The Heavy Truth of Ice and Snow
Seated on my icy throne, I stare out between the blocks of my glacial fortress at my grandfather. Shovel in hand he throws thick sheets of white over his shoulder, clearing out the long hill that he called a driveway. Drifts build up tall, enclosing the stretch all the way from the outlet onto South Butler Road to his creaky, wooden porch.
My dogs Sadie and Sugar Bear run circles around him, fighting each other eagerly to swallow up the next sheet of powder that seems to flow off of the tip of his shovel. Ignoring them he powers through, getting the entire driveway cleared in about 20 minutes without stopping.
This was his time. No matter what I did, I couldn’t distract him from his diligent work. I would curse, throw snowballs, and chase him around. The winter was just an extension of our ever lengthy escapades—traversing the woods, building forts, and shooting bows. But, when my grandfather cleared out the driveway, he was in his own world. He would curse back at me, laugh as I pelted him with snowballs, but all in all it was like I wasn’t even there. He just continued to do his work.
My grandfather has always been kind of face-forward against the rest of the world, though he would be the last to admit it. One of eleven kids in the Jones family, he was raised much like any kid in Madison, NY— on a large farm. An avid outdoorsman, he still frequently makes trips into the woods almost daily, sporting his digital camera. After fighting in Vietnam, my grandfather has spent the remainder of his life working various skill-oriented jobs. He has worked in masonry, chimney building, and microchip welding. He was part of the group working for Ronnie Wright in the 80’s that built the majority of Sangertown Square Mall in New Hartford, NY. In the 60’s we worked as a maintenance man for one of Colgate University’s fraternities.
To say that he has always held down a solid job would be a lie. My mother recalls periods were the family subsisted off of nothing but corn, venison, and pancake mix for entire winters. He always found a way to provide, even against the odds.
Walking out into the blistering cold this past winter, I brandished a shovel and grumbled at the expansive driveway stretching out in front of my parent’s home in Bouckville, NY. I was stuck here for winter break while the rest of my family was enjoying the sun in Florida for my brother’s Disney trip. His chorus group had been invited to play Disney after winning some contest. Great for them, I thought to myself walking out to the driveway. I started shoveling and almost instantly regretted it.
“I don’t need to go get groceries today,” I said to my dog, Maggie, as she chased snow drifts at the top of the driveway. “I’ll just come out and do this tomorrow.” She looked back at me, anxious. I can’t stand this dog. She was always chewing holes in everything, always looking at me like she just didn’t know what was going on. Her ignorance even for a canine was confounding.
I push through and try to start again, not sure where to insert my shovel first into the foot or so of snow that covered the gravel. “Do I start at the bottom, or the top?” I said to her as she continued to ignore me. I threw a snowball down the sloping hill and watched as Maggie and my other dog Lambert shot down the slope like bullets. It did nothing more than reinforce my apprehension. The driveway presented itself as a vicious challenge—it spreads about 40 feet out from the house and veers to the right, sloping and careening downhill to the road that is another 200 feet or so from the hill’s crest.
Finally, I put my earbuds in and threw on Portugal, the Man’s 2009 album, “The Satanic Satanist”. As the first track rolled through, the work started easing. I was powering through the top tier of my sweeping driveway, all that was left was the hill. I choked as I thought of the hill. Then, “Work All Day” came on as I was making my descent and the line “work all day, keep the rhythm through the night; work all night, keep the rhythm through the day. Got no soul that’s fine, alright” hit me like a sack of bricks. The assembly line, rant-like quality of the lyrics and music drove home a point that until this moment I had never really considered: maybe Danny Jones shoveled to work through it all; he plowed his driveway by hand to help relieve himself from his menial jobs and lifestyle.
The stresses of school and work seemed to melt off me despite the 10 degree day on Crow Hill, here stranded in no man’s land while friends and peers spent their winter break in tropical locations taking in the sun and the sand. I came to realize that the best way to work it all out is to set your mind on another almost tediously mindless task. I wasn’t the one missing out, they were. Shoveling freed my soul from the torment of solitude and the stresses of my senior year, and like my grandfather before me I enjoyed every minute of it.