Wednesday, December 30, 2009

First Snow

We’d planned a hike yesterday, but the day was so cold that instead we drove an hour with cousins, one uncle, and two aunts, up to Portland to visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

The first flakes started falling some time between 1:00 and 2:00, and a dozen children rushed out the museum exits to leap and rejoice and catch snowflakes while adults watched from the museum windows. I for one was much more interested in watching the snow come down over the Willamette River than I was in learning how electricity works. Fortunately, the museum has lovely large windows.

By the time we left at 4:00 p.m., the snow was sticking, with a couple of inches on the ground. My girls and their cousins built two-thirds of a snowman on the sidewalk in front of the museum before we insisted they climb into the cars for the hour-long ride home to Newberg.

An hour later we had driven a dozen city blocks through stop-start traffic and hadn’t yet made it to a freeway onramp. Driving wasn’t treacherous, just slow. Todd and his brother Jeff grew up in Indiana, where snowy roads are the norm. We made a bathroom stop and decided to have dinner before making our way to the bridge that would take us over the river and onto the freeway home.

It’s a good thing we ate when we did, because once we got onto the freeway it took us four more hours to drive down to Newberg—usually an hour’s drive, tops.

We found ways to pass the time. When my ten-year-old nephew—son of Todd’s eldest brother—asked Todd to turn up the car stereo and play “something hard,” Todd gave him a choice: Rush, Kansas, or Yes. What ten-year-old knows these bands? The ten-year-old raised by the same man who introduced Todd to these bands thirty years ago, that’s who! “I want Yes!” my nephew shouted enthusiastically.

So we rocked out, cruising the icy freeway at a couple of miles an hour, top speed. When we’d been on the road three hours and were still not quite halfway home, my sister-in-law began to sing, “One thousand barrels of beer on the wall, one thousand barrels of beer … ”

We were warm. Plenty of gas. Todd knows how to drive in wintry conditions, so we weren’t stressed. But it was a long trip and hard for the kids to sit still and not to pick at each other. All of us were relieved to make the final turn into our driveway at 10:00 p.m.—nearly six hours after we left OMSI.

That first hour, when we drove just a few blocks, car length by car length, Todd rolled down his window and gathered a handful of snow from the car roof.

“What are you doing?” I protested. “That’s not safe, Todd.”

He packed the snow, patting it back and forth between his palms as any boy raised in the Midwest knows to do. Then he chucked it at the car ahead of us, the car his brother was driving, with our two older daughters and our niece in the back seat. Todd reached up to gather another handful of snow before he answered me.

“I want them to remember this,” Todd said as he packed the snow into a firm ball. “I want them to tell my grandkids about this day.”

We’ll have to wait another ten or twenty years to know for sure, but I suspect that Todd shaped our girls’ memories of their first snow in Oregon as purposefully and firmly as he packed those snowballs.


  1. Definitely a memorable day! Several friends have checked in with their challenging "snow stories" from Tuesday. I am wondering how my brother Carl, and wife Joy and Charlee (the dog) managed in their big motorhome. They left Tacoma about 11:30 AM and headed south on I-5 that day.

  2. P. S. Just reached my brother enroute for an update. It took them 4 hours to travel 18 miles through Portland. They stopped for the night at a rest area just beyond the city instead of getting to Grants Pass as planned. Today they are rolling toward Palm Desert, CA in sunshine.