminiscing to his son. “So, what do your snowballs look like Dad?” smirked the son. “Look, wise guy, you take those foo-foo mittens off and get some gloves on if you’re going to make snowballs”.
Not surprisingly, his son doesn’t need as much instruction as he did at that age, and it certainly helps that the snow is wetter and easier to pack than that day when the nuns cancelled classes so that it requires very little pressure to shape the crystalline whiteness into those ivory spheres. An hour later, before each of them, a pyramid of ivory spheres, or maybe rogue asteroids, but each one hand crafted and ready to leave off being admired and put into action. The basketball hoop stood at the end of the driveway, a likely target, the garage door was also very inviting, but in the end, snowballs are meant to be thrown by their makers at other makers of snowballs. The first snowball hit him square in the face, the icy sting as stunning as the blow itself, exacerbated by the sudden fogginess that accompanies loss of glasses by the nearsighted. But revenge is cold, cold as a snowball. After an hour all the son can say to him is “Perfect ivory spheres Dad; perfect ivory spheres”, laughing as he says it.
“Memory seems to be dragging me to snowy days it seems” he thinks, as the sights and sounds of those two days, one as the son, the student of snowball-ology, and another as the father, the teacher, faded away. “Today, now today was not so fun filled”, floated to the top of his consciousness. He could see his children’s faces as they looked out the living room window, some angry, some sad, some defiant, all confused about what was happening. She stood in front of him, a cigarette between her fingers, darting like a wasp to her lips and back to her side, punctuating her sentences with it, doing everything but extinguishing it in his eye. While she stood almost a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter, she seemed to tower over him, dominating, crushing with words and more. She invoked her God; she quoted from her Holy Book, her voice sing-songed like a televangelist and she intoned the list of his sins. He was cast out, cast out from their marriage and from his children. The fog from the cold and the cigarette smoke mingled together, like a veil separating him from all that he loved. He slunk away, got in his car and drove away, watching his life dwindle away in the rear view mirror.
“Geez, how maudlin do I have to be before somebody just stamps ‘cliché’ on my forehead” he says, fully back in the present, unfolding his six foot, 240 pound frame as he stood up, holding in his hand a perfect, ivory sphere. He leans through a ragged hole in the chain link fence where he had climbed earlier and, in lieu of his previous plan, he let the snowball make the leap, watching it fall, glinting in the streetlights, turning, turning, turning, that one spot that he hadn’t quite smoothed out indicating each revolution. Time seemed to slow as his creation grew closer to the surface, but finally it hit, flattening and expanding, shattering and dissolving and it was no more. “Better you than me, snowball” he croaked and began the long walk home.
Despite the rubber soled, fleece lined boots and two pairs of socks; there is a fuzzy numbness where his feet ought to be. Aunt Sissy’s green knit cap has survived the decades and still keeps the heat in better than any other hat he’s ever owned. Giving the frost giants a heartfelt middle finger he walks across the street to the playground, to the snow drifted basketball court where he begins to make snowballs. The snow is drier than he’d like it, but the man whom he is now finds himself more apt than the boy he once was to apply sufficient pressure, smoothing out the grooves as he readies himself to hurl his creation at the backboard; and stops. Gingerly, handling the snowball like a Fabergé egg, he sets it down and begins another, and another, depleting the snow down to the dead brown grass as his arsenal grows larger and larger. He moves over to the children’s slide and swings, scooping up handfuls of snow as if mutually assured snowball destruction awaits any who defies him. “I can do this, I can do it; this is something that I can do” he chants. Sweat begins to pour down his neck from under the knit cap and begins to soak his shirt. Even his feet begin to feel warm. The furnace of his tenacity burns fierce.
He is about spent when with a “thump!” something hits him in the face, knocking off his glasses and causing a painful iciness to take up residence where his face should be. Before he can retrieve his glasses he hears the words “Perfect ivory sphere Dad, perfect ivory sphere” and knows that he still is “Dad”. His fingers clumsy due to the thick gloves he replaces his eyewear, the world shifting from smeared watercolor to digital photograph as he does so and sees the smirking face of his son. “You didn’t think I believed all that crap, did you Dad?” he said as he hefted another snowball. “You’re the best Dad in the world…even if you’re wearing that foo-foo hat”