Around the end of November, around my dad’s birthday, the cloudy late-fall sky over Kelowna would start to look like dirty cotton wool. The pregnant clouds seemed to roil. My mom would get a strange sinus headache, and I would get excited with anticipation, knowing that snow was only a day or so away. My habit was to peek out from our living room picture window and stare at the closest street light. It might take several peeks, but sooner or later I’d see the first flakes drifting down in the sodium-orange glow.
Streetlight & Snow 3 by Brian [Flickr]
Early the next morning I’d wake up to a strange gonging sound, as my mom or dad would be up, sweeping aside the soft white powder from our front walk and steps, banging into the iron railing of our front porch: clong….clong…clong. It may not have been much to start, but by mid-December and the run up to Christmas we always seemed to have a foot or more of snow. In the early ’70s I recall that, when my parents, sister and I (with my half-help as a 3-year old) cleared our driveway, the white sides towered at least as tall as me, 3 or 4 feet. And no sooner had we shoveled out our relatively short driveway, the grader contracted to clear our neighborhood would barrel down our street, blocking our entrance with snow again, setting my dad cursing away and sputtering into his pipe…
I loved the snow, as there was a “park” just behind our neighbors across the street where an access alleyway up to the next level in Rutland formed a most excellent small hill for tobogganing. Park is perhaps too grand a term, as it was simply some unallocated lot beside the local water treatment plant, where some kindly grownups had assembled some rough-hewn swings and teeter-totters so the neighborhood kids could gather and play. But in the winter, this was the neighborhood Mecca of sledding, tobogganing, or the latest fad of “crazy-carpeting”. The latter was my personal favorite, as I would lie on my stomach on this simple piece of plastic and rocket down that hill with my nose just inches off the ground, which raced in a blur beneath me. After 1977, I pretended I was Luke Skywalker rocketing through the trench of a snowy death star…
The hill in “The Park” ca 1972-3 [L.E. Beardsell]
Later, as daylight faded, as other kids trickled home and I would find myself alone in the soft blue dusk, the snow muffling the late Sunday afternoon far around me, the feeling would find me. Flush with a couple of hours of rigorous play, I would often lie quietly in the snow looking up at the nature of the park and the blue velvet sky with a sense of anticipation. The base of my spine and pit of my stomach would tingle as a sense of awe crept over me, agape at the beauty of the world and the wonder of it all. The wonder of how we can feel small and insignificant while at the same time integral to something huge and important. And always before my young brain could quite grasp the meaning of this feeling, it slipped away with a tiny shiver of warmth bequeathing something small to my small soul. A memory.
The wonder of being seven or eight.
I would then walk the short distance through the alley and immediately see my house across the snowy street. From within, the orange glow of a small lamp that my mom kept on the mantel welcomed me home to a comfortable warm harbor amidst the gloom.
Not actually Kelowna, but “Sunrise Calgary” by John Andersen [Flickr]
This sort of calm was harder to come by in the build up to Christmas, with its family shopping trips to downtown Kelowna stores like Fumerton’s and Mosaic Books or to the big new mall of Orchard Park, anchored by the Bay at one end and Sears at the other. As many a child of the period, my letters to Santa were dominated by a list of items that helpfully included the catalog numbers straight from the Sears Wishbook. My mom would spend evenings, starting in November, writing Christmas card after Christmas card and the reciprocal bounty would start flooding in over December, lining our bookshelves and mantelpiece, and when that space ran out, stringed across the fireplace bricks. There were the ballet recitals of my sister (when I was really small) and Christmas concerts at school, and always something to do and somewhere to go. We would buy our tree around mid-December, and I loved the way the scent of pine would fill our house. My job from age 4 through 18 was to screw in all the lights into the numerous strings: yellow-blue-green-red, yellow-blue-green-red….
After Christmas, the snow and the winter never seemed quite as novel, not as mysterious in its ability to cast the familiar into new scenery blanketed in white. By late January and into February, the white banks of snowy streets would become stained brown from sanding trucks and black from car exhaust. The days would start to blend into a contiguous mass of grey, the weather of the Okanagan Valley dull and closed in by low-hanging cloud that formed a lid atop the surrounding hills. You could not really notice that the days were starting to be lighter again, especially when the mornings before school were so dark.
Then, one day in late February, you would hear rain falling on our sundeck roof, splashing and tinkling; a premonition of another season.
Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC circa 1960 [L.E. Beardsell]