When I recall my father, it is always winter. I’m not sure why that is. Upon calling forth memory, I visualize his smiling face, then, a postcard-screened scene of the perfect winter appears. Snow, blanketing the ground. Frosty shades of blue, the softness of the scene, like peering through mohair. Sunlight streams through the dancing flakes of snow. Evergreens dusted, branches bending, sunlight streaming through the limbs, frost glistening, sparkling diamonds upon the earth. A deer standing behind the tree, alert and frozen on the landscape. Perhaps, winter evokes a memory of fragile beauty, frozen in time, a precious beauty that will fade and disappear. Some of my fondest memories are of times spent together, shared during the coldest winter months. My father died on winter’s cusp. My sister was born as winter peeked through the window, nature’s gentle touch, leaving a dusting of frost on the windowpane to prepare her for the cold nights ahead.
I recall one particularly harsh, relentless winter, unusual for the West Coast. The snow piled halfway to the roofline of our house. High banks of snow massed at the sides of the driveway, the endless shoveling, forming mountains of snow, standing fort like in front of the house. My father decided that the conditions were perfect to create an igloo, for you girls to play in. My sister and I waited impatiently for him to finish carving out the igloo’s entrance into the perfectly shaped dome. Wind swept snow compacts well and interlinks the ice crystals. Perfect conditions, girls! My father dug, shaped, and carved away at the mountain of snow until the rounded pile was formed into a perfect dome. We lost track of time; it blurred from morning to evening as we created our snow ice masterpiece. Finally completed, my sister and I crawled inside of the structure. The solid white walls, smooth and damp to the touch, leading upwards to the rounded roofline, the cold air inside, chilling our rosy cheeks and little noses. Our pure delight in the simple beauty of the snow house. Awed by the effect; we discovered that we could almost stand inside the structure. Inside the dome, my father placed two small, wooden crates for us to sit on. We collected a plastic tea set, apple juice, and a sleeve of Saltine crackers to dine. Bundled up in snowsuits, scarves, and mitts, we played inside our frozen playhouse from dawn to dusk. It was if we were miniature characters, enclosed within the simplest of snow globes, frozen in time.
My sister and I were the friends of choice for the neighbourhood hooligans who scampered into the yard, just to get a “pass” into our wonderful world. We had a small window to peek out of and through it we could view the twinkling stars in the inky sky. We rolled snowballs to keep handy incase of a rogue attack. Protection. Our snow house would endure that winter. Finally, slowly, deliberately, the sunlight warmed and melted our magical world away, until we were left with pieces of dirty bits of snow, reluctantly melting on the ground.
Another memory. The temperatures dropped below zero for a prolonged period, causing the local lake at the end of our street to solidly freeze over. Some of the neighbourhood children were taking advantage of this gift of nature, skating on the lake’s frozen surface. We longed to join them. One evening, my father arrived home, earlier than usual. Inside the Sears Roebuck shopping bag was two brand new pair of skates. Gently, touching the soft, chalk-white leather, my fingers slipping over the surface of the boot, I could imagine wearing the skates, twirling pirouettes upon the lake’s surface. The steel blades, shiny and sharp. Aching to try the skates on, would they fit? They’re a bit big, Grace. Wear an extra pair of socks. You’ll grow into them. A perfect fit! Driving the short, never-ending distance, to the edge of the lakeshore, headlights shining onto the icy surface to light our way, my father tested the thickness of the ice. Never walk onto ice, girls. Ice must be thick and tested by an adult. Pushing the snow shovel, dad cleared a patch of ice. Smooth as glass, I wondered, could we see the fish below the frozen surface? Carefully, dad tied our laces, giving the slightest tug at the beginning of the skate boot to offer support to our wobbly ankles. Next, my father held our hands and walked us onto the ice. We were apprehensive, What if I fall, Daddy? Will the ice crack? Coaching and encouraging, Hold your arms out like wings, Grace. There you go! Holding us, gliding us along the slippery surface. It’s all right, Grace. I’ll catch you if you fall. The car’s headlights illuminating the surface, under a moonlit night, stars as our witness, we learned to skate on the arms of our father. We learned to be brave, to fear less, to fall down, to get up, and to try again. More than that, we learned that the man we called, dad, was kind and gentle, a man who enjoyed spending times with his little girls, our hero, a man who would catch us if we fell. It was a magical moment in time and if I had the power, I would have conjured a lifetime of magical experiences. Alas, as with all that is magical, there is an elusive, fleeting quality, that in the end leaves the audience wondering, What happened?
On a chilly December morning, earlier than usual, I would awaken and go to the window. It was as if a conjuror had stepped forth to create a beautiful, magical show to delight my sleepy eyes. The perfect postcard picture of winter. Transfixed, I watched the sunlight’s brilliant rays streaming through the window, illuminating the sleeping garden. This morning, there was an unusual clarity to the view. The winter colours, brilliant in nature, a staggering beauty to behold, more than an everyday occurrence. Tumbling snowflakes perfectly spaced apart, falling to earth from a cloud placed overhead. For a moment I was transported into a magical kingdom of beauty and light. Standing in the middle of a snow globe, a magical space, the flakes like glitter raining down upon us, my sister delighting in the scene, my father holding her close. In that moment it felt as if we were connected by a mystical love or energy, interconnecting and binding us together for eternity. Later that morning, the telephone’s ring and the words, Dad passed away early this morning. I already knew.