I can’t remember being afraid of many ‘things’ during my childhood but there were the usual suspects… Spiders. Although, having a resident daddy long-legs in our downstairs toilet didn’t help at first, but over a couple of weeks the spider was rightly named, Harry and I wasn’t as scared as I once was. The other fear I had was, drowning and still is. Yet, those weren’t the ones that brought the ugliness and weight of fear to our door the night of Wednesday January 7th, 1981. A fear which, I never expected to face.
“Do you think it will stick daddy?”
I stood by the edge of the window frame, my body holding back the heavy brown brocade curtains as my hands splayed either side of my freckled face, which was pressed against the pane. My eye well they were as wide as saucers as I watched large glistening flakes float down from the heavens, just like feathers escaping from an overflowing pillowcase. My eyes ever watchful of the way the snow whirled around lamp posts, hedges and dance across the rooftops like ice skaters gliding across a frozen expanse. Each delicate flake sought out every nook and cranny as they gently nestled together building upon each other and constructed mini white hills.
A head peeked through the curtains above mine, “I think it just might stick and look at it how it swooshing up the road, it looks like dry snow.” My father stepped back.
“Dry snow? Snow is wet, there’s no such thing as that!” I scrunched my eyes as I tried to figure out what my dad meant, “So what does dry snow look like?” I shuffled back and rubbed my chilly nose with my cold hands.
My father chuckled, his eyes smiling as he said, “What I mean is, the weather is just right for a good snow fall and the wind is what’s making the snow twist and swirl.” He raised his eyebrows, “We may even get some snow drifts.”
“Really!” I jiggled like a bowl of jelly, “So, no school tomorrow?” I pulled a silly face.
“Maybe? But right now, it’s bedtime.”
I huffed, “Oh dad!” I pushed my lips together and made a fish pout and my batted my baby blues, “Do I have to?”
My father stuck out his thumb towards the door, grinned and said, “Bed.”
My plan had been foiled, yet again, “Okay.” My shoulders slouched in defeat and I made sure I took my sweet time walking towards the door.
My father carried me up the stairs, like he’d done every night before. He lovingly set me down on my bed, tucked me in and gently laid a kiss on my forehead.
Night, night, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” he said. I giggled and as he turned off the light, he said, “Love you.”
“Love you too daddy.” Tiredness overwhelmed me and my heavy eyelids fluttered shut and I slept soundly.
I tossed and turned in my snuggly warm bed as a yawn snuck free from my mouth. I rubbed my eyes, then I remembered… Snow! I shoved the comforter back with my feet and jumped out of bed, ran out of my room to the hallway and yanked back the curtains. My eyes bright and wide as I stared at the white smooth blanket that covered everything, even the washing line had a layer of the white stuff precariously balanced on the length of its rope that stretched from one side to the other. I smiled. My father was right, the wind had also used its magical powers to maneuver the light snowflakes and make wondrous drifts up against the side of our garden shed, the garden walls and even our dormant blackberry bush.
“Yeah!” I blurted out. I darted downstairs, yelling, “Daddy, I don’t have to go to school.” I burst into our back room, “Daddy? Mammy?”
No answer. I turned around and walked passed our front door, through the living room and into the kitchen looked around and nobody was in sight. I guessed they’d already seen the snow and must have clambered back into their cozy beds. I reached up on my tiptoes, grabbed the back door key, unlocked the door and opened it.
I’d never seen so much snow, ever! Our whole garden had been enveloped by it. It was captivating. It glistened like millions of diamonds twinkling in a velvet sky and it was the most beautiful sight I’d seen. A red breasted robin landed on in front of me, it hopped along, pecking here and there at the cold white expanse. I stood and watched this little bird relentlessly try to find a nibble of food. I walked over to the bread bin, grabbed some slices of bread and crumbled the bread in between my fingers then tossed it on the snow. At first the robin flew off, but within a few minutes, it flew back down and nibbled at the feast that was set out before it.
My shoulders started to tremble, my teeth chattered as realized I was still in my nightshirt. I quickly closed the door and made my way to the back room, I turned on the gas fire and watched the orange, and red flames turn the dull gray panels into a blazing source of heat. I stuck my hands out and allowed the heat melt away the coldness that had gripped me from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I closed my eyes, content to be warming up and happy that I didn’t have to go to school today.
“Helen.” I glanced over my shoulder and watched Alison walk towards me.
I smiled.“Have you seen the snow? It’s super high,” I said while I rubbed my hands together again before I turned around to warm the back of me.
“Yeah, I’ve seen the snow,” Alison replied.
“Isn’t it cool. That means we don’t have to go to school.” I looked at my sister, my eyebrows furrowed. Then my sister Judith walked into the room, “Did you see the snow?” I asked, she nodded. I looked at Judith again, then back at Alison. “Why aren’t you happy? We don’t have to go to school.”
“We know,” Judith said.
“Why are you both sad?” I asked.
Alison looked at me, “We’re not going to school… but we do have to go out in the snow.”
“Were going to make snowmen?” my eyes lit up. “Where’s mammy and daddy?” I turned back to face the warmth of the fire.
“Helen, we’re going to see,” my sister’s voice quivered, “daddy,” Alison said.
“Where’s daddy, then?”
“Daddy’s in the hospital and it’s really bad,” Judith said.
I hung my head as tears sprung up and overflowed down my cheeks. A million questions ran through my mind, my happy thoughts of building a snowman, simply melted away.
Judith stepped forward and said, “Don’t cry Helen, because when we go outside your tears will freeze!”
A rouge giggle escaped not only from my mouth, but from my sisters too. I turned around and wiped the stream of tears from my face.
“That’s better. Now go upstairs and get dressed, we have to leave right after breakfast,” Alison said.
I walked towards the door, looked back then said, “I’m not hungry.”
To this day I can’t remember climbing the stairs or what clothes I wore. What I do remember was the slow, cold walk through 4 – 6 ft of snow and arriving at the Hospital and waiting in the sterile smelling waiting room. Then came my turn to see my dad. I pushed open the heavy door and there lying on a hospital bed with a white sheet pulled up to his midriff. His chest exposed with wires attached to his skin, a tube pushed up into his nose and an even larger tube hanging out of his mouth. Monitors beeped, wavy lines moved up and down and another monitor. I looked at my daddy, who only a couple of hours ago carried me up to bed, who, the day before held my hands while I balanced on his feet as we danced to the song, My eyes adored you. I hovered for a while by the door, unsure what to do.
“Come in, it’s alright your daddy is just sleeping,” said the nurse as she held a clipboard in her hands.
I tentatively stepped towards the side of the bed, sat down in the chair and looked at my dad. He did look like he was fast asleep but I didn’t like the tubes and wires and the constant beeping. Tears trickled down my rosy cheeks.
“Talk to your daddy, he may not be able to answer you, but he can hear you,” said the nurse.
Through my sobs I said, “Hi daddy, guess what? It snowed and you were right, the wind did make snow drifts.”
Copyright 2014 Helen Feriante. All Rights Reserved.