This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on Dec. 27, 2002.
I have been waiting half my life for a white Christmas. On Wednesday, I finally got one.
Bing Crosby, eat your heart out.
True, 12 of my last 15 years were spent in Florida, where the only white stuff hitting the ground was coming from the drug couriers' duffel bags.
But for years before moving to Florida, I saw no Christmas snow. And after returning north to Pennsylvania three years ago, I still saw none. The last Christmas here to have even a dusting was in 1998.
At dawn I awakened to the roar of stampeding hooves in the hallway. Either Rudolph and his team had taken a wrong turn or my kids were up.
“Daddy!” the 5-year-old shrieked. “Santa made it snow!”
"Great. Go back to bed. "
As if that was going to happen.
She yanked open the blinds. Outside stretched a vast canvas of white.
Wow. I was awake.
Being older and wiser, I knew Santa played no role at all. The real reason was that two days earlier I had finally washed the salt off my car, which pretty much guaranteed a major storm.
Different parts of the region got different amounts, anywhere from a dusting to a dumping. In my microclimate, up on suburbia's brave northern frontier, big wet flakes kept falling all day. By the time the smell of roasting turkey filled the house, 7 inches had piled up on the deck.
Everyone was bailing on holiday dinner plans. The roads were just too treacherous. May I say that we’ve all become a bunch of winter-driving wimps. Back when I was a kid, a little blizzard never stopped anyone. We’d just crank up the Model T and off we’d go, a shotgun in the back window in case we needed provisions along the way. Now, a hint of frost brings traffic to a screeching halt.
Not that I was complaining. When it comes to relatives and holidays, I'm firmly in the "less is more" camp.
My bachelor brother managed to make it in from New Jersey, bearing gifts of dirty laundry for our washing machine. We call him Uncle Buck.
As the snow piled up, my kids were so ecstatic they raced to the computer to play virtual video snowboarding.
"You guys, hello? " I said. "You can do the real thing outside, you know. "
No response. Not even a glimmer.
"Hello? Can anyone hear me? "
Am I the only father in America who comes with a mute button?
Eventually, I got their attention and got them outside — after earning my Ph.D. in snowsuit zipperology. The kids had fun playing the Let’s Stuff Ice Down Dad’s Shirt game.
The soggy snow was perfect for packing, and soon we were building a fort that could have stopped a Humvee. One by one, the kids retreated to the house for hot chocolate. Eventually it was just Uncle Buck and me. Two grown men on their knees in the snow, working away to keep the home front safe from enemy snowball attack.
When was the last time we had played in the snow together? I’m pretty sure Lyndon Johnson was still president. I looked at my brother through the falling snow and saw someone I had not seen for decades — the 12-year-old boy I had once shared a bedroom with. There was only one thing to do: Wind up and nail him with a snowball.
My neighbor Steve pulled up with his snowplow. He and his wife and kids were supposed to be driving to Lower Bucks for Christmas dinner at the in-laws'. Not in this, they decided.
We had a turkey and no one to eat with. They had wine and no one to toast with. Besides, the guy had just plowed my driveway.
So dinner it was, two families thrown together by the whimsy of a winter storm that happened to arrive on a day we call Christmas.
I whipped up my nearly famous gravy. My wife mashed a few extra potatoes. Uncle Buck spiked the eggnog. And we had an impromptu party. No expectations, no baggage, no stress.
After dinner, the kids played in the basement while the adults assembled toys. Outside, the storm had stopped, ensconcing our little world in a pure cocoon of white. Peace on Earth.
Who knows? Maybe my daughter was right. Maybe Santa did bring the snow — a simple gift of joy and tranquility to a rushed and cynical world.