Winter is a season fully pregnant with potential. I’m not sure if it’s the close proximity of the holidays or being driven indoors by low temperatures, but the winter months are laced with a sense of waiting. It’s in the air. We expect something momentous to break up the monotony in a relentless volley between build-up and climax.
Like so much of our adult psychology, it can likely be traced back to our childhoods. I remember spending a lot of time as a kid staring up into the white skies of winter and waiting for snow. I can still feel big wet snow flakes on my eyelashes, two crusty nostrils, numb extremities, hot breath filtering through the threads of a woolen ski mask.
Despite the fact that I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, deep snows weren’t nearly frequent enough. We were ready to romp and sled every day, even if it meant missing so much school that we’d have to repeat 4th grade. The wait must be real torture for kids growing up on the Carolina coast. Like a broken Pez dispenser, a local kid could spend years craning his neck and looking up into the snowless expanse of the heavens.A few years ago, we got several inches of snow and I had the sweet pleasure of playing in the powder with my young son. Beyond the snowball fights and the harmless, one-second sledding runs down the drainage easement in front of our house, the highlight was eating snow cream. For those of you unfamiliar with snow cream, it is made with scoops of fresh snow, sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla extract, and food coloring. Somewhere between a poor man’s slushy and a hillbilly’s milkshake, I admit the texture is a little off. But with snow as its primary ingredient—snow you just scooped from your patio furniture and dropped into a mixing bowl—you hardly notice its curious makeup. The fact that you can make an entire batch radioactive green with only a few drops of food coloring transforms a neat recipe into a full-blown science project.
Foster was just three years old at the time and likely has no clear memory of eating the snow cream. At best he may possess grainy, mental snapshots from the vantage point of his high chair, looking down onto his tray and seeing the swirls of food coloring that ended up there, the melting rivulets of dyed snow all mixed together like the palette of a colorblind painter. Whether he remembers or not is of no consequence. Even if your kids are too young to remember the activity, by the time their memories are fully operational the hope is that the activity will be a recurring tradition. And every parent knows that having kids gives you an opportunity to relive the best parts of your own childhood.
So you stay ready—you can’t let those chances to time travel pass you by. We stay stocked for snow cream and have two cans of evaporated milk in the cupboard reserved for that sole purpose. Those two cans sit in our cupboard year after year and have probably long since spoiled. Maybe if you opened one and turned it upside down, out would plop a cylindrical blob of mold. Those cans reside beside the beans and the soups that get consumed and replaced, but the cans of evaporated milk remain untouched. Every winter.
Even if this season passes without a chance to make snow cream, those cans of milk in the cupboard will remind me to stay patient and ready. And when my son stands out in the yard and looks up into the sky waiting for something monumental to happen, he won’t seem so pitiful. The payoffs are tremendous but the lulls can be just as meaningful.