VIOLA - I have my dad to thank for loving snow. He never did grow tired of playing with me outside in winter.
When I was still small enough not to hurt him, my dad taught me how to belly flop. He’d lie down on the red sled—the one with metal runners—and I’d lie on his back. While he held the steering bars, he encouraged me to hang on, but my legs were too short to wrap around him, so I’d end up with my wet-mittened hands snug around his neck. We were wild then, and those sled runners sharp and slick.
My cheeks would grow red, my nose would drip, but my stomach was toasty. Snow from the runners would fly up into our faces, making our eyes water and lips freeze to our teeth. Our frozen mouths made us look like those caroling angels carved out of wood. Down the hill we’d fly, soaring over a bump and landing hard. I’d topple off into the snow as our sled skidded to a stop inches from the creek, my dad still on it.
One Christmas morning, I awoke to find a long piece of dark, polished wood with red cushions and a red rope attacheda toboggan! My mom had declared our sled too dangerous; she was certain my dad wouldn’t be able to control the red wooden sled and that those runners would slice me in half.
The thrill of lying on my dad’s back on our new toboggan, screaming as we flew down the sledding hill at Hales Corners Park, still warms me. Up and down the toboggan slide we’d go. My dad wore an old green winter army jacket that was too short, leaving his lower back and half of his butt exposed! Did his butt ever feel like a block of ice, or was his belly ever sore the next day?
Building a snowman took all afternoon. Dad would help roll the second ball of snow on top of the first and lift the third on top of the second. I’d raid our box of winter accessories for old scarves, stocking hats, and sometimes even mismatched mittens. Stopping to grab a carrot from the refrigerator, I’d head back outside. Dad would already have the coal in place for the snowman’s eyes.
We didn’t have a snow blower. Before my dad would start playing with me, he would shovel our long driveway—long enough to park eight cars bumper to bumper. How did he not get tired?
As I grew older, my dad would take me skating. He would pull out his beat-up brown hockey skates, sling my white figure skates over my neck, and walk with me on the path to the skating rink. I’d be all bundled up and he’d be wearing that old, too-short jacket. We held hands as we wound our way through the park to the basketball courts that, every winter, the parks department would freeze over to form a rink.
Inside the building, we would cross the linoleum laid down to protect the floors from our sharp skates, and plop down on a hard, wooden bench. Dad would help me get my skates on before putting on his own, then off we’d go. Dad skated so fast that my legs had to pump three times as hard as his just to hold on to his hand. Around and around the rink we flew! What I remember most is his boundless energy. He loved winter and loved being with me.
When I became a teen, I felt I was getting too old to go to the rink with Dad. I’d head to the rink every chance I got to play with my friends. We played endless games of pom-pom pull away, chasing each other across the rink and back again. My skates had huge, handmade pom-poms that Dad helped me make by wrapping yarn around cardboard circles.
On weekends I’d leave the house early, walk the path alone to the rink and stay there until I had to be home for lunch.
By the time I’d come home, my dad would have meticulously shoveled the driveway and the sidewalks. One time there was even a snowman in the front yard to greet me!
Dad would take my wet hat, scarf, and mittens and lay them on the fireplace mantel to dry. He always asked if I was having fun at the rink, but he never asked to come along. When lunch was over, I’d get dressed and race back to the rink until dinner.
As an adult, I love winter and snow.
Often, when hiking in the quiet, snow-filled trails of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, I think of Dad. I’m glad his love for winter was contagious, seeing as I still live in Wisconsin.
I wish he was still alive, so we could fill my yard with snowmen and go sledding afterward. I wish I had never started thinking I was too old to go skating with him. He never once got too old—or too cold—to play with me.