Snow Days

  • Barbarella

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all.

-- Stanley Horowitz

I woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the cedar shingles and inhaled deeply. My delighted exhalation alerted David to my conscious state. "Hey," he whispered. I slowly opened my eyes to meet his, noting from the crispness of his clear blue orbs that he'd been awake for a while. "It snowed last night."


"It's not much, but that's the first snow of the season," David said, directing my gaze to the small window across the room. I grabbed my glasses from the nightstand and looked out the window; through undulating streams of water I could see the roof, dusted with a lacy layer of what looked like powdered sugar. I marveled that the rain hadn't washed it away before I had a chance to see this sprinkled white proof of how cold the night had been.

I glanced at the red numerals on the digital clock behind David's head -- was it already 9:30? The gray sky had tricked us into sleeping later than usual, and my instinct was to panic. One by one, I shushed my worries by reminding myself that we were not at home. I should check my phone, the panicked me thought. Your phone doesn't work here, the calm me answered. Nothing was on the agenda; I hadn't looked at my calendar in over three days. We had no one to see and nowhere to be. But what calmed me most of all was the vision through the window -- the weather outside was "frightful," which, to me, was delightful.

It was over 70 degrees the day we left San Diego for Boston, where we would spend time with friends before taking a bus and then a ferry to Martha's Vineyard, where we would once again join David's parents in celebration of Thanksgiving. I was aware of how much I would miss the turkey rituals of home, but at the same time, I looked forward to getting out of town for some long-overdue rest. Holing away on an island in late autumn has a magical way of stopping the clock.

In silent acknowledgement of my position as more than her son's "friend," Ency had prepared our room by pushing together its two twin beds. Reaching over the small gap between these beds now to rub my arm, David asked, "What do you want to do today?"

"Play Scrabble. Read. Drink hot cocoa. You know, a whole lot of 'nothing productive,'" I answered. I waited for it, I expected it, but the guilt did not come. While the trees outside bent to the howling wind and rain, doing "nothing productive" inside as a houseguest was not only acceptable, it was mandatory.

I love stormy weather -- thunderstorms, snowstorms, rainstorms, you name it. Bad weather simultaneously fills me with nostalgia, excitement, and relaxation. When I was six years old and living in Alaska, snow days were as frequent and welcome as Saturday morning cartoons. For those of you who have never ventured farther north than Los Angeles, a "snow day" is when the weather is so bad that school is cancelled and most adults are not expected to show up for work. A snow day is a gift -- you are given a day to do whatever you would do if there was nothing you had to do.

In Rhode Island, storms were not as common, which only served to make them even more special. It was in Rhode Island that I conditioned myself to associate the sound of rain with the taste of tea and bread, but not just any kind of bread -- sliced white bread, toasted until it is brown and crispy on the outside and then covered with butter, granulated sugar, and generous shakes of cinnamon. The tea was always Lipton's black, Dad's favorite, with at least two teaspoonfuls of sugar to make it palatable enough for an eight-year-old.

A power outage was a spooky yet rewarding phenomenon during which we would huddle together in the flickering light only candles can create and marvel at the silence of a disabled television. If the thunder was particularly loud, Penny, the canine member of our family, was allowed inside to shiver and moan her concern while my sisters and I charted the distance of the approaching storm by counting the seconds between the bright streaks in the sky and the claps of sound that followed.

If there was a slight nip in the air, we could assume there would be packets of Swiss Miss cocoa with marshmallows to warm us. The aroma of cinnamon sticks boiling in apple cider -- a rare treat Mom saved for the coldest of days. This tang wafted from the kitchen at the first sign of snow, filling the house with the smell of comfort. When the weather was bad, the family gathered in one room; the fire was lit, the board games came out, and the world seemed to stop turning as a personal favor from Mother Nature to my family alone.

David and I dressed -- he in a fuzzy fleece and me in a cozy, orange sweater -- and made our way downstairs.

"It's funny, you know," I said, preparing a paste from the Droste cocoa powder I found in Ency's kitchen cupboard. After I had added hot water to my creation of chocolatey goodness, I continued my line of thought for David, who was laying the Scrabble board on the table beneath a ceiling that was half-filled with skylights. As I spoke, I gazed in wonder at the rivulets of water running down the inclined windows. "We never do this at home, and I think it's because the weather is always so nice. People aren't out and about when it's raining like this -- they're not running errands and attending events, they're doing this ."

"What's 'this'?" asked David.

" This is weather-forced relaxation," I said. "Something that doesn't happen in San Diego. This is a good book, good company, warm drinks, the smell of wood smoke, the relief of having nowhere to be and nothing to do but sit here, play this game with you, and drink this cup of steaming cocoa in my hand."

"San Diego doesn't have weather," David said, not for the first time.

"I know, but wouldn't it be nice...I mean, why should we wait to relax until we have no other options? When we return home, after we catch up of course, I want to do this ."

"It won't happen," sighed David. "There's always work to be done, you always manage to pack the calendar tight."

"Well, I'm sick of waiting until I can't take any more and am forced, in a desperate attempt to maintain my sanity, to high-tail it out of town for some R and R. I think...no, I know that we should schedule some 'snow days.'"

"And how do you plan to do that?" David picked his letter tiles and handed me the bag.

"We'll turn off our phone, we won't answer the door, and we'll turn the air conditioner on so it gets really, really cold. We can put sheets on the windows to filter the light so it looks like the sky is gray instead of sunny and blue. Then we'll make some cocoa, light some candles, and snuggle all day to keep each other warm. If we're feeling creative, I'll break out the construction paper, Elmer's glue, and Crayola crayons and we can make pictures for our friends!" David thought I was kidding; I could tell by the way he was smiling at me.

"You think I'm kidding, don't you," I said, the excitement draining from my tone.

"No, I don't think you're kidding. I think you're crazy. But that's why I love you."

"So we can have snow days?"

"We'll see."

"I won't accept that. 'We'll see' is always a 'no.' I'll just pretend you said 'yes,' and plan accordingly. I drew an 'F,' you get to go first." David turned his attention to his letters and I held my warm mug with both hands and breathed in the rich aroma of chocolate. I closed my eyes and listened to the rhythm of the rain, and, with an anticipatory smile, I tried to remember in which drawers and cabinets at home I had stashed away my art supplies.

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I think you need to check out get-aways to Julian, it's been known to snow there in the winter...

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