I come from a unique neighborhood. We embrace the traditional calendar holidays all year long in a rather temperate, relaxed fashion– we garnish our front doors with seasonal wreaths– winter, spring, summer, fall. Though, we go all out at Christmas time– the whole block filled with colored lights hanging from our rooftops, inflatable snow globes collected on the front lawns as if we were one long holiday mantle piece. Nativity scenes peppered throughout front lawns distinguishing those who are Christian– who will be going to Heaven after we pass on from this life (the others going God knows where but at least we keep up our respective properties, so we very well can’t be going to H… E… double hockey sticks!) We have a level of tolerance that allows us to live alongside each other long enough to raise a generation of children who go to the same zoned public school.
Honestly though, the best part of our neighborhood is the non-conformity to climate.
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About twelve years ago, Mrs. Dabronowski moved in with her husband from the Midwest after he retired from a very long and lucrative career as an advertising executive. Mrs. D as we like to refer to her as– since no one has the time or patience to finish or try to pronounce her last name– would boast that Mr. D, or “Jack” as he liked to be called, brought her out here to southern California kicking and screaming… that the only carrot he dangled in front of her was that he would always provide her with snow during wintertime. Shortly after she moved in to the neighborhood, I cornered her by the communal mailboxes with two very pointed questions: 1) Why would she miss her Chicago winters? Why? (though I had never been to The Windy City, I had heard multiple horror stories of the bone chilling cold that held the city hostage for most of winter leading into spring) 2) How was she going to get Mr. D to give her snow every winter up in the High Desert of Southern California? How?
Mrs. D very succinctly answered my first question: She would miss the change of mercurial weather patterns as they had always coincided with her internal connection to the external world. She went on further to say that spring gave her a feeling of renewal, summer gave her a deliberate reprieve from constant cold in the opposite spectrum of extreme weather, fall brought out nature’s full palette of paints, and that winter… well, winter was the necessary void of enjoyable weather to make one appreciate the rest of nature’s more accommodating seasons… like it was the yin to the yang– or maybe that was the yang to the yin of things… some Asian philosophy of sorts, I can’t remember… she could describe it much better than I ever could. Okay, so I digested that answer to my first question… but what about the second?
Then, the conversation at the mailbox got very interesting.
Mrs. D answered my second question in a tone that implied she was about to tell me something extremely controversial. I had a pie in the oven that I needed to get out, but I was willing to let it burn if I had to because now, Mrs. D had me hanging on her every word…
She went on to tell me in a hushed voice that her husband was concocting some sort of substance in his project room out back… he was… creating snow!
Wh-what? I stuttered to her.
Yes, snow. And he was making plenty of it. Enough to coat the entire neighborhood.
It was then that I thought with great certainty that crabby old Mr. McGilford, at long last, found a Saturday night drinking buddy. Jack had to have been hitting the bottle hard if he expected to produce anything other than frost from freezer burned frozen broccoli out here in the High Desert!
Mrs. D went on to tell me that Jack was up the last few nights working feverishly… she couldn’t even get him to take a break for dinner. Then, just this morning, he brought out this white powdery substance. She was just pouring her first cup of coffee when he stopped her– mid pour– to dab her forefinger in it. And it felt cold, really cold! In her excitement, she dropped her cup onto the tiled counter, breaking it in two. Without noticing the clatter, she instinctively balled up the substance into a ball, then chucked it at her husband as if on cue. It hit him straight in the face, knocking off his wire-rimmed glasses. They both burst into laughter. He had done it alright: he provided his wife with promised snow!
I stopped her right there to say that I had a pie in the oven and had to go (I was actually instantly writing her off as yet another eccentric to add to the list in this small desert town) . But something made me ask “Can I see? The snow?”
Mrs. D just smiled and walked away without so much as a “goodbye” or “talk to you later.” Great. Not only was she eccentric, she was fresh out of conversation! Whatever.
The next morning I woke up to pandemonium. I heard children laughing, screaming, carrying on like it was Saturday afternoon. But wait? What day was it? It was… Monday? I got up quickly and shot to my front window. I couldn’t believe it. It had snowed!
I quickly threw on my coffee stained terry cloth robe, riddled with holes from catching on the washing machine’s agitator, and slipped on my worn out house slippers that the dog chewed up (then spit out). I didn’t even give myself a second glance in the mirror because I honestly couldn’t believe it! Snow, packable, heavy, ivory snow weighed down the fronds on my front palm tree and blanketed my front lawn chairs. It was such a sight to see, and so unnatural, I thought for sure I was dreaming. But no, I felt it… a rush to the system, sharp and invigorating: cold. It was cold, finger numbing cold. Actually, it felt freezing. I ran inside because my system couldn’t take it… it felt like I had pushed my head into the freezer and left it there for an hour. I had never felt anything beyond an inconvenient chill in the evenings out here. But this, cold… it was that bone chilling description… just like Chicago.
I traded out my bath robe for a more substantial winter coat… which out here equated to a long waisted windbreaker. I didn’t have to worry about my two school-aged sons because they were already into the thick of it, jumping around like feral rabbits. And my husband, well… he was leading a pack of adults and kids around the cul-de-sac like a post modern Pied Piper… I ran to Mrs. D’s house and rang the doorbell like I was on fire. She answered the door with a wry smile.
It was then that I saw this awkward looking machine through Mrs. D’s front doorway. It wasn’t in her house but it was in my direct line of vision to her backyard, by the project room. It looked like an old fashioned coffee grinder. Mr. D was out there tinkering with it like it was broken lawn mower.
“He really did it, didn’t he?” I found myself saying out loud.
Mrs. D nonchalantly mentioned that Jack had, indeed, made it snow.
“But how… how did he get it everywhere? All over the lawns? On the rooftops… sticking to the palm trees?” But before Mrs. D could answer, a dramatic gust of wind blew me almost straight off her front porch. Of course, the high desert wind. That’s all it took.
From that day on, whenever we, collectively as a neighborhood, wished for snow, one of us would knock on Mrs. D’s door and ask for Jack.
A few months after the creation of our block’s first snowstorm, we ran into a snag in the form of the Ridge Creek’s Home Owners Association, adjacent to our neighborhood to the east. For years the association and its inhabitants had seriously tried our very sturdy civil tolerance. I could say that they were our residential rivals, but that would just sound sophomoric. The truth of the matter was, if you lived in the gated community of Ridge Creek, you without question, had a stick up your (add expletive of choice here).
Within hours, word grew of our Winter Wonderland. Our town’s local newspaper came out and took photos of our front lawns and a field reporter came out and interviewed Mr. Peterson (I suppose they chose to speak with him since he was captain of our neighborhood crime watch.) He gregariously described a very snowy morning descended upon our block, as if we were chosen people of some sort of transcendental occurrence. He never mentioned the true source of our snowfall (Mr. D) and thus, left the reporter impressed yet skeptical.
By afternoon’s end, our neighborhood doorsteps were laced with yet another sheet of white– this time in the form of a letter. It was typed by the board of The Ridge Creek Home Owners Association. The documentation addressed to our communal street dictated to “cease and desist” all winter fabrications as they were directly affecting the residents of Ridge Creek ‘s east window views “in the denigration of aesthetics to our natural surrounding area.” In a nutshell, snow didn’t belong in the High Desert. Period.
Long story short, our block took up the matter with the City Council and within the month the matter was dropped, as none of us ever ponied up the true source of the snow. Privately, we hailed Mr. D as our personal sprite of frozen vapor. No one ever coughed him up no matter how it was brought up among the town’s daily barrage of gossip. Even our children swore the code of silence.
Thus, every winter, right as rain (pun intended), it would indeed snow– only on our block. To throw everyone off, Jack would scatter the days and weeks in which it would occur. No weather almanac could ever predict when our neighborhood would get our beloved snowfall. After awhile, it grew national attention but anytime anyone of us was ever interviewed, we’d simply shrug it off as “one of those things”.
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Jack passed away not too long ago. He was memorialized back home in his “Windy City.” But Mr. Peterson got in touch with his cousin at the paper and they did a nice write up of him in the obituary. Mrs. D made sure to send the copy that was printed in the Tribune. Apparently, he was adopted in his infancy. A young Polish couple took him in when they found him at the base of their front bungalow step in a northern Chicago lakeside suburb. He was bundled up in a wicker basket with a note pinned to the handle that merely read, “Take care of my boy, Jack F.”