In the year before we married, Fred and I lived 400 miles apart. I flew Southwest to Cleveland twice a month for weekend visits. BWI to LUV, says the hand-drawn airline industry timeline that hangs in our bedroom. That year it snowed big in DC – one foot followed quickly by another foot of heavy, wet whiteness. I stumbled over snowbanks on unshoveled sidewalks in the morning darkness for a month, from metro to work. Later, the Potomac flooded its banks all at once when the spring thaw came, and we experienced snow in another format.
But the snow I remember best that year fell during those visits to northeastern Ohio, soft, dry and squeaky underfoot. You could brush this snow off the windshield with a sweep of a gloved hand, and take a broom to the front stoop. It came in inches, not feet, and new snow daily put a fresh face on the dirt and slush thrown up by the cars that passed, creating a million sparkling diamonds in the light.
The film that runs on endless loop in my memory from that first year goes something like this: Saturday mornings Fred and I sit in the Yours Truly coffee shop on Shaker Square, waiting for Chris and Judy. We arrive first and grab a large oak booth by the window facing the square, looking out on imposing brick turn-of-the-century buildings, pin oaks and angled car parking. The Rapid line runs down the center, and a two-story independent bookstore anchors the opposite corner. (Sadly, it went out of business several years ago.) The snow falls – a constant – and the wind blows as it did many years ago when my young mother waited for the bus downtown on Euclid Avenue. We wait and warm ourselves with strong coffee.
We see them as they approach, in thick wool sweaters knit with cables and bands of color, and bright polar-fleece vests. They stomp snow from wet shoes and slide into the booth across from us. Ciabatta toast, hash browns, Belgian waffles, hot chocolate. The conversation turns always to work, faith, art, friends, family. We sit and talk until kids, groceries and housework call us back to daily life. We return to the snow covered streets, warmed.
When I’m 80 and I see a young woman pass by on the snowy sidewalk, in woolens and polar fleece, wind burned cheeks and tousled hair, I will see only Judy, forever young. When I’m 80 and I’m decades past running out at the first snow to shovel the walk, and the neighbor’s walk and the walk beyond that, I will think back to Cleveland Heights and a Christmas morning when we strolled to the neighbors’ for coffee. When I’m 80 and I turn up the heat, put on another layer then look out to see dancing flakes reflected in the street light, I will remember Maddy the Dane leaping through snowbanks, and Shelby the Husky rubbing her face in the soft snow. When I’m 80 and winter comes, I will think of Shaker Square and the proud brick buildings and the snow that squeaks and the trains that rattle, and of old friends.
Postscript: We are in Houston now, Judy and Chris in Charlottesville. We spoke with them recently via email, and Chris suggested a Skype breakfast reenactment. Fred is readying the waffle iron.