Not too long ago, I was worried there would be no snow on the lakes for Winter Games. Then we got snow on snow on snow, as the song goes, and not a small amount was in everyone's driveway. I even saw some fill a mailbox that was left open when the plow came by one morning. So I, like many of us, shrugged on my warmest clothing and cleared the way before breakfast — or after dinner depending on which of this season's snowfalls we're discussing.
It's been cold. There's no doubt. Thankfully, I had my father's old set of coveralls tucked in a drawer this winter. They got a laugh from my wife, but they were warm as all get out. Now, it could have just been me or it could have been that the winds happened to die down each time I was out, but there was a little something extra that kept me warm while I was shoveling away rows of the billowy white fluff.
It was the memories, I think.
This particular pair of coveralls was really only available because my parents are now of the age in which they no longer clear their own driveway. But, in my younger days, my dad, my brother and I were the ones clearing it — along with three others in our neighborhood and a handful elsewhere in town over the years. Dad's coveralls always hung on a hook either on the basement stairs or the back porch. We had another pair, but it was quite a few years before I fit into those. By then, I was so used to going without I hardly thought of it. Dad always got the snowblower, while my brother and I would switch between the scoop and push shovels hanging in the garage. Dad would often cut a path for us, and we'd start pushing things toward the lawn or the curb. Sometimes we were in such a rush to get inside, we'd be running back and forth and almost trip over each other's shovels. Meanwhile, dad would be steadily stepping along down the concrete. By the end of any given snow day, dad's breath would condense into icicles that would hang from his mustache just like you'd see in a cartoon.
Then it would be time to go inside. I can still hear the rhythm of dad stomping on the floor of the back porch to get the snow off his boots. Pretty soon, I'd pick up the habit. He'd peel off the coveralls and hang them on a hook — snowy, soon to be soggy cuffs and all. They'd stay there until they were needed again, which was sometimes the same night and sometimes weeks down the road.
Those coveralls somehow embody a lot of my dad's character. They may be tough enough on the outside to get the job done, but they're not inflexible. They took on the shape of a man who would signal to me over the din of the snowblowers engine, and I would have no doubt in my mind he was telling me to get the ice spud because the bottom layer of snow and ice wasn't coming up in a particular area. Those coveralls were worn by a father who told his son they weren't quite done with their work one particularly cold day and didn't get upset when the son made it clear in no uncertain terms how he felt about that.
That son was me, but you probably figured that.
We'd just finished clearing the driveway for a snowbird who lived along the lakeshore, and dad told me we were going to do the house across the street too. I knew it wasn't on our list of houses, so it made no sense to me. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I was angry we weren't piling into the car to go home at that point. It turned out dad knew the couple who lived there, and he knew the husband had just died. While I don't remember my words, I remember dad's.
"If something happened to me, wouldn't you want someone to take care of mom?" he asked.
I didn't argue anymore.
I was ashamed, but I learned quite a bit from that experience. I learned a lot about fiber — not the tan fibers made into a pair of overalls, but the moral fiber that is carried within them. It's been awhile since those coveralls held such character. They're mine now, and it's those moments of melded strength and compassion I think about from the time I shrug them on until my first stomp in a familiar rhythm after the work is done. But, I suppose that's the point of passing down such lessons.
The work is never truly done.