Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

When I was little, and when I say little, I mean four or five, snow was serious business. Unlike today, when we know in advance how much snow we are going to get and when, the storm 0f March, 1958 came as a surprise. The forecasters had called for flurries, but some places (like Morgantown) had 50 inches of fresh snow. The high winds were responsible for drifts as high as two stories. In addition to closing roads, the storm brought down power lines, and it took several days for the emergency workers to restore some semblance of normal to our lives.

Our house in Caln township saw snow so deep that my father had to dig a tunnel from the cellar door to get to the back yard. We still had a coal stove to heat the house, so at least we were warm, but the neighbors who had converted to oil heat were freezing. My parents invited everyone to stay with us while the power was out, so it was like a jumbo pajama party, with adults and children sleeping all over the house.

My great-grandmother was still alive then. A snowstorm of this magnitude was occasion for her to make vanilla snow. Pennsylvania's winter weather never seemed to bother her, even though growing up in a small village between Rome and Naples, she had never experienced snow and ice when she was a child. She showed her ingenuity during the storm. She gathered fresh, fluffy snow in a big ceramic bowl, added vanilla extract, and gave me a big bowl. I'm sure she told me, "Mangia, mangia, picollina." I had to eat it right away because this treat had no shelf life whatsoever. I remember it being sweet and cold and delicious.

When my own children were little, I wanted to treat them to vanilla snow. It had to be the right consistency, fluffy and fresh. Vanilla alone didn't seem to do the trick, so I bought a bottle of Toroni vanilla syrup in anticipation of the perfect snow. Finally the day came that the stars were in alignment. The snow was fluffy, and there was no time for any critters to spoil it. The kids were home from school, and I didn't have to work. It was afternoon, time for a treat, so I ran out into the storm. I packed big scoops of snow lightly into a ceramic mixing bowl, rushed inside, added the syrup, and served it to the kids. They weren't quite sure what to make of my insistence that they eat it quickly before it melted.

I closed my eyes and put a spoon into the vanilla snow, expecting to savor a taste of childhood. Of course, it wasn't the same. It wasn't creamy or sweet. The syrup formed rough lumps, and any attempt to mix it turned the snow to water. We dumped the melting, lumpy snow into the sink, and the kids could see my disappointment.

We all went outside to build a snowman, and when their cheeks were red and noses were runny, we trouped back indoors, shrugged off snow pants and parkas and mittens and hats and scarves and boots. I put on a pot of cocoa, and we watched the snow continue to fall as we sipped our cocoa and nibbled on graham crackers. They won't have vanilla snow to remember, but they will remember going sledding with their cousins at Nonna and PopPop's house, building snow forts, and hosting monumental snowball fights with their friends. And I hope those memories will bring smiles whenever snow flakes start to fall.

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