GUESTWORDS: Learning to Love Snow

By Hilary Herrick Woodward

   In 1976, Marilynn and I found ourselves together as housemates in a large, run-down Victorian just outside Boston, pursuing our careers, she as a nurse and me, a teacher. That year, she taught me to love snow.
    Marilynn was from a small town in upstate New York where cold and white winters last four to six months of the year. Growing up there, she did what people who live in snow do: play, snowshoe, and ski to get around.
    I grew up on Long Island’s East End. We got excited about snow, but it wore off rather quickly. First of all, it took us 20 minutes to pull on the thick woolen leggings, mittens, coats, hats, and scarves. To finish it off, rubber boots had to be cajoled over our shoes. Once outdoors, we could barely move in all the wool. Making snow angels and snowmen was fun, but after about 15 minutes our outerwear was sodden, heavy, and smelled like our black Lab after a swim. We begged to come inside.
    Nineteen seventy-six forged a frigid December in Beantown. My running shoes had been tossed to the back of the closet in late November. The lovely new Raleigh three-speed was stored in the vestibule next to the front door, ready for a warm spring commute to my job at the Radcliffe Child Care Center.
    One very snowy Saturday, after a long week of bundling 16 four-year-olds twice daily into and out of snowsuits, I used this perfect opportunity to hunker down inside. A bowl of fresh popcorn and hot cocoa were just the thing for a cozy morning on the couch in front of the fireplace, perusing Glamour magazine. I was still in my flannel nightgown even though it was noon. Just as my feet, warm in woolly socks, got settled on the footstool, the front door slammed and a draft was followed by heavy boots clumping up to the second-floor apartment. Marilynn appeared decked out in full snowstorm regalia — parka, snow pants, thick hat, and gloves. She was radiant, exuding fresh, freezing air so tangible I hugged my bathrobe around me. Beaming, she took in the scene.
    “What are you doing?” she demanded, her smile disappearing.
    “Uh, um, relaxing,” I replied, slightly suspicious.
    “You are not wasting this gorgeous day on the couch. You are coming cross-country skiing with me.”
    My firm protests and sensible excuses fell on deaf ears as the magazine dropped to the floor. She somehow had extra snow pants and heavy mittens, essential gear I didn’t even own. The next thing I knew, those comfy socks and feet were being stuffed into ski boots at the rental center in Harvard Square. After being fitted with skis, boots, and poles, we headed out. The local trolley carried us along Watertown Street. Everything was covered in white: sidewalks, walkways, front steps, porches, roofs, driveways, and the vacant roadway. Were we the only ones out in this storm? A longing for the couch and popcorn was cut short as Marilynn announced, “This is our stop.”
    At the entrance to the Belmont Country Club, we strapped on our skis. Marilynn demonstrated kicking off with one foot after the other and pushing against the poles to gain momentum. She threw a mischievous smile in my direction and took off. Snow whipped my face. I wrapped my wool scarf tightly against my cheeks and ears.
    Staring ahead at the great hill of whiteness, I could barely make out the clubhouse at the top, flag whipping in the wind. Marilynn was already half up. A love of exercise got me going and a competitive drive pushed me to catch right up. The snow came down hard that day, but I got warm enough to remove my outermost layer. I was sweating as we glided up and down the rolling hills. It was invigorating and beautiful to be outside all afternoon in the storm.
    We skied and tromped through the snow numerous times around New England that cold winter. Then spring came and Marilynn moved to Vermont. A few years later and back on Long Island, I met another snow lover from Boston. The first winter we dated, he taught me to appreciate an adventurous sled run. I taught him to cross-country ski. We got married. Soon after, we bought a house in Southampton with a perfect hill behind it and numerous hiking trails beyond for cross-country skiing.
    When it snows, we wake up early to get right out on the unbroken white blanket. In fact, as our friends contemplate retirement in the Sun Belt, we entertain heading north to play in the snow. Thanks, Marilynn.


    Hilary Herrick Woodward is a previous contributor of “Guestwords.”