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Cold Comfort A childhood snow day can produce all the chills and thrills of a sports jamboree

Dec. 24, 2001
Dec. 24, 2001

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Dec. 24, 2001

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Cold Comfort A childhood snow day can produce all the chills and thrills of a sports jamboree

The alarm clock beeps like a truck in reverse, and your heart
begins to hammer the drum riff from Wipeout, and your backpack
hangs in rebuke from the bedpost, filled as it is with undone
homework. Dread sets in until you see--through a crack in the
curtains--a world outside covered in snow, as thick and muffling
as fiberglass insulation.

This is an article from the Dec. 24, 2001 issue Original Layout

So you bound downstairs to hear a radio anchor read the
alphabetical list of school closings. The tension, as he nears
the N's, is almost unbearable: "Maple Grove, Maple Plain,
Maplewood"--it reminds you of a roller coaster ratcheting up a
hill. Then it crests--he gets to N--and you hear "Nativity of Mary,
closed." Instantly it's Mardi Gras and V-E Day and the Lindbergh
parade all in one, and the flakes falling outside look like
ticker tape.

You are a death-row inmate reprieved by the governor, and you'll
relish every minute of this stolen Tuesday. You'll take your
hockey skates in to be sharpened, the blades throwing off sparks
like a welder's torch, and then carve up the neighbors' flooded
backyard, your wrist shots made wicked by the boomerang curve of
your Sher-Wood stick. You'll clear the ice every 10 minutes by
skating with a shovel in ever-tightening ovals--because your
fondest desire, at age 11, is someday to drive a Zamboni.

When you take off your skates, after hours of impersonating Mike
Bossy, you'll feel a full foot shorter. Then you'll go inside and
have hot cocoa warmed on the same stove-top burner on which you
curved the Sher-Wood.

Your best friend will walk past your window dressed in his
snowmobile suit, and you'll pop outside and pack a snowball and
rear back with a windup like Juan Marichal's and peg him in the
conk from 60 feet away. Then you'll duck behind a tree that
looks--like every other tree on the block--as if it has been dipped
in white chocolate. You will vow to build a fort, an impregnable
igloo stocked with snowballs, from which you will conduct
guerrilla raids on every other fort in the neighborhood, and by
day's end you will rule your block like a raja.

After lunch your backyard will become Lambeau Field or Soldier
Field or Rich Stadium in a whiteout. When your quarterback
throws, with his unmittened hand, a bomb that you'll catch near
the sideline, you'll high-step in moon boots into the end zone
and then Nestea-plunge onto your back, and while lying there a
moment to catch your breath, you will make a snow angel in
celebration.

You will be so cold that you'll pull your parka hood with the
fake-fur fringe up over your genuine replica Vikings helmet.
(Come Sunday, while you're watching, from in front of the
fireplace, some football game in Miami or Tampa or Los Angeles,
you'll look at all those players and fans in their short sleeves
and suntans and simply feel sorry for them.)

Back in the house, while your wet woolen socks are somersaulting
in the dryer, Larry Bird will play Dr. J on the Nerf hoop that
hangs from the back of your bedroom door. You will, of course, be
both players. Dr. J will win this game of one-on-one because
Bird's jumper too often hits the ceiling, whereas Dr. J can dunk
at will. Still, it will go down to the final buzzer, which is the
buzzer on the dryer that signals that your socks are ready. By
now it will be mid-afternoon, and you'll be desperate to make the
most of what little daylight remains.

So you'll fire a hair-dryer into your moon boots and--with newly
toasted tootsies--you'll pull your sled, with the twin red runners
and the steering bar, to the top of the tallest hill in town. You
will stand atop that mountain of white, like a plastic groom on a
wedding cake, and imagine that you're looking down the bobsled
chute at Innsbruck. As you bomb headfirst downhill, your every
nerve ending alive with feeling, you'll be certain of at least
one thing in life: that the 30 minutes you spent ascending this
hill was a pittance to pay for the breathtaking 20 seconds of
descent.

When you finally heed your mother's call and head inside, at six
o'clock, it will have long been pitch-dark. Your cheeks will glow
red like the Christmas lights strung above your garage, and
you'll remove your stocking cap to find that every hair on your
head is standing on end. Your mom will say that it's static
electricity. But you'll know better.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO