You hate me already. You read the title and you thought of all the reasons why you hate winter and you’re waiting to see what sort of malarkey I come with to defend the season that most people have a hard time embracing. Winter. Well, I wish you could meet Bekah, because she just might help you the way she helped me.
Bekah and I met during the Gulf War. No, we were not in hand-to-hand combat, but the year was 1990 and it was a hot July evening in Itasca, Illinois. This was the same way I began my maid of honor speech at Bekah’s wedding almost two years ago. Needless to say I know this woman the same way I know the curves in my own thumb.
In Junior High we played the 90s hit bored game, Girl Talk, on summer afternoons. Nathan, Bekah’s little brother, always tried to join us. We gave him a red zit sticker and sent him on his way so that we could finish dishing on the guys we were interested in. In High School Bekah got a trampoline. Most people loved jumping on it. I was more excited for spending warm August evenings in high school looking at the stars while reclining on the trampoline. Some good thinking can be had in back yards on elastic nylon material. It was on that trampoline that many dreams were shared as shooting stars rocketed across the night sky.
Bekah and I also spent countless hours (and miles!) over the years on our bikes traversing the vacant hills of rural Wisconsin. Save the lunch stop with the large group, it was just us out there to figure out the world’s problems, or at least each other’s, donning a helmet, of course.
Bekah was there the day my mother died and the day each grandparent died. She was there when my wedding was called off and there when Mandy was killed. She was there when I got into grad school and there when I got into the punk and ska music scene (although I’m not sure she ever went with me to a concert, but she did let me crash on her dorm floor when my favorite band played in her school’s gym). And she’s still there, and that is what really matters.
In college there were a few conversations that help ease small talk and help you fit in. One was complaining about food in the dining hall. The other was complaining about the weather. I never did think the food was all that bad at Moody, except maybe the “squirty chicken” (Chicken cordon bleu- ours squirted butter when you put the fork in to cut it, so it got dubbed squirty chicken for generations to come). But I did begin to loathe winter.
One year a storm nearly stopped me from getting to Washington for vacation. I remember packing up for Christmas break Sophomore year of college and the snow started to settle on the ground in Chicago. The plows couldn’t keep up with the storm, but I was set on getting home that evening. I took my extra large suitcase packed full of most of my earthly belongings and wheeled it in the slushy streets because the side walks were slabs of untouched snow, already more than ankle deep. After waiting on the platform for the L to come for more than 30 minutes because of delays, I was frustrated to see every car filled to the brim with people. Like Mary and Joseph knocking on doors in Bethlehem, there was no room for me and my suitcase in the car. People saw my pathetic face and my elephant-sized bag and made no effort. My disdain for winter- and for snow- grew deeper than the puddles forming at my feet. The second train came and when the doors opened you could hear an audible sigh as people could finally take a breath with the extra inch of space from the door being ajar. I was Mary and Joseph’d again.
I decided to walk rather than ride the L to the Metra train station. At the Metra a suburban train would take me to my dad’s house where I would spend the night before being driven to the airport the next day to fly to Washington. I lugged my elephant back down the stairs and put it back in the sludgy streets. The snow came down sideways, now with traces of ice shards. I felt like I was inside a Slurpee machine.
The news reports showed the storm was still going strong and many flights were canceled. Mine was thankfully still scheduled, albeit delayed a few hours. After more hours of waiting in the airport and missing a connecting flight then nearly missing another one, I wanted to break up with winter forever.
The following year I had a car and winter gave me more reasons to hate it: scraping windshields, slippery roads, slow drive times, having to pump gas in the freezing cold and the closure of things I needed. I was grumpy for four months of the year. I decided that I was one of those people who didn’t like winter.
Next year Bekah and I were out shopping and the first snow of the season began as we walked about from store to store; drove from white parking lot to whiter parking lot. My mood became sour and Bekah’s became sweet. I started to notice that her feelings for this season and my feelings for this season were vastly different. Misery loves company so her child-like wonder and giddiness were really starting to rain on my already wet parade. In all my gloominess I wanted to feel the same way about winter that Bekah did, and was a tad jealous that she could enjoy it. So I did something crazy. I tried to like winter.
The next winter came around and the first time it snowed I stood in the window and instead of frowning and worrying, I decided to smile. I tried to remember every good memory from childhood that happened in the snow. I even made a playlist with wintery songs – from deep, smoky sounding singers to warm but poppy songs- the emotional manipulation was ready to go. Some friends were going tray sledding (in college when you grab a dining hall tray and use it as a sled) at the only hill in Chicago and invited me to join them. Instead of turning them down, I decided to bundle up and grab a tray. I was starting to enjoy winter already.
I think the best way for me to describe my ability to re-love winter was the ability to see it through a friend’s eyes. There are a few lines from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz that help me express this,
I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.
Bekah showed me the way. Bekah is married and has a daughter of her own now. If little Zoe is lucky enough to catch her mom’s child-like wonder at something so normal in the Midwest, she’ll grow up to be a lucky woman who appreciates the little things.
You might laugh because I’m writing this on the cusp of spring, and a Saturday that promises to be in the seventies in two days. But winter will come again and I hope to find it even more wondrous than the last time it visited.