You are 12 years old and it’s December and a school day. The days are shorter now, meaning it is still dark when the alarm clock blasts you out of your dreams like a cannonball fired at dawn in a war you don’t understand and didn’t choose. But you are not a cannonball. You’re a soldier, and this is reveille. Your mother is a drill sergeant, barking orders at you every morning before you are awake enough to understand them. Find your shoes, you always lose them! Brush your hair, it looks like a rat’s nest! Be careful with your milk, you usually spill it!
But not today. Where is she? You have managed to find the right knob on the alarm clock and the house is quiet again. In fact, the house is TOO quiet, no scraping of a spatula in a frying pan, no whistling of a coffee pot, no sprinkling of a shower head against a protesting occupant. Nothing but perfect stillness, utter calm, the kind of quiet that can only be accomplished by one thing — the accumulation of snow, enough to coat everything, enough to mute the earth. No cars passing by. No busses. Not even a dog barking. It’s as if the snow has enveloped every sound as well as every surface.
There is no joy purer than this recognition. It is a school day, and it has been snowing heavily while you slept, oblivious to the wonderful gift nature has prepared for you this morning. You can actually feel this before you see it, if you are properly attuned, as all kids soon become, to the ways and means of inclement weather. It is an epiphany that crystallizes slowly, deliciously, as you watch the bright red numbers on your clock change from 7:05 to 7:06. Once you have fully grasped the significance of this morning’s silence, you rush to the window and rip the curtains apart to survey the grandness of it all. And there it is, waiting just for you. Snow, two or three inches of it, maybe even more, covering everything — the cars, the mailbox, the neighbors’ rooftops, and, yes, the roads, as yet unbesmirched by even one set of tracks.
You look at this, and you press your face to the window to feel the cold glass against your nose and cheeks. You need something real, something tactile, to ground you a little. You breathe against the glass until it fogs over, then draw your initials in it. Now you’re feeling whimsical. Since there will be no school — you want to hear the “official announcement” of course, since that is part of the joy, sort of the whipped cream on the banana split of your good fortune — the whole day has been presented to you as a canvas. You can draw anything on it you wish. Potential activities crowd toward the top of your brain like fish in an aquarium seeking food.
You’ll build a snowman, a big one. You’ll build a snow fort, and assemble an arsenal of snowballs into the shape of a pyramid. You’ll develop some clever ruse to coax your sister and mom out of the house, then cream them until they both beg for mercy or run for cover. You’ll thaw out your wet, numb fingers by the fire in the fireplace, while you wait for the chicken soup to get hot on the stove. You’ll convince your mother to make you a side dish of tater tots since you are so hungry from this morning’s ambush. You’ll have a big glass of hot chocolate. You’ll watch a movie on television, or cartoons. With great stealth and cunning, you will extract your mom’s scissors from the kitchen drawer and carve amazing works of art from the morning paper, which you know will charm your father 10 percent more than it will vex him. “And this one is YOU, daddy!” That should do it.
You’ll play games with your sister, or you’ll antagonize her, which is the greatest game of all. You’ll stalk the cat through all the rooms of the house, fashioning a whip from a winter scarf and pretending to snap it in her direction like a cowboy on a horse. You will find this game more amusing than the cat finds it.
But right now is the greatest moment of all, when it is all still in front of you, and everyone else, including the sergeant, is still snuggled up in bed, and you can simply savor it. You go and turn on the radio and wait for the announcement. If you’re lucky, when you grow up, you’ll remember what days like this feel like for your kids and be a good sport when it is your turn to be ambushed.