So before bed, I stand, not kneel, in the slim space between the solid, white front door and the storm door, rattling with the wind. My breath fogs the frigid panes as I appeal—for the very first time—not to the rote God of Now I Lay me Down to Sleep, but to the highest authority, far above the blackest winter sky, to the one who can hear a child’s heart without words, wishing, hoping, begging for the world to be made right by a thick blanket of powder by morning.
I’ve wanted skis since first grade when Christine Withers invited me to Hickory Hill with her family. I’ve been invited again and again by other classmates to Stratton, Bromley, Gore, even Mt. Snow that Marie Gardner says has a heated pool. But my parents are from the South. They don’t know about renting skis, about lessons, about anything, so I’m never allowed to go. I’ve taken the bus downtown with Marie and wandered through Goldstocks Sporting Goods, pushing through aisles of puffy parkas, big-eyed goggles, and tassel caps. I’ve ogled row upon row of the latest metal skis like Heads and Harts, but I would take anything that can schuss down a hill.
I even checked a book out of the school library. It was fully illustrated with black and white pictures of kids my age demonstrating snow plows and stem Christies. But neither the arrows on the page nor the captions below were enough. My dream is to wedel through a cloud of untouched powder like Marie’s dad in an 8 millimeter home movie of their family on Mt. Fujiyama while he was stationed by the Air Force in Japan.
What more can I do than leave my milk and cookies, as usual, and wait for a miracle.
Before daylight I awake and ease into my blue dust bunny slippers. I throw on my quilted forget-me-not robe and sneak down the stairs. Around the corner, the living room glows in the soft light of the Christmas tree. Standing on the threshold, for just a moment, I take in the sight of black wooden skis propped against the mantle. Beside the fireplace tongs stand two aluminum poles with black rubber handles. Set on the hearth, beside my bulging green felt stocking, is a box wrapped in red Santa Claus paper.
I kneel before the skis and open the box. Just as I’d hoped, black leather boots with red laces. I pull out the contents of my stocking: rag wool socks, black leather mittens, candy canes, a Rudolph- the- Red- Nosed- Reindeer Pez dispenser, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and my orange.
I pull on the socks, lace up the boots, set the skis on the floor, and place my right toe under the front of the binding. I pull the springy cable around the back of my boot and duplicate on the left. I slide my hands into the mittens, wrap the ski pole strap around my wrist, like I saw in the book, and ski across the carpet towards the Christmas tree. That’s when I see it. Out the picture window. The white. The flakes falling almost imperceptibly against a leaden sky. Wall to wall white, covering the whole woodsy backyard. A good six inches. Enough to take my skis to the municipal golf course and try them out. Yeah!!!
My parents find me and my brother peeling our oranges, amidst my brother’s stocking loot: a Frosty-the-Snowman Pez dispenser, candy canes, a toothbrush, tooth paste, and several boxes of BB’s for the BB gun I hardly noticed propped on the other side of the hearth.
After breakfast, after picking up my Grandmother, and opening the rest of the presents, including a blue and white ski sweater, and stretchy black ski pants, I am chaffing at the bit to call Helen Thompson who lives on the corner to see if she will teach me how to ski.
It’s two o’clock by the time Helen can come over and show me and my dad how to strap my skis together with special rubber clips and sling them over my left shoulder while carrying my poles with my right hand. The neighborhood has been plowed, so while my brother and dad pop BB’s into a target nailed where the squirrels try to raid the bird feeder, I follow Helen two blocks up to Village Road in my stiff ski boots. It’s one more block over before we can cross busy Balltown Road to the virgin hills of the golf course.
Cautiously, I push off the first precipice and try to snow plow like Helen at the bottom. Of course I fall, but it’s easy to climb back up the hill using the herring bone step she shows me. With increasing confidence, I try planting my pole for a stem Christie, shift my weight, like Helen, and discover I am turning. Up and down, up and down, I am figuring it out until Helen checks the Timex she got from her grandmother and announces it’s almost four, the time she has to be home. But I’m not ready to go.
Alone, in the flat light, I glide further and further into the course until mine are the only tracks on acres of pristine snow—as if it’s all for me.
It’s still coming down when I tumble through a spray of powder with my most magnificent fall. I land unscathed on a crystalline pillow, and for just a moment, lay spread eagled under the vast white sky. My mouth opens as if to speak, and I let the glittering shards melt on my tongue. They cling to my eye lashes and flush my cheeks with cold.
In the distance, through the birch and hemlock on the edge of the road, I see a string of tiny headlights. It’s time to go home. But how can I leave this magic, the sacred thrill of first contact with a living God who listens even to the selfish prayers of a fifth grader, a God who knows that even skis without snow are worthless, A God who alone can sprinkle the earth with his glory.
At ten, going on eleven, I can’t express any of this. I simply unfasten the safety straps to my tangled skis and sweep my unfettered arms and legs in the shape of an angel.