Keckler's Sense of Snow
January 1, 2004

(tug) (tug) Hey... (tug) Hey! (TUG!)

Did you know it doesn't snow in San Francisco?

Apparently I didn't, because nothing else can explain my disappointment in this year's holiday season thus far. I started telling Mathra Minnesota snow stories from my twenty-some years of childhood to make up for the lack of white stuff and then I just remembered a whole bunch of stuff.

My sister and I had two sleds. One was red and the other was yellow with red handles. I don't really remember where the red one came from, but I do recall that the yellow one was a Christmas present and its arrival immediately relegated the red one -- which was cracked, dented, and generally pretty beat up -- to winter pariah status. The yellow one had aerodynamic (is that the word when it's really face down in the snow?) ridges on the bottom and two special places for the heels of your boots to brace in front. Unless, of course, you were my parents. My parents used to hang their legs over the side and use their feet as brakes so, as we careened down the hills, all the snow ended up spraying in my face. Of course, that was back when I had to partner with either my mom or dad when I sledded. See, in my very early years, I was downright chicken when it came to sledding. I didn't like how steep and grey the hills looked. My parents would plead, beg, promise pretty things, and remind me how much fun I had "last year" before I was convinced to put one Moonboot on the sled. Of course, as soon as I went down just once, I was so jazzed that I kept ordering my parents "Again!" after every shot.

Although, I must note that I'm still waiting on several pretty things.

My sister and I used to have bitter, bitter arguments over who got the yellow sled when we took them both to Fern Hill. I must add that often there was no argument at all -- I simply relinquished my claim on the yellow sled when my sister threatened to bite me. Then a funny thing happened. As the years passed, suddenly the cracked, battered, illegitimate, red-sledded step-child became the coveted one. Something about the dents and broken pieces made it fly down the slopes with the greatest of ease. And when I say "slopes," I mean "hills." And when I say "fly," I do mean "fly." As we got older, we got more daring and built bumps and jumps on our paths. We caught some sweet air on those. We'd go down face-front, lying down, backwards, belly-up, standing, and eyes closed. There was that peaceful moment after the sled planed out from the slope and started skidding. We'd drag one mittened hand along the side and urge the skid into a spin. More than likely the bottom of the slope was that in-between state of ice and snow, so the spinning was fast, furious, and sometimes made me throw up.

Then there were the days when the weekly snowplows piled up great banks of snow on either side of our driveway. My sister and I would play King of the Mountain, knock each other into the street, and then claim sides where we would build great fortresses with parapets, balconies, and turrets. Really. They were magnificent. These banks were over six feet tall from the curb and some years we even dug them out and made very real forts with walls, ceilings and everything! My fifth- and sixth-grade teacher -- who really was an incredible person in his own right -- and his sons hollowed out the entire boulevard (which ran several blocks) and made what was basically an extended igloo. I remember clambering through those tunnels and losing one of my Star Wars action figures along the way. It was a Stormtrooper in the winter uniform from The Empire Strikes Back. I always thought that was fitting. I also always expected to find it when everything thawed, but I never did. Good thing my sister and I happened to get two of those for Christmas that year.

Tired of the usual forts and snowball wars -- they weren't "fights"; they were truly all-out battles with blood, guns AND butter -- across the driveway, there was this year that my sister and I tried painting the snow. If I recall it correctly, we had seen some Wide World of Disney clip where that big brush painted shadows and trees and shrubs and woodland animals in a single splashy stroke. We wanted to do just that, so we brought our watercolors outside and proceeded to freeze up the hairs of several dozen paintbrushes. We even got ahold of my mother's quartet of food coloring. Bringing the plastic bottles outside with their peaked witches hat caps, we injected blue, green, and red dyes into the snow and messed them around. The yellow was always the fullest of the bottles because it never made much of an impression on anything, and on snow, well, let's face it, it just would've looked gross. After we had our fill of attempting winter Wyeths, we irritated my mother by bringing the bottles back caked and stopped up with ice and leaving the snow on the front lawn looking pretty garish.

When we could finally be convinced to come inside to warm up for a half an hour, we peeled off scarves from which slats of snow sloughed to the floor, moved our lazy cats -- Feisty and Nutsy -- out of the way of the blowing hot hair and stuck them (the scarves, not the cats) and our bunched up mittens next to the radiators. Naturally, my mother made us hot chocolate (mine with hot water because the thought of hot milk used to make me retch) out of Swiss Miss packets. We would poke at the freeze-dried marshmallows included in the packets with our tea spoons until they got slippery, then we'd spoon them up and eat them before the mug was even slightly cooled. Sometimes there would be these bubbles in the hot chocolate that popped and revealed pockets of dry hot chocolate mix, not yet dissolved. We'd spoon those up and eat them as well. Once our fingers thawed just a little bit, we pulled out reserve mittens, scarves, and hats and ran back outside.

Now that I'm all grown up and trying vainly to recapture the gambols of my youth in a state that rains but doesn't snow, I have indulged both Mathra and myself in some adultly decadent hot chocolate. For Christmas, Mathra (or Santa Claus) filled my stocking with premium, gourmet marshmallows. You didn't know that marshmallows could be "gourmet," did you? Well, Williams-Sonoma found a way to get these enormous handmade, hand-cut square marshmallows. To do these creations justice, I got some very San Franciscan Ghirardelli cocoa and made hot chocolate, which was finished off with with a bit of cognac and cinnamon and topped by the gourmet marshmallows. They look just like huge ice floes bouncing on the surface of the hot chocolate.

I think I'm going to go out and get some packets of Swiss Miss just in case.

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