December 28, 2009

Nebraska Winter

Five days with my family and no internet. It went by in a blink.

“Tom, is it okay if I leave a little early tomorrow if the weather is getting bad? I want to get to Omaha ahead of the snow,” I asked my boss on Tuesday. The sky was already overcast and we were predicted to have freezing rain tomorrow morning, turning to snow by nightfall.

“You’d better go tonight then,” he said. “Today is the day for travel.”

“Oh. Okay.” I love my boss.

I arrived on my parents’ doorstep with a bag of gifts, bag of laundry, and a cat in a box, two days ahead of schedule. The cats, my mother’s Lucy and my Isis were segregated. Isis gets the basement, Dad’s cave, and only comes upstairs to the guest room with me, carried like a furry football in the crook of my arm, squalling and hissing all the way, every night. Lucy gets the rest of the house, and doors are carefully closed between them. Neither seemed disturbed by this arrangement. Not knowing how many days I might be snowed in, I declined to leave Isis in Lincoln by herself.

Wednesday brought rain which froze over everything, including snow still on the ground from last week's storm, and turned to snow by nightfall. Thursday was a continuation on a theme, snowing all day, but Mom, as a true Nebraskan working for that great Nebraska institution Mutual of Omaha, was in to work regardless. Mutual has only shut down twice that I recall in the twenty-three years Mom has worked there, even when half of their workers don’t show up (Mom never being one of that half). Dad took me to breakfast at Vidlak’s, one of a very few authentic diners left in Omaha.

“I’m leaving work now,” Mom called at two o’clock.

“Okay, be very careful. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ten minutes later, too soon for her to be home but soon enough to have gotten stuck or in an accident, the phone rang again.

“Well, hello, Monica!” It was my Aunt Donalee, calling from her place out in Custer County, 250 miles due west. “How’s the weather out there?” We exchanged reports. Her son, Jason, drives truck and had called in to report on highway and interstate conditions between here and there a little while ago, which she passed along. “So will you still be coming out do you think?”

“Well, Mom’s on her way home now, so I suppose we’ll decide when she gets here,” though I strongly suspected we weren’t. Dad had been hinting as much since he arrived home on Tuesday, but Mom is never one to be dissuaded by a little snow, so I left the ball in her court. “I’ll have her call you when she gets home.”

Ten minutes later Mom was on the phone with her sister and the decision was made. We were staying put.

Christmas Day dawned to more snow. Or rather continuing snow, as it had not stopped once in the past thirty-six hours. I was woken by the obscene ringing of the telephone. Both my parents, my mother especially, are losing their hearing and as a result the phone in the guest room/paper crafts room (to distinguish it from the sewing crafts room) makes the most horrible noise. My cat took advantage of my apparent wakefulness (aka full body spasm) to lay on my chest, purr, and bump my hand each time it stopped petting her.

Coming downstairs my suspicions were confirmed. Brandon and April were also staying put, at the very least until the plows in Missouri Valley made it through their alley. Given the size of Mo Valley, that might should be “plow,” singular. From the view from my parents’ stoop, the Omaha plows hadn’t made it into the residential neighborhoods yet either. A similar confirmation came from Grandma around nine o’clock, though she only lived two miles away and her subdivision’s private contractors had been out plowing since Christmas Eve.

“Of course them have,” Mom reported with a snort, after having said goodbye to Grandma. “They get paid by the hour, not by the day or the storm. Her association’s going to be over its budget for snow removal again this year.”

Dad just shrugged, ensconced in the rocking chair in the living room, under a blue lap quilt Mom had made the year before. He set the newspaper aside. “Well, shall we open presents?”

We did. Only Dad had declined to abide by the ten dollar limit for the year. I got iTunes gift cards and Mom got three seasons of CSI. We found gold-toe socks in our stockings in memory of Great-Grandma Peterson, who’d passed away two years before. Everyone had missed her gold-toe socks last year. From me, my family got a toile sack (made from the generous bolt of toile Mom always keeps in the back of her sewing closet) tied with ribbon, containing the best licorice in the world from what may be the only store solely dedicated to its sale, which just happens to be found in the Lincoln Haymarket, chocolate oranges, and an assortment of odd pins attached to the fabric. Dad displayed his “Born This Way” and “Don’t Panic” proudly on his tee shirt, while Mom laughed at “Logic has no place here.” Isis and Lucy got a new cat toys, the classic feathers on a stick.

Lunch was eggs, sausage, and toast to which I added canned peaches and orange juice in a feeble attempt for balance. And the rest of the day simply passed. Every couple of hours I would put my book down and wander downstairs to visit Dad and Isis, but always left quickly in the wake of the Gilmore Girls marathon taking place on his fifty inch flat screen. Every once in a while, Mom would look up giggling from one of her Terry Prachet Discworld books and explain in great detailed glee about Igors or Golumns or Dwarves or Vampires.

My hero had just been reunited with my heroine after a twenty-year separation and little bit of time travel when Mom called for me to come upstairs.

“It’s a Youtube,” she said, clicking play on the little video, chuckling as she watched the second time, as the little rat terrier hung his stocking and set out a plate of cookies for Santa, then waited in increasing agitation, before a ribbon wrapped bone was quietly delivered, after the little fellow had fallen fast asleep, of course.

I watched over her shoulder and smiled, then turned to harass Lucy, who was supervising from my parents’ bed. I leaned my head down to her and we bumped noses, then I buried my face in her fur and growled. She only rolled over onto her side and patted my head with her big paws, looking at me curiously when I came up for air.

After the sun went down, I bundled up and headed out, not that there is anywhere to go. My parents live in the middle of a suburban wasteland. But still, there is something about snowy nights that is inviting, peaceful, and somehow invigorating, even in the cold. The wind was blowing from the north and it was still snowing, but I tramped resolutely down to the playground at the end of the block and back, following the ruts made by tires with deep treads, pausing now and then. The plow still had not come, but a few hardy folk had ventured out anyway.

The city is pink and quiet in the snowy night, save for the wind, which is only a hushed murmur, finding the smooth snow a good acoustic baffle. The trees, bare of leaves and laden down, don’t even speak. The birds, what silly few remain during a Nebraska winter, are all safely tucked in for the night, along with the squirrels, rabbits, possums, raccoons, foxes, and deer. Teenagers and college kids, being the only other urban wildlife likely to be about, are well corralled by their extended families and the drifting snow. I ventured out for a little walk every night after dark, much to Mom’s amusement.

Saturday started with only the occasional flurry. The plows had come in the night, and the contracted snow crew had made it to my parents’ drive by midmorning. We had Christmas dinner then, among family, ham and potatoes and green beans, etc. I handed April one of her presents before Grandma arrived, a small white pin with dainty script that read “I wouldn’t mind an orgasm right about now.” She cackled with glee and tucked it into her shirt, out of sight.

Dean called at some point, my mother’s brother. They were snowed under in Colorado, too, but he and Jim had still been out to feed the cattle, not an optional activity no matter the weather. We’ve made a slight game of it these last few years, but this time he knew who he was talking to right off. Once we talked for half an hour before he finally stated “This isn’t Dayle, is it.” I’m told I sound like my mother, particularly on the phone.

We made it to our traditional afternoon movie, Sherlock Holms, with an entirely too handsome Watson, all piled in to Mom’s four-wheel drive Jeep, my long legged brother squashed in the middle between April and I. He didn’t complain and I turned my head out the window to ignore their giggling canoodles. Brandon and April stayed to watch the latest Doctor Who on BBC America, which only Dad gets on his fancy HD cable. Dad slept through at least half of it, while April and I discussed the mythology, merits of the various companions, and vociferously agreed that David Tennant is the best Doctor to date during the commercial breaks.

Dad may not be a Doctor Who fan (or even conscious of the phenomenon), but he likes having us around and happily announced to Mom that everyone was coming back next week for the two-part conclusion.

“So I suppose I better plan something for dinner,” Mom replied, in a voice of put upon resignation, which all parties concerned routinely ignore.

“Or we can order pizza,” Dad said with a shrug.

Sunday dawned with no snow. The streets were plowed and we ventured forth for pancakes and then to the second hand bookstore (having already made the required trip to Barnes & Noble earlier that week). We headed home in the midst of a few flurries and I loaded up my bags, boxes, cat and all, and headed back to Lincoln. The drive was uneventful, at least until I’d made it to my block, where I promptly high-centered myself in the entry to the alley, breaking my lifetime record of never getting myself stuck in the snow.

A minivan came up the alley toward me.

“You might as well back out the other way. It’s well and truly stuck,” I told the girl with the piercings behind the wheel, waving back to my car.

“We’re gonna hook on and pull you out,” was her swift reply.

By the time I had trotted my cat upstairs and returned with a snow shovel, they had the nylon strap hooked under my bumper and the younger of the two women was down on her knees, flashing her ass and fishing under the minivan with the other hook, while a crusty older woman with short hair and an black jacket with Army patches watched. She reversed and I accelerated to no affect, until the older woman got behind the wheel, gave a little slack to the rope, and then reversed with a sharp jerk. I shifted into low gear and the two vehicles moved with spinning tires back up the steep drive.

“Thanks a lot! I appreciate it!”

“Don’t forget your shovel!”

By the time I’d parked on J Street (at the other, less steep end of the alley) and made my second trip out to my car, two African men in a black sedan had gotten themselves stuck at that end. The dozer that had been slowly moving snow from the lot across the street to the state lot next to my alley where trucks would come for it later, was patiently waiting for the men to sort things out. I set my laundry bag back in my trunk and returned to them, as they peered at the underside of their car.

“Time to push,” I said. “It just can’t get any traction,” I added, when they appeared to be baffled as to why the car wasn’t moving, exchanging puzzled sounding words in a language I didn’t know. At that, the driver waved me into the seat and with a good push and the proper combination of low gear and gas, we got it out. I wondered if that was their first Nebraska winter (they really ought not to have gotten stuck in that spot if they’d known how to drive in snow) as I lugged my laundry back of the alley, in the deep grooves left by the dozer.

All of that accomplished, my cat and I settled in for yet another lazy evening (after fetching the shovel).

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