Gospel of Snow
When it snows…
I almost forget the taste of snow; almost can’t remember the way it feels and sounds crunching underfoot; or the way snow glows at night when there is nothing around save the bright moon and an expanse of white. But I can. I can recall the slight taste of stone after eating a fistful of snow. I remember distinctly the movement of snow beneath my snow boots, the way it made a crunching sound like the sound made when pressing upon a piece of Styrofoam. The glow by day or night is quite magical to a child alone turning the landscape into moon terrain or an escarpment of Mount Kilimanjaro. My blood contains traces of snow.
I recall, walking home after delivering newspapers one crisp winter night, lumbering as if King Kong atop the craggy and momentous snow banks made when the plows came through. There were snow angels on the ground nearby. These were outlines left in the snow of what looked like angels with wings. Almost as ubiquitous were snow forts of myriad architectural and structure ingenuity. I recall the silence, my cheeks burning; I recall being alone, but not lonely. I was a beast hulking among the traces of others, snow ruins and scalene angels with broken wings or torn gowns.
At catechism, I was instructed that the communion wafer placed in my mouth was a body and that it was Jesus. The grape juice was His blood. It made no sense. It is one of the mysteries. It could not be explained. On my way home I ate some snow, thinking surely the Christ was there too, and could only taste stone. I was in a kingdom of snow, but the king was nowhere to be found. My teacher told me later the stone I tasted was the rock rolled away from the mouth of a cave when Christ escaped as a ghost.
One winter, when I was in the third grade, the schoolyard became a vast snow playground where twenty-foot high piles of snow were created by plows clearing school parking lots and sidewalks. At recess I would scamper outside in my snow suit with my classmates and play “King of The Hill,” whereby the victor was the one person standing at the top of one of those massive snow heaps having the balance and strength to remain atop amid the pushing and shoving of all the other combatants.
The zeal for snow games continued into the construction of snow forts, warrens excavated from those same snow hills the plows left behind. The forts became elaborate labyrinths of rooms and lookout points; they became bases for warring factions – of what now I seem to recall – comprised of illogical demarcations and Darwinian playground selection. Snowball fights fueled after school hours and at night stealth sorties by interlopers and invaders meant damaged forts, smashed-in rooms, and next day reconstructions. The first time it happened, shock rang through the playground. This was war! This was, however, the beauty of snow – building materials could be molded and readily found. Overall, the snow battles became so serious a campaign, after all the war in Vietnam was still a nightly talking point of television newscasters and evangelists, because that was how the world was run. Each night the tribes began setting up watches in a bid to stop damage to its fort. I pulled a shift with Pat K., a smart tomboy whose crush for me was well known. Pat K. had once sat on me and forced me to say I loved her to all within earshot. She wasn’t particularly big or strong; Pat the tomboy had boundless, insane energy she let loose in ways unique for a third grade female.
During one particular reading period, all of Ms. Carter’s third grade class on the floor in front of her as she read, Pat K. showed me the crack of her ass – and her devilish smile. I knew Pat to be a little strange. I’d been over to her house, where her mom ran a seamstress business and her father sold insurance. It was Pat’s birthday and she’d been dancing rather wildly to “Bennie and The Jets,” knocking down lamps and upending TV dinner tables with her sweaty whirling dervish spin. Her parents had to calm her down; they said Pat was a little hyperactive, the nomenclature for attention-deficit-disorder before it was coined.
One night, Pat and I sat in our fort, under the darkest of winter nights, noses running, cheeks reddening and each of us twitching from the merest of sounds that reverberated its way into our snow hovel. It was silly and cold, sitting there awaiting danger. “We could be home watching Get Smart.” Nothing happened on our watch, but the next night our representative was not so fortunate. The following night, dark forces struck, running amok over our fort, which had been dug deep into one of the massive snow hills. They smashed in doorways and covered up topside lookout ports and in the process of ransacking the fort buried our sentry.
School the next day crowds of students stood agog and buzzing like bees before our crushed fortification. Pat stood atop the snowy heap that had once been our fort and dug into its roof. She dug with great urgency until she pulled from the snow the arm of our sentry clad in a blue jacket. The schoolyard fell silent. “Look what you’ve done,” she yelled out holding out a red mitten taken from the limb found poking through the snow. The bees scattered as the school bell rang.
From that day forward, the schoolyard skirmish ground to a halt. Snow forts were abandoned. Snowballs fell silently back into the ground. Every one kept largely to themselves. As alliances broke up and grudges thawed, the victim buried alive in our fort became everyone’s next seat over classmate – a bland and featureless snow person everyone took a turn building. After school the day Pat dug our guard’s mitt from the snow hill, we returned and working together exhumed the jacket stuffed with rags Pat had buried there, from its cold, trampled, grave.
“Say you love me,” Pat K. tauntingly sang as we pulled the dummy from the crushed fort. “Say it.”
“Oh Pat, you know I do,” I said, beginning at an early age to know that love comes in many guises. I helped her carry the resurrected body home. And I can’t recall ever seeing her again. Maybe she moved away. Maybe she just disappeared like the snow.
Catholics are told “Take and eat; this is my body.” This is the whole risen Christ in the Eucharist – an inexhaustible mystery that the church can never explain in words. St. Ambrose said, “If the word of the Lord Jesus is so powerful as to bring into existence things which were not, then a fortiori those things which already exist can be changed into something else.” Another saint, Thomas Aquinas said it was possible for the wafer, the wine, to be body and blood. The Eucharist, he offers, is the “substance,” of the bread and wine which is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the “substance” of the Body and Blood of the Christ. But at the same time the “accidents” or appearances of the bread and wine remain, said St. Aquinas, meaning that what appears to be superficially bread and wine in every way in fact is now a body, now blood in the deepest sense. Christ does not say, “This bread is my body,” but, “This is my body.”
Snow was everywhere when I was growing up: on the streets at night when I played games of road hockey beneath pyramids of streetlamp light; snow blanketed all the rough edges of boulders, trees and fields; drifted, thin as paper, and stuck to my eyelashes. Snow was cold and wonderful. But now, as an adult snow has become that wondrous remembrance, but a fleeting thing – a blanket or wisp here and there, never again an all-encompassing reality.
Today, I know the Eskimos have no more names for snow that any other tribe or race of people. Today, I know that snow kills and snows create hazards for homeowners and drivers. And yet today, I know still that if I eat a fistful of it, I will taste stone and remember how magically snow appears and disappears and how it made me feel as if I was the largest animal on the face of the planet, beating my chest atop a craggy ridge of immortality – king of the hill. And how it can bury and end things bringing to a close one season while clandestinely nourishing the hope of another.
I remember Pat’s rosy cheeks. How smart she was; how misguided in her love for me; and how she pulled from a battlefield a truce, its banner the color of a red mitten, the color some bibles use to highlight the words of Christ.
Hyperactive Pat K. Wherever you are – I am because you are. When I think of snow, sometimes I think of you.
No two snowflakes alike. Say you love me. Say it.
Oh Pat, you know I do.
…And the kingdom, whose king leaves traces in the vanishing meander, amid destroyed hovels and phantom limbed angels, alone, but not lonely, are the traces I followed home after I’d delivered the evening news in the town where I grew up…
Wm. Anthony Connolly is the author of several books including The Smallest Universe to be published by TS Poetry Press. He serves on the faculty of the MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University and lives in the Midwest with his wife, Dyan, and their three dogs. His website is www.anthonyconnolly.net.