Snowman On the Roof

I grew up in Minnesota.

There’s still some debate as to whether I have actually “grown up” even at this late date, so let’s just say that I spent my childhood there in the Northstar state. My earliest memories of the Winter Solstice were of snow and cold and the world hunkering down against the elements. The quintessential Christmas image for me is a house – more like a cottage, really – huddled at dusk amid snow-covered pine trees. Smoke from a fireplace curls from the chimney, a golden light flickers in the windows, and snow is falling. The roof and ground are already white with the stuff, the walkway only a vague wrinkle in the soft blanket. The picture is soundless, muffled by the snow. There’s a pine wreath on the door. This image speaks peace and coziness to me. When I am inside this house, I have no concerns but to let the fire warm me and the love surround me.

Those who live in the upper midwest know what a sappy, unrealistic image this is, but I can’t help it: I’m hostage to a nostalgia for something that never was, an idyllic world of peace and tranquility that exists only in my memory. But it’s as real as any of the “real” things in my past.

I was a child when I left the north country, so what did I know of frozen crankcases, heating bills, shoveling sidewalks and the expense of acquiring a protective wardrobe for an entire family? These were worries for my parents, but not for me. All I knew was snowball fights, diving into snowbanks, sledding, skating on the lake and the crystalline beauty of the landscape after a snowfall.

Now that I live in Los Angeles I am haunted by my snowy past. Every year at Christmas I hear the snow songs: White Christmas, Let It Snow, Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bells, Baby It’s Cold Outside, Frosty the Snowman, etc. ad infinitum, or so it seems. I hear them and the images flash in my head and I feel a disjointed melancholy as I make my way around sunny Southern California, shivering in the 50-degree evenings like some effete lotus-eating beach-dweller, which in some ways I guess I am.

But in other ways I’m still that skinny kid on a sled, racing down that steep, bumpy hill at the edge of the park again and again, oblivious to the cold, the snow that gets inside my coat and down my neck only a momentary distraction from the fun I am having, which is making me feel exactly as if I am in heaven. School is out, snow is on the ground, the sun is shining, the hill is steep and I am flying!

I can’t go home again, of course. I won’t go looking, not awake. I’ll just enjoy the palm trees in the sunshine. We have Christmas lights that hang from the eaves of the houses. We think they look like icicles. And we have inflatable snowmen with lights inside them. Sometimes we put them on our roofs, because none of us knows for sure where snowmen come from, or where they belong.

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18 Replies to “Snowman On the Roof”

  1. J – I have revealed far too many weird facts about myself here already. Since you got here and “tagged” me randomly you don’t know that, but neither will you notice when I don’t post the “Five Weird Facts” meme. Love ya, though…

  2. Actually, I will notice because I like your writing (I did read some of your blog before posting my comment) and will be back to visit. Don’t worry, though, I don’t expect anyone that I’ve tagged to actually do the meme. I used it as a way to find new blogs to read.

  3. Great imagery, Larry. Thanks.

    I remember getting my fingers so cold while walking home from school they turned numb, and then the pain of thawing. For some weird reason that’s a good memory. Maybe it was the warmth of the kitchen and the smell of dinner cooking while they were thawing.

    Snowmen on the roof? That has to be California.

  4. Snowmen on the roof could also be Southern Arizona!

    I grew up in Arizona but returned to Illinois with my family when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember enjoying the snow but feeling guilty about it because Mom and Dad would be worrying about their 10 mile commute to work through the country. I remember walking home from school with my first love in a December snowstorm, stopping in the post office with ears on fire from the cold and lips too chilled to feel the kiss. I remember the rosy color of a cloud-covered midnight, those huge, fat snowflakes see-sawing to the ground.

    And I don’t miss any of it.

  5. I share your innocent, quintessential snowy cottage scene as what I envision when I think of winter perfection as well, even though I live in the South & everything shuts down if we get even a threat of a dusting. I lived in St. Louis for a few years & had my first white Christmas there. I remember it starting to snow on Christmas eve day as I was driving to the Starbucks to get decent coffee for Christmas morning. I was instantly 5 years old again, an excited little kid. That was one of the best gifts I ever received.

  6. haha, “haunted by my snowy past.” Just think about all those folks in the southern hemisphere who have to deal with all the snow-related imagery in the middle of a blistering summer! Now that would be disjointing. You effete lotus eater.

  7. I know exactly what you mean. I saw the same dreamy snowscape in my mind’s eye when we were living in the tropics. There’s something about wiping the sweat from your upper lip on Christmas morning that doesn’t quite sit right…unless you have just finished some rigorous coital activity. But even then, it’s nice to shiver when yor feet hitthe floor.

    On the other hand, coming from Chicago and a six-inch blanket of the stuff, snow has its drawbacks (real snow that is — the mind’-eye variety is everything it should be).

    Enjoy your holiday lotus.

  8. J – In that case, welcome to revision99. Sometimes it sucks, but not always.

    Boom – Yikes! The pain of thawing. That part has faded from my memory.

    Smiley – What a Good Girl you were, feeling guilty about your parents’ 10-mile commute. Uphill both ways, I presume? And kissing with numb lips – something I missed…

    T1 – I now picture Starbucks as a possible cozy shelter from the storm. Eleven people sipping lattes, doing crossword puzzles, using laptops and cell phones, when a mysterious, half-frozen stranger stumbles through the door…

    Ron – You need to get out of there. Californy is the place you ought to be…

    Steph – The southern hemisphere – humbug! Let them think up their own holiday traditions.

    Erin – Most of the time my memory cleans everything up, and… and…
    I’m sorry. All I can think about is rigorous coital activity. Thanks.

  9. It still amazes me in how my perceptions of the world around me are completely shaped by the point in time of my life. I would not ever want to lose my childhood memories, but age slowly pushes them further towards the back. Love the snow, but I haven’t played in it for a long time.

  10. I’m 50 and I remember a few decent snow falls here in North Alabama. You can’t find a shed here so at the last snow (over 6″ which is awesome here) we all took those big grain scoops, turned them around where you could hold the handles as guides and used them for sleds on the steepest hill we could find. Several people went to the emergency room that day but we had a blast.

    I may grow old, but I refuse to grow up.

  11. Jack – I can get to the snow from my house in a couple of hours. On a clear day I can see it from where I live. Maybe this year I’ll go play in it.

    Junebugg – Jeez, you have some big grain scoops in ‘Bama. And hey, those emergency room visits will be great holiday memories, some day, eh?

  12. Beautiful post, Larry!
    I know I complain about the cold weather here once in a while, but most of the time I’d take it over sweltering heat any day(the next time I feel like my tits are freezing off I may take that back). In fact, just today I went out with my my dog to play in the snow. Even though he’s almost 10, he runs around and acts like a silly pup … then I have to as well. It’s contagious.

  13. I’m laughing… because someone down the street has inflatable snowmen on their roof. Apparently the tradition holds on this side of the hill too.
    Great imagery.
    Since moving from FL, I have reclaimed some of my fond childhood wintery rituals… like sitting over the floor hearter (brrr… 50 degrees! lol). But not today. Today, it’s …well, I won’t say, out of compassion for all those frozen crankshafts.

  14. Theresa and G.D. – Basking in the glow of your choice of first words. (T: Look at your new hotness!)

    Jayne – I’ve known snow (here I will restrain myself from making some kind of hokey Lloyd Bentsen – Dan Quayle joke), but I’m sure my nostalgia is for something I never really experienced. That’s nostalgia for you.

    Shepard – Your town and my town are mirror images, no? Grandfather, please tell us the Legend of the Blow-up Snowmen, and how they came to be on our roof…

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