To best understand the rules of shoveling snow with an older brother, go to your parents garage.
Pick out the newest, widest shovel. Then forget that it even exists. It belongs to your older brother. He called it when you were fighting with Dad over having to shovel snow. You have to use the old, rusty digging shovel with curled edges. It still has dirt on it from last fall when you dug holes so he could plant tulip bulbs without exerting too much effort.
With shovel in hand, pan the snow-covered driveway for a minute or two. Assess the situation. Develop a game plan. But don’t stand still for too long. You’ll lose all feeling if you’re not careful.
Within five minutes an arctic blast will needle every inch of your tender raw face. Your eye lashes will freeze together when the frigid, moist air comes into contact with them. They will have to be opened manually with a wet mitten so you can see where you are going. Your nose stops running after your mucus realizes that it is much warmer to just stay inside.
By now you are admitting to yourself that you stood still for too long. Your older brother built quite a distance between you and him while you were devising that plan of yours.
You pound your mittens together hoping to regain sensation in your fingers. You hop in place for a couple of seconds. You try not to let your brother get the best of you. Even though all of the snow he shovels gets tossed to your side of the driveway.
“Dad said we’re supposed to split the driveway down the middle!” you cry.
But it’s no use. He can’t hear you with the sound of his state-of-the-art snow shovel scratching the surface of the cement, something no one has seen or walked on in over two months.
When he finishes his side of the driveway he hands you the prized shovel which you eagerly use to tunnel your way out of the embankment he just created. He retires to the warmth and serenity of Mom’s kitchen. His clothes get washed and dried. Outside, night draws nearer.
The lifeless air of winter tightens its grip on your extremities. You hear tat-tat-tat coming from a window of your parents house. You try in earnest to lift your head to see where that sound is coming from, but the snow on your hat weighs you down. The young and feeble muscles that comprise your neck region strain until you shake and quiver.
Your legs wobble. If you lean your head back too much you risk the danger of falling face up. You begin to imagine some of the worst things that could happen to you. Like in twenty minutes how you would be buried in 12 inches of lake effect snow. No mourners would be able to find you, or your brother’s state-of-the-art shovel, until spring.
Tat-tat-tat. There it is again. You let go of the state-of-the-art shovel and let it fall to your side. With one of your balled-up fists that is hidden inside one of your stiff wet mittens you manage to knock four or five inches of snow off your hat.
Your eyes focus on the window where you think the sound is coming from. What was an ordinary pane is now a display (a-la a storefront window of Higbee’s downtown) of the warm indoors. His face pressed against the glass, your older brother is smiling and sipping hot cocoa. Behind him steam rises from cast iron radiators and crackling logs burn in a fireplace.
He raises his cup. You return his toast by giving him the middle finger. Then you remember your finger is still balled-up and hidden inside your stiff wet mitten.
You manage to pry your cold purple talons from your stiff wet mittens. Carefully, you bend your innocent ones with the help of your other hand. And there it is. The biggest, most frost-bitten finger you have ever given your older brother. Only your older brother is no longer standing in the window. Your father is.
Dad comes tearing out of the house, slamming the door behind him, causing icicles to crash all around. But his wingtips are no match for these elements. He slips and slides the entire length of the drive, past you, to the street where he falls. Trying desperately to get back on his feet, he falls one more time. The son, agape, mouth wide open, watches his father who resembles a penguin on ice.
A string of curse words much worse than giving someone the middle finger is heard coming from Dad’s mouth at the foot of the drive. Finally, he makes his way to you on both feet. Coated in snow and reeling in embarrassment he grabs you by the neck, nearly knocking the both of you over.
“Where in the hell did you learn that obscene gesture?”
You want to answer but the chokehold he has on you makes it impossible for you to muster the very words that might pay your older brother back for getting you in this mess. He relinquishes his hold and waits for an answer.
“My older brother taught me everything I know,” you blurt out.
A day later you’re both grounded to the bedroom you share. For a while you find something else to do together. Talking about spring training and the Cleveland Indians is a good way to bury the hatchet.
Then you play Toss-Across for a couple of rounds before one of you decides to whip a bean bag at the other!
Illustration credit: “Heart of Matoaca” – an original watercolor by Ivan W. Perkinson. Offered exclusively during the 1993 Christmas Season by The Matoaca Woman’s Club. Produced and distributed by: P.J. Murray Publishing Company, Chesterfield VA. Printed in the USA by Color Images, Lawrenceville VA