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It's snowing, and money's falling

By Rachel Michaud
Friday, February 5, 2010; A19

"Money's falling," Dad says as he comes in the door from his job as a typewriter repairman. It's snowing. He changes into warm clothes and then goes out to check the plow on his truck and put gas in the snowblower. When he comes back in, he eats supper with one eye on the sky outside the kitchen window. He goes to sleep right afterward so he can wake up in the middle of the night to start plowing rich people's driveways and the parking lot of the Elm Theatre.

My sister Donna and I don't argue about whose turn it is to wash the supper dishes because we don't want to wake the sleeping bear in our parents' downstairs bedroom.

"Do you think we'll have a snow day tomorrow, Mom?" asks Gary, my younger brother.

"Yes. Rachel, don't stay up late reading. Go to bed early."

It is still dark when my father shakes me, cold seeming to radiate from his outside clothes. He touches my shoulder, not wanting to wake my sister in the twin bed.

"I'm awake. I'm awake," I say.

He leaves, and I go to the bathroom, where I put on layers of clothes, nothing good that will get dirty or torn. I walk downstairs and head out to his truck.

"Did you eat something?" he asks.

"I'm not hungry."

"We'll stop later."

I like the sky at dawn, but I like my warm bed better. My sisters and brothers, all eight, will sleep for hours. Six to eight inches have fallen, and snow is still falling, making the world quiet. No school today.

My father and I drive to first one job, then another. My part is to shovel the steps, around the doors. My job is to keep him company.

We break for breakfast mid-morning. By this time I am ravenous, and I plow through fried eggs, toast and hash browns. Dad gulps coffee, and I savor the whipped cream on the hot chocolate. I look around at the diners, other hardworking men like my father, getting refills on their coffee with a smile from the waitress who gives them right back whatever they say to her. This woman is not like my mother.

We go back out and keep working because the snow keeps falling. The Elm Theatre parking lot is the last job, and the one that seems to go on forever. The theater is the anchor of an L-shaped strip mall. My father plowed it once before I even got up, but now he's doing it again. There's shoveling for me to do in front of each of the stores. Some of them didn't even open today. I dig out the fire hydrant and shovel down to the sidewalk, following my father with his snowblower. If we don't get down to the pavement and sand it, we'll have to come back another day and chop ice. Dad keeps me going with sips from the flask in his back pocket -- blackberry brandy. It is the 1960s; I'm 11.

It's getting dark again as we load the snowblower and shovels into the back of the truck and head home, but it's only 4 or 5. As we pull into the driveway I see the snow fort somebody made in the back yard, the snow people. I'm glad the back steps are shoveled.

We are conquering heroes as we come into the warm kitchen, stamping snow off our boots, sniffing supper. The table has already been set by somebody else. After we peel off our wet outer clothes and go to the bathroom, we sit down and get to be served first.

Because there is new snow, I know what dessert will be. Mom has melted a hard brick of maple sugar in a saucepan to make "tseed," a sweet she learned how to cook growing up. She left her home town with her Acadian recipes in her head and one small suitcase, after marrying my father in her mother's front parlor. He was the one who loved her as a boy and left to find work in the Frog Hollow section of Hartford, Conn. He came back to Maine to court her.

Mom will lay spoonfuls of the warm liquid on the snow, and the kids will each use a spoon to roll it over the hardening taffy. It will stick to their spoons, and they will get quiet, their mouths busy.

Because I am tired, my mother takes a large pan and goes out the back door. She brings in a pan of snow so I can make my own "tseed" sitting at the table. My father is cheerfully counting out his money. I am sucking on my spoon and waiting for him to look up from the piles of fives, tens and twenties. Before I fall into bed I want my dollar.

Rachel Michaud is a writer living in Washington.

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