A Life Measured In Snowballs
By Bonnie Phillips
Snowballs. It’s odd how commonplace things, things as simple as snowballs can conjure up long forgotten memories. As I write this I realize a lifetime can be measured in many ways; for me, it is measured in snowballs.
Three weeks ago, in Mexico, where I now live, a local roasted chicken shop dumped its softened ice by the side of the main road and when I came upon this snow-cone mound I dropped my bags and scooped up handfuls of “snow,” packed them in tight balls and shared some of them with local kids and adults. I saved two to throw at walls on my way home. And I remembered my first snowball fights.
The blackness of the night was spot-lighted by street lights that illuminated wind-blown confetti-snow. The fresh-fallen snow sparkled like granules of sugar. My hands were wet inside of the mittens and my cheeks numb and red with the nighttime cold of the small New England town; a town that echoed with the laughter of my parents, my brother, Larry, and I as we threw snowballs at each other or pushed each other into the snow on our mile-long walk to our friend’s house.
Under the fresh covering of snow that fell on top of mountainous snow banks laid white, grey, black, and rock strewn bands of ice frozen in increments of time, unseen for months of the snow time only to be revealed, layer by layer, during the spring melt.
Our ritual Saturday night adventures happened when my mother dated and then married my stepfather and our family of four lived in a two-room apartment. We had no television, car, or luxuries of any kind. It was a time when my parents saved their pennies during the week to go across the street to the Yankie Grill on Friday night for one beer and a few minutes spent with friends and lively music. It was a time before we could afford to move into a larger apartment. Before we bought a television and a car. Before my brother and I were toted along every Friday and Saturday night to my parents’ friend’s poker games that went on long into the early morning hours.
Six years later, snowballs tested my courage. I looked out our second story storm-window and saw Larry being pummeled with snowballs by several of the town’s biggest bullies. I flew down the outside stairwell and up the hill to my skinny brother’s rescue. In my haste, and with no forethought or planning, I jumped on the boy who was rubbing his face in snow as the others laughed and looked on. I had the satisfaction of seeing my brother running down the hill toward home while one bully straddled me and the other’s bombarded me with tightly packed ice balls.
I wonder if my children will remember the times we drove to Willamette pass for the pleasure of making snowwomen and throwing snowballs. I’m sure they will remember when our New England cousins came to Oregon, in June, to visit us and my parents who were living on our land. Twelve of us drove to Crater Lake in a caravan of three cars and were surprised when we rounded a corner, near the summit, and found a thirty-degree angled slope of the perfect kind of snow...slick, but not too wet for making ammunition. My parents got caught up in making snowballs and carrying out attack missions on other older family members as our children and grandchildren lobed snowballs at us when they careened down the mountainside amidst a blur of snow dust and laughter.
At the funeral of my last living parent, family and friends stood around the gravesite on a cold January afternoon. The surrounding snow varied in color from off white to the gray exhaust-speckled colors that matched the darkness of the mourner’s grief. At the conclusion of the ceremony I did what came naturally. Bare handed, I collected clumps of snow, packed them tightly into orange-sized globes and left one atop the tombstones of my mother, father, brother, and baby sister. Just in case. Should they want one last snowball fight in the empty stillness of the moonlit cemetery.
Now, I scan the Mexican streets when I walk down the hill. I search, patiently, for remnants of the restaurant’s melting ice hoping I can add another measure of time to my life.