In this season of my life, winter vexes me
Ihate winter. Biting Chicago wind-whipped frosted winters with bitterly frozen days and nights that chill to the bone and numb the soul. It wasn’t always this way.
Snow was once my playground. The sight of it pouring like a million fluffy white pillow feathers from the sky was my soul’s delight. The Blizzard of ’67. Visions of snowdrifts too tall to conquer as a child.
I remember the stillness. The stalled trucks and cars that littered my West Side neighborhood. It was as if an apocalyptic winter storm had suddenly come and rendered desolation. Except it was sweet desolation.
Snowball fights. Licking a fresh snowflake that melted upon my tongue — better than cotton candy. Exhaust poured from our mouths as we frolicked on a frozen ghetto paradise. The icy tingling of face, hands and toes, my runny nose. Eventually I huddled indoors near a space heater, recharging for another round.
Winter: Christmas. Snow days at school. Sledding and slipping and sliding. Playing tackle football across the snow-laden vacant lot with the boys in my hood — “Huckey,” Michael and Rickey, “Horse” and “Blue Moon.” Cups of Aunt Mary’s hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Tantalizing winter. Refreshing winter. Cleansing winter. Winter froze the worst elements of our neighborhood. That howling wind licked the icy lake, blowing like an invisible twister.
There was no escaping the cold where men in my neighborhood on winter’s worst nights disconnected their car batteries and brought them indoors for protection. Where nearly everything short of gunshots failed to get folks off the street, nothing worked like pure unadulterated cold. And yet, I still loved winter.
I dread it now. I bemoan the too soon departure of fall. I detest the sight of naked trees — drearily gray with spindly branches that have yielded to dead winter. I mourn the dormant grass, the retreat of flowers and morning birds whose song has vanished outside my window upon the sun’s rise.
As a native Chicagoan, I’m supposed to be winter-tough, weather-proof, snow-resilient. I’ve been baptized by full submersion in the ice-cold waters of winter in the Chi. Hallelujah (sarcasm). I’m supposed to be used to winter.
Perhaps once upon a time I was. But winters wear on the soul.
Winter is weightier on my shoulders. It requires the addition of more clothes to my gym bag. It demands resilient coats and scarves and gloves. It burdens me with the need for boots and hats, for an emergency winter travel kit in my car, for ice scrapers. With the need for salts or other ice melts, for shovels and snow blowers. It steals sunlight from our days.
In this season of my life, winter vexes me. It was the Blizzard of ’79 when I received news of my natural father’s death in an automobile accident on a country Alabama road. It was nearing winter two years ago when my stepfather died of cancer. Winter when Alzheimer’s led my mother barefoot into the midnight cold. Winter this past March when I stood in a cemetery near my grandfather’s black casket as the honor guard played taps upon the cold.
I hate winter.
But in its cold semblance of death, winter also symbolizes, for me, the infancy of regeneration. That tenuous gap between loss and restoration, between those inevitable moments of hopelessness and hope’s rekindling, which sometimes lies growing beneath the earth, invisible to the naked eye, until it comes time to peek through the soil.
And even as the wind blows cold these days, I know I’ll be OK. That I will survive.
I can feel it, like cold, deep down in my bones.
The city digs out from the Blizzard of ’67.