Respect the Snow — A Memoir

Anyone who has lived a single day here can’t help but think of Michigan when snow falls, no matter where they are today. Being a resident most of my life, I’ve stored a bounty of memories, most of them fond beyond reckoning.

I have stepped lively over the slush, as the grey matter threatens to carve a river through an otherwise ice-crusted path. I have stood in silent awe, marveling over the hush of the new-fallen snow that blankets out the crud and the noise of our otherwise harried lives. With upturned collar and head down low, I have trudged into its wind-driven rage while it pelts tiny, frozen balls at my eyelashes, down my collar, and onto any other skin left vulnerable by my neglect.

As beautiful as it is, I can hate snow pretty readily. When my father was found nearly frozen in it, I developed another feeling altogether.

Every winter, my dad’s standing piece of advice rang as clear and true as a church bell. “Respect the snow.” He was especially vigilant with drivers who faced their very first winter on Michigan roads. He knew of which he spoke. He had gathered a staggering amount of experience mentoring drivers over the years.

Not only was he the one in the passenger seat, instructing all six of his kids through the perilous stages of driver’s education, permit, and newly licensed, but Dad also served as the transportation supervisor of two public school systems, from the early ‘70s to his retirement in the early ‘90s.

Dad knew how to read roads. He was the one out scouting them during the worst blizzards, discerning how a school bus might fare on a route, amid the drifts. They probably have more sophisticated ways of doing it now, but my dad’s senses served as the computer input back then. He came to his own conclusion, independent of decisions made by surrounding school districts. He had a band of merry bus drivers depending on him, not to mention the kids who relied on the buses to safely get to and from school, and he took that responsibility very seriously.

That being said, Dad didn’t just give snow days away, willy-nilly. They had to be earned. He ranked snow days right up there with gifts of spun gold. On those rare occasions when the roads passed the Floyd Moore Treachery Test, it took just one call to the superintendent of schools to bless all the kids in town with a day of sleeping in, building forts, and otherwise driving their parents nuts.

I don’t recall my dad ever getting into an accident, running off the road, or having a close call in all his years of driving. I don’t think he ever got so much as a speeding ticket.

So imagine my shock when I received a call from my mom one early, snowy, wind-blown morning. Her voice, stripped of common courtesy, cut me like a dagger. “Can you meet me at the hospital? They just took your dad there by ambulance.”

I didn’t have much more to go on. My dad had fallen while walking outside, and he hadn’t bothered to wear a coat or hat. When he couldn’t get up, he incurred an episode of incontinence. He had lain there long enough that his clothing had frozen to the blacktop. If the paper girl hadn’t come upon him in that pre-dawn hour, he might very well have frozen to death.

I didn’t ask anything further. I needed to get to my dad, and the hospital was already 30 minutes away. Too far. All the way there, the questions kept coming. What happened that took my dad outside? What had he been thinking? Where had he been going?

My dad was never the one who needed medical attention. He always left that to my mom. Sure, Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and sometimes got a little confused, but come on. My dad was a rock. He had always been the strong one, the dependable one, the supportive one. He had always been there for her. How would she cope with all of this?

I watched the speedometer’s needle run ever closer, toward triple digits.

*  *  *

Screeching into the parking lot, I took the first spot I saw. After a breathless walk through the emergency room doors, the nice lady at the desk directed me to Dad’s room. I blazed toward it, as quickly as my legs would carry me.

There he was. This man of iron and steel – the one who had been my adviser, my guide, my disciplinarian, my hero – lay small, pale, and silent under an aquathermia pad that raised and lowered as if it housed giant-sized lungs. His pale blue eyes held a wondering, boyish quality as they took in the bright, shiny contraptions around him. He inclined his head toward each new beep and swoosh.

“His body temperature reads 89 degrees; that’s up from where it was,” Mom said, peering at the screen beside his bed. Her strength was inspirational, her enthusiasm uplifting.

I looked hopefully at my dad, and he looked at me. His eyes searched mine. Then he ripped a long line of gibberish that nearly bowled me over.

Suddenly he was a stranger to me. I caught small phrases. “You gotta pick yourself up,” and, “that’s the way it is in the Army.” He was in a different world – a world he knew long before I had ever come to be.

Despite the tears that streamed down my face, I couldn’t turn away. I took a seat beside him and rested my hand on his. Nodding my head when it seemed appropriate, I tried to cast a knowing look. Though his message made no sense, there was no mistaking his passion. It made sense to him, and he needed to share it.

I may have lost him – lost his mind to the bitterness of the snow and the cold – but he wouldn’t lose me.

“Respect the snow.” Yeah, Dad. Why didn’t you follow your own advice?

Over the next few days, I learned the answer. It was really pretty simple.

He loved my mom.

He was looking for her when he walked out the front door, oblivious to winter’s biting cold. In his confused state, he never thought to look for her in their bed. He thought she had left him behind, and he needed to find her. He was her rock, after all. So as much as he respected the snow, his love for her won out.

Dad made steady progress over the next few days, regaining a portion of his strength and cognition. It was, however, the beginning of a long decline for him. He passed on, more than a year ago now. Yet the lesson he taught will stay with me forever.

Respect is one thing. Love is stronger.

And so I can’t help but respect the snow – like he always wanted – but maybe in a different way than he had ever anticipated.

4 Comments

  1. Anna,

    What a beautiful and well written story. You dad sounds like a wonderful man, you were truly blessed.Thanks for sharing your heart and life.

    God’s best always,
    Wanda

    • Wanda, thank you so much for reading Respect the Snow. You’re right, my dad was a wonderful man, and I miss him every day. Humble to the very end, he would have been the last one to acknowledge even the smallest bit of greatness. The world needs more men like him. Enjoy your day.

  2. Beautifully written as Wanda has said …thank you, Anna for your lovely story. God bless you in your writing and in all things.

    Carole

    • Carole thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad to know that the Lord used this experience to touch you. Please stop by anytime.

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