Another snow day in Iowa3/4/2020
They are a bit different when you’re an old man.
The shovel runs smoothly along the driveway, pushing the not-too-heavy snow into the growing hill on the side. The sky brightens from dark gray to light gray. Sunrise. I pause, take a deep breath of sharp air. Suddenly, the wind swirls across the top of the snow, pushing it back across the just-shoveled section.
“Hah!” I flip my scarf around my neck, square my shoulders, shout curses at the wind — and I slip on the sloping driveway. The shovel flies into the air, and I lie quietly on my back. Another snow day in Iowa.
Snow days are a bit different when you’re an old man. No kids to get to school or daycare. No job waiting to be graced by your presence. No one wondering if you were swept away by the storm or if you are just at Stormy’s swept up in a beer or two.
Nope, here I am. On my back. In the long driveway. Enjoying the snow up close and personal.
It is truly winter. Days are short. The air is cold. Fresh snow is being heaped upon old snow. All the sounds are muted to a quiet hush.
A perfect time to think.
“Just had a good report at my physical,” says my friend Gordon.
“Was pretty sure I had something wrong, but it was nothing.”
“That’s a blessing.”
“Although, maybe it’s something and the doc missed it,” says Gordon.
Most conversations these days go this way. Knee replacements. Hip replacements. And wondering if that strange gurgle is just that extra piece of pie or the tentacled monster from the movie “Alien.”
“You pay your money and take your chances,” as my old friend the religion professor says.
Lying in the snow is not so bad. Only the sounds of the mourning doves at the feeders float down the hill. Really, this would be a good sledding hill.
A long time ago, Waveland Golf Course was my young family’s designated sledding hill. Full of long runs, steep slopes and squeals of delight. My oldest always flew down the slope thrilled. And then refused to walk back up.
Ever indulging, I’d pull him and the sled back up the hill. It was only a couple of years later, when his uncomplaining 3-year-old brother pulled himself and his own sled up the hill, that I realized I’d been conned. The innocence of children? Hah! Raising children is like falling off a cliff. Survival is the only question.
And now our parents, who also carried us up the hill, are passing on.
“My mother was dying and just couldn’t let go,” says Gordon over coffee.
Death seemed as good a conversation as any as we looked out the Grounds for Celebration window in Windsor Heights. The snow storm was beginning to bury the parking lot, and businesses were closing.
“So, what did you do?”
“I held her hand and sang her a song.”
“You’re kidding. You ushered your mom out with a song?”
We both sat quietly thinking about that.
“And what did you sing her while holding her hand?” I ask.
“A song written by someone else, but sung by Art Garfunkel. ‘Another Lullaby.’ ”
And that darn Gordon softly sang the song right then and there.
Close your eyes my pretty child,
Though the night is dark and the wind is wild,
I will stand beside your bed,
Tonight there is nothing you need fear or dread.
The coffee shop vanished. Only Gordon’s subdued voice could be heard as he sang to his mother.
Close your eyes my mother wise
When the waves are angry and the north train cries.
I stop those ghosts outside your door,
Mama, don’t worry ’bout those ghosts no more.
Two old men suddenly rubbing their eyes is not a pretty sight. If you are ever forced to witness such a thing, order a double espresso, be sure to do carry out, and flee as quickly as possible. Trust me.
“And did the song work?” I eventually asked Gordon.
“She died soon after.”
You know the snow isn’t even cold as I lie here in my driveway. Lord, the birds are making a ruckus at the feeders. I suppose I should get up. But really this is quite comfortable.
Although what if somebody appears over my stretched out body in the driveway and starts singing “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band? Is that a sign? Time to call it quits? The big goodbye?
Nah, I move my arms, making a snow angel; it’s just another snow day in Iowa. ♦
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www. joesneighborhood.com.