February 14, 1972. Valentine’s Day. New Orleans. Seventh Grade.
The day started out with rain, like so many days in New Orleans. Cold, consistent, and coming down. That was the bus ride to school. Later it turned to sleet. That was in history class. I think we were studying the Civil War. Before lunch the sleet turned to wet, heavy dollops of snow. No one paid attention in math class. We gathered around the one window, a tall thin affair in our modern new 1970’s building, and shouted about the white stuff. Some of us had never seen snow.
The first snowfall I’d ever seen was on New Year’s Day, 1968. I was eight years old, staring out the window of our Volkswagen Beetle at the snow-dusted fields and woodlands outside Tallahassee, Florida. I remember how cold it looked, how distant, and how I didn’t want to get out of the car.
By the end of lunch period, my best friend, Amelie, and I figured out a way (how I have no recollection) for our parents to break through the already jammed office phone lines and give us permission to leave school early. Meanwhile, the headmaster announced over the intercom that what we were seeing outside wasn’t really snow. I thought of how distressed he would be to walk the ten steps to his car, his fancy leather shoes covered in the unmistakable frozen white snow.
Waiting for the streetcar, jumping in the small white mounds, catching snowflakes on our tongues and in our eyelashes, our corduroy jumpers and thin tights barely keeping us warm. Amelie and me. All smiles. The streetcar driver. All smiles. Slipping along the icy tracks for miles, all the way from Carrollton and St. Charles to Washington Avenue. Running upstairs, yelling for my mother to find us the ice bucket, throwing off our jumpers and throwing on jeans, flying out the door to the little yard. Nearly three in the afternoon, the daylight already diminishing. At twilight, our first snowman ever.
The distant feeling I’d had in Tallahassee was cancelled out by the wild banshee yells that Amelie and I threw around the neighborhood. We’d made a snowman no bigger than a baby, then torn it apart and reconstructed it on the hood of a neighbor’s car. Short and round and full of dead oak leaves, our snow baby wore a smile of red string, Amelie’s pink scarf, and my striped mittens. Its unmatched pebble eyes seemed to stare in wonder at the passing traffic on St. Charles Avenue. Eventually, the streetlights came on and the neighbor drove off with the snow baby hood ornament.
If ever I had another snow day, I’d wish for this same one, with all the exuberance of still being a kid, yelling and freezing, and then realizing the next morning that the frozen snow in the ice bucket had melted. The joy of all that comes down and then disappears.