It is January in the mountains and it is bitter-cold and snowy. There are hardy people out there in shorts - I saw one just the other day. I was inside my car and had way more on than he had, running down the road in shorts and a t-shirt. I was born in Baltimore, but I was raised in Southern California, and not a smidge of cold-hardiness survived my upbringing in that subtropical climate.
One year when I was home from college, my parents and I hatched a plan to spend Christmas in the snowy mountains of Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. Though my parents suggested packing a warm jacket and some good boots, I stuck with my own 80’s style: a leather bomber jacket and some slick-soled fashion boots.
We arrived Christmas morning, excited to stay in the picturesque little cabin nestled in the pines. The cabin was definitely quaint. It also had some endearing features: spaces between floorboards so you could look straight down to see the arctic tundra, a hot-water heater the size of a pint-jar, and frigid temps which allowed the ice in your glass to remain unmelted for days. Busy threading popcorn and cranberries to adorn the little Christmas tree we’d brought, it was easy to ignore fingers numb with the chill. Come to think of it, the numb fingers were convenient for the occasional needle-stick. When the freeze seeped into our bones, though, it was time to head out to get some wood for the stone-cold fireplace.
It seemed there’d been a run on the firewood at the one grocery store in town. We managed to snag the last sorry bundle and tucked it in the car like a treasure. My parents then got the bright idea to go for a hike. We’d get in some exercise, warm up, enjoy the scent of pine trees in the crisp mountain air, and the crunch of fresh snow underfoot. Well, that did sound pretty nice.
My parents hopped out of the car at the trailhead, looking parent-like in their bulky coats and sturdy hiking boots. They also looked warm. I began to feel a teensy bit underdressed. They and their appropriate clothing choices skipped off down the trail while I lagged behind. I could feel hypothermia setting in, although I didn’t know what that was. I couldn’t skip, run or even walk down the trail as I, in my cute elf boots, was having traction issues. I didn’t know what traction was either.
So, here I was, in somewhat of a crisis: my fantasy of traipsing down the forest path, snowflakes gently falling through the evergreens, was not matching up with the current reality. I was cold, getting colder, and stuck in one spot on the trail, unable to move forward. I felt quite sorry for myself. My parents were way up ahead on the other side of a little meadow. They seemed to be having a marvelous time jaunting around in the snow.
Suddenly, in the midst of my pity-party, there was an explosion of raw, glacial cold on my exposed throat. It slid roughly down my chest like shards of winter glass, and lodged in the front of my bra. My mouth opened in a silent scream of shock and pain. What had just happened?
Across the meadow my parents stood like statues, dead-silent, staring, also in open-mouthed surprise. It seemed that my dad, having a little fun, had lobbed a gigantic snowball in my direction, never dreaming of the fatal precision of his aim. They weren’t sure what to do - cheer for that amazing pitch or comfort their daughter in the midst of a grand mal meltdown. So they did a little of both, in between giggles they unsuccessfully tried to suppress. Honestly, the odds of that bulls-eye was a snowball’s chance in Hell.
I’m happy to report that, 36 years later, I have forgiven my dad. Warmth wins out over style every time when it comes to my current clothing choices. Our Christmas at the cabin is a great story, remembered in front of the warm fire. And that was one hell of a snowball toss.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT