Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Once Upon a Time I Loved the Snow

The bitter cold and below zero temperatures last week brought back so many memories for me. It’s a little ironic that they’re really good memories, considering how much I hate the cold, but what can I say? I take the bright spots where I can get them these days.

Jenny was one of my two best friends in elementary school. She lived on Silver Tree Lane. I love that name. Her mom was a teacher and very petite. She had dark hair, styled like Dorothy Hamill’s, and very little feet. I think they were a size 5. She wore heels all the time (wedges and espadrilles that have since come back in fashion) and we would raid her closet and stumble around in her tiny heels whenever she wasn’t home. Her parents were divorced but seemed to get along really well. Her mom drove a VW bug that took us to the beach many times over several summers. She also had a boyfriend who drove an old BMW. One of those tiny, little boxy ones. (I don't know what it means that I remember their cars so well, I just do.) His name was something like Dale and he was tall and dorky and we laughed at him behind his back.

Jenny’s dad had remarried and his wife’s name was Gretchen. Gretchen’s mother was quite old and very German. I met her once or twice and she was lovely but I never understood a word she said through her thick accent. Jenny’s dad and Gretchen owned a cabin in Wrightwood, a little town tucked in the mountains high over Los Angeles. It was a second home for them but the only home of theirs that I ever visited and it remains one of my favorite places in the world.

During the summery months we’d go to the cabin and swim in the lake. I would go back to school after a weekend at the lake proudly showing off my sunburned shoulders. It was warm and beautiful and the closest I ever got to anything resembling summer camp.

However, it was the winters at the cabin that I fell in love with. Growing up in Southern California, especially as a child, snow was a treat. It often snowed in Wrightwood during the winter, being a mountain resort town. And the cabin really was more of a cabin than a house, although chalet may be a more appropriate description. There was a small, wood-paneled kitchen with a bedroom behind it that Jenny shared with her brother when I wasn’t there. The living room had a single couch, a chair and a small fireplace. Her parents slept in the loft upstairs.

We spent our days sledding on anything we could find – trash can lids, pieces of cardboard, our coats. If it was cold enough for the lake to freeze, we’d “ice skate” around the edges, knowing the middle would never freeze solidly enough. We wandered the streets admiring the Christmas decorations put up by the more permanent residents. Once we’d had enough of frozen toes and noses we’d return to the cabin to find Gretchen waiting for us with hot chocolate or buttered noodles.

At night, we slept on the pull-out couch in the living room next to the warm fire, covered by pounds of down comforters. Having to leave that warmth to go to the bathroom in the freeze during the middle of the night was like a dare and we did it as quickly as we possibly could. We’d stay up late into the night whispering and giggling under the covers, being silly as only young girls can and are. Our favorite show to watch was The Twilight Zone and her dad would bring us movies when he went into town for groceries. One of my very favorite movies is The Elephant Man. I can’t decide if this is because the movie is really that good or because I watched it snuggled under layers of feathers with my best friend, alternately horrified and delighted at the grotesque images of a deformed man.

I haven’t heard from Jenny since my first year or two of college, we lost contact after that. I miss her and think of her often. The internet is supposed to be the great reuniter of everyone on the planet but so far it hasn’t worked for me. Google refuses to reveal her whereabouts to me.

Living with cold and snow is vastly different from visiting it. I now curse the cold for freezing my doors shut, drying my skin until it cracks and keeping me holed up in whatever warm places I do manage to find. But now and then I get a glimpse or a reminder of those weekends at the cabin and the joy that the snow and frost brought me. These are memories that I will treasure always and maybe someday Jenny and I will laugh about them again over a cup of hot chocolate.


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