Once, before there were 24-hour weather channels and everything got so fancy, there was simply Frank Deal, weatherman, on Channel 8.
He gave his nightly forecasts standing in front of what looked like a homemade map. He moved around stick-on clouds and arrows to indicate fronts and weather changes. He told corny jokes and read weather facts from a plain-cover book. He threw paper snowflakes in the air whenever there was a chance of snow.
We trusted whatever Frank Deal said. And if he said it was going to snow, my parents parked their cars at the bottom of the driveway, and my grandmother set out her snow-day provisions: A large, stainless-steel mixing bowl. A big serving spoon for scooping snow. A bag of Dixie Crystals. A bottle of McCormick’s vanilla extract.
Once, before there were 24-hour supermarkets and everything got so fancy, there were simply small grocery stores that sold limited selections, like just one brand of sugar or whole milk. When Frank Deal said it was going to snow, we went to the store to get an extra gallon of milk to go with our sugar and our vanilla.
Overnight, Frank Deal’s predictions, simple but accurate, came true, and we woke up to half an inch of snow or maybe a few inches, or, a real treat, much more.
I liked playing in the snow, but one of the downsides to being an only child was that I didn’t have anyone to play with. So my grandmother, sensitive to this, pulled on her wool winter coat and her leather Isotoners and wrapped a scarf around her head and set out for the yard with me.
She taught me how to lie on my back and swing my arms and legs to make a snow angel. She watched me pile snow into a fort. She took clothes from her own closet — pillbox hats and old vinyl purses and clunky pumps — and showed me how to dress the snowman I cobbled together, turning him into a snow woman.
I now know how chilled to the bone she must have been to keep me company in the frozen outdoors. I wouldn’t have noticed then, but I remember how she took tentative steps down the back stairs, how she held tight to the icy railing to keep from losing her footing. I remember how she braced herself against a tree, ignoring her own dizzy spells to toss snowballs at my fort. I remember how she lugged a 10-pound bag of birdseed to the snow-covered feeders, knocking the snow off their roofs with the back of her brittle, arthritic hands. She identified with the creatures for whom winter was a strain.
My grandmother stayed outside with me far longer than she should have, and when my cheeks finally blazed pink and my black hair hung in wet strands across my neck, she’d smile and say, “All right, let’s go inside and make some snow cream.”
That was my signal to get the bowl and scrape the top layer of untouched snow off whatever flat surface I could find. I piled the bowl as high as I could get it, and we went inside, both of us thawing out in her kitchen as she set to work, whisking milk and sugar and vanilla with the snow.
When the consistency was perfect, she scooped out a mound of snow cream into a cereal bowl for me and got one for herself, too, and we’d eat fast before it all melted, turning our bowls up and drinking the sweet liquid, both of us settling into a silence, a sweet stillness, that I’ve never had with anyone, not before or since. This was winter, made warm.
Once, before there were hundreds of flavors of ice cream and everything got so fancy, we kept butter pecan and chocolate and Neapolitan on hand in the freezer. But on snow days, we got to make something special, something that you couldn’t buy in a store, not then, and really not now, not the same anyway.
Once, before I grew up, there was simply my grandmother and me. And there were winters in which snow came from the sky, simply, as it’s done forever and ever without changing, without being different, without any sort of fanciness to it all.
Elizabeth Hudson is the editor-in-chief of Our State. See a list of all her Welcome columns.