when it snows in portland

People say, “C’mon, this is nothing! You grew up in Boston!” and I tell them, duh, I left Boston for a reason, the weather being one of them.

I hated the layers and layers it took for me to leave my home. I hated the icy “walk” to the T. I hated being crushed-in with commuter sardines. Freeze/Sweat, Freeze/Sweat on my way to work. On my way anywhere, really.

Our furnace broke for five consecutive winters in Portland. Plumes of breath in our living room. Hatted and gloved, shivering bitter. My body remembers. Then my in-laws gifted us with a brand new furnace and for the last two winters the glorious thing has run steady and true. Every time it kicks on, it’s a loud one too, a tiny burst of thanks warms my veins. Because without the right furnace, coat, shoes, whatever, cold is no fun. That’s why I buy fleece blankets for the homeless. That’s why sometimes I still shiver when it’s warm.

But, holy zamboni, do my children loooove snow. They love it so much they roll around in it. They red their cheeks and freeze their fingers off. They tumble into the house, scatter their wet clothes over heat vents, half-thaw themselves, and race back out to do it all over again. It’s flat out cray cray ba nay nay if you ask me. Me, sitting in the front window with my Uggs, a blanket, and three hoodies.

Our city has decorated itself not only with snowmen, women, and children, but with non binary snow persons, with snow bears, mermaids, and centaurs. There’s even a snow robot family out there somewhere. So in spite of the occasional winter storm and my all-the-time struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I do love it here. I love that my kids are growing up here.

A couple of days ago my three youngest children ventured out with a metal garden shovel and our one cheap plastic snow shovel (an under-rated yet highly useful purchase). They shoveled the stairs and walkways of neighbors. I said they shouldn’t charge any senior citizens and found out later they’d considered asking, “Are you a senior citizen?” but chose instead to just take the cash.

My youngest said, “There might have been one senior citizen, Mom.”

“How old ?”

“Um… like… 52.”

“Shawn is 54,” I said.

“Oh. Then the guy was maybe 57. Or 62.”

Due to weather and holidays, in the last two months the public school children of Portland have been in school thirteen days. Portland has no infrastructure for dealing with snow even though for the nearly sixteen years I’ve lived here weather has shut the city down every single winter.

Lately, I’ll have my kids write stories just so they can practice holding pencils and forming sentences. I have them practice math too, but my math skills are so poor the exercise always ends with my saying, “Are you sure? Please check your work again.” I’m bluffing. I have no idea what the answers might be. My twelve year old wrote a piece about shoveling with her brothers. I have her permission to post it. I wanted the essay to stand pure, but I had to correct a bit of grammar and reformat it slightly for clarity sake (and also because I’m me). But mostly, it’s as written…

Wednesday the 11th 2017
I woke up knowing there was no school because of the snow. It almost snowed a foot! Me and Teo and Desmond stepped outside. A cold breeze blew by. It felt good on my face. Teo decided that we should have a snowball fight. He threw a snowball at my face and the cold burned as I tried to get him back, but I missed. We wanted to earn some money. We decided to shovel people’s driveways for five dollars. We got the shovels and knocked on Michael and Eric’s door first. As we waited I could hear Desmond breathing really heavily. Michael opened the door, we asked if we could shovel a path. He said how much. We said five dollars. Michael said,”It’s a deal.” We got to work. I felt a hot burning in my body. It did not stop my from shoveling the heavy snow. After about ten minutes of working Michael came out and gave us five dollars. I took it from him and said thank you then gave the money to Teo because he had zip up pockets. We finished and knocked on the house next to Zachary’s old house. An older gentleman answered the door.
He said, “What do you want?”
Teo said, “Can we shovel your stairs?”
“How much?” he said immediately.
I said, “five dollars.”
He said really fast after that, “Do it.”
We got to it. He walked out like three minutes later and said, “Here.” He handed us five dollars then he said, “And here’s some snow” then he took some snow off the railing and threw it into Teo’s face. It felt really weird. Teo had to take off his gloves to get the snow that was falling into his shirt. We were just about done and the same man came out and said, “I will give you another five dollars if you shovel my neighbor over there, OK?” He gave me the money. It was in quarters. I put it in Desmond’s pocket because Teo had headed home for his break. One girl said, “Oh good, I don’t even have a shovel.” Teo came back fifteen minutes later and then we all took turns for a break and for shoveling. Business was over for that day.


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