In spring little girls come out, just like the rest of the fresh things after winter…
Winter is when our mothers bundle us up so tightly with extra pounds of clothes you feel like a robot and you can’t see very well when you look to the sides. Sometimes it is your turn to wear a brand new hand-me-down coat. This means that the coat has been worn by one or two other people already but now is your time to wear it and it is usually just a pinch too big. We have to wear scarves and big smushy hats and mittens and boots. If you are a girl you have to wear wool tights and sometimes, if you have on a skirt, you have to wear an extra pair of pants, underneath. You had better get to school on time because it takes longer than you think to take off all these clothes, hang them on the little hook in your locker, put your shoes on, and be in your seat by the time the bell rings. Even if Mrs. Mitchell sees you struggling with all your extra pounds of clothes in the hallway she will close the door on you when the class bell rings. So don’t be late!
Another thing is that our mothers give us big doses of gooey cod liver oil in order to keep us from getting colds. Why does it help to do that? Is it because it tastes so icky? We also eat hot cereal for breakfast every, every day. Our mothers love to say: “You children need to have something warm on your stomach when it’s cold outside.” Our mothers and teachers say this one hundred times per week every winter.
The best part of winter is the first time you smell the air is changing. It clamps onto your nose like fingernail clippers, and then bright, stinging air shoots up into your brain and makes your eyes water. It’s like an alarm that goes “Bbbrrrinnnng! It’s winter time!” When the first snow falls we just want to run and scream all the way down the street without stopping. The snow is clean and cold and soft and good. Something different from the smoky, crispy feeling you get inside you in the fall, in the city. We don’t care if there is no sun shining. If it is cold outside, it gives you a feeling of surprise, like maybe something new is going to happen. Then, right when you feel the most excited, kkhhpaap!—an icy bomb explodes on your neck. It hurts!
My friend Deidre shouts “We’re gonna get you boys!” And then the winter games are really on. Us girls—Tracy and Roslyn, too—throw down our book bags, grit our teeth, eat snow, and snort-up the snot dripping in our noses. We are going to make the biggest, roundest, hardest snow balls and hit those boys good. And I mean good.
Boys don’t care about anything. They run all over the place in zig-zags. They lurch and skid everywhere. They don’t even care if their scarf falls off or they get snow in their pants! I scream like a lady in a horror movie when one of them digs a tunnel down my back and smashes some snow inside my shirt. After a while it doesn’t matter, anymore, because we are all wet and laughing and shrieking. Now we have a goal to use up as much fresh fallen snow as possible. We have to lay in it and make angels. We have to make trails of boot prints in it. We will not go indoors before we are dizzy and exhausted. We have to be “a wet mess!” like my mother says.
“I think my toes have frostbite!” one of us will proudly announce when we fall through the front door of the house at sundown.
“Yeah, mines do too!”
That’s how it is at the beginning of the season.
But later on we get tired of it. We don’t want it, anymore. My tights itch. Every day my boots are damp, no matter what. I have lost one of my mittens and so I am always trying to keep one naked hand stuffed in my pocket and my mittened hand has to do all the work. I am sick of the boys. In class I look out the window and wish the sun would come out. Mrs. Mitchell claps her hands to get my attention. “No daydreaming!” she roars.
I wonder where the squirrels are jumping to? Why do they hop on a tree limb and then look around with jerky movements and then choose another branch to sit on? Why do they go so, so fast? Another thing I like to think about is when I grow up and become a lady. Will I be pretty and smell like good perfume? I will probably have to kiss my husband when I come back from outer space because I am going to be a lady astronaut. And also, I will write books.
I like to daydream about maybe when we get home from school, today, we won’t have to do any homework. We won’t have to help cook rice and meat and vegetables for dinner. Instead, I dream my mother will make us cheese toast and tomato soup and hot chocolate and afterward we can pile up on the couch together under blankets and watch a scary movie. I am dreaming maybe when I wake up tomorrow it will be spring.
This is the photograph that inspired me to write the “Little Leslie” story, “Winter c. 1971” in 2006. Once, when my own father was visiting me, he took this photo/postcard from my bookshelf, peered at it, then asked “Is that you?”