The first Fall chill hit just weeks ago followed shortly thereafter by the inaugural snowstorm of the season. I have always treasured the first snow, and in seeing this year's, I realized that I had no real memory of last year's. Breaking local tradition, the first snow this year came before Halloween, passing through a week or so early and allowing the trick-or-treaters to conduct their business with fabulous costumes unencumbered by the dreaded winter coats. Halloween was mild, and even today it is a downright San Diego-esque 76 degrees with the sun bright and sharp, slicing through the perfect blue sky. It does not fool me, though. I am a Colorado native, and I know the sneakiness that comes with Winter in Rockies. I know the feeling of falling asleep after a day spent golfing or hiking in the warm sun only to wake suddenly during the night to hear it, the turmoil outside as something new blows in on a strong wind. It is only the next morning when I come to in a different world, one blanketed in white, that I realize it wasn't a dream, that I was truly awake, albeit it for a fleeting moment, an aural witness to the brewing storm.
If I had possessed the wherewithal in those dark and early morning moments to go to the window, I am sure I would have seen the snow beginning its descent on the sleeping Denver streets, sneaking in when no one is paying attention, executing its plan of attack in silky silence. But in my sleep-starved state, I typically roll over, and wake in the morning to the smell. I swear there is a smell. Or maybe it is not a smell, but a feeling, the combination of the slight chill of my nose, and the low hum of the warm, dusty air rolling out of the vents, and the strange innate understanding that, outside the house, someone has carelessly depressed Mother Nature's mute button and forgotten to release it. There is nothing like that feeling, and everyone from Colorado knows it well.
I didn't realize it then, but I missed Winter last year. Yes, there were the silent overnight snowstorms and the sight of my excited dog plowing nose trails through the yard, whiskers and lashes coated with flakes each time he came up for air. Winter was definitely here last year, but I barely remember it. I remember skiing exactly twice, the second time resulting in a horrible fall, a torn MCL, and the remainder of the season spent snuggled down reading while all of my friends frolicked their weekends away on the slopes. I have a few Christmas gifts to show from last year, too, a book I truly love, and a sweater I wear frequently. The specifics are there, but the larger picture is a blur. It is a section of my memory, a piece of the continuum that both flew by and dragged on at the same time, and it left a scar. I'm sure that this scar will fade, in fact, it has already faded some, but it seems, if this year is any indication, that it will sting a little each year as Fall passes into Winter.
Last September, my mother was killed in a car accident. She was 53. I am, or was, her spitting image; strangers were always commenting on the similarity in our looks, friends always mentioning the way our voices were indiscernible over the phone. At age 30, right before the accident, I had even started to find myself saying her grown-up mom-isms and acting in her grown-up ways; the words would escape my lips and then my eyes would roll with the dread that every girl feels when she is faced with the realization that she is turning into her mother. Now, though, I do not dread it so much.
My mom was one of those moms who celebrated each season with decor and food and silly traditions. I forced myself last year to attempt the traditions that my mother had instilled in us as so important, but instead I was tormented by grief and anger and a brokenheartedness that can only be described as debilitating. I started to bake the things we had always baked, but ended up in a helpless ball of tears on the kitchen floor as soon as the smell of my mother's Rum Ball recipe hit my nose. I put up my Christmas tree, and then stared at it pointlessly and for hours at a time, the lights turning to blurry stars as my eyes welled over. I couldn't bear to shop for the traditional "ornament of the year"; 2006 will forever be without one on my tree, the year that was simply missed. When a blizzard shut the city down, I was mistakenly halfway through dialing her phone number before I realized that she would not be around to talk the wasted day away.
This year, I think things will be better. I can feel it. What I have realized in the past few months that had evaded me before is that I am resilient and that I can make it. I have learned to laugh again at the things my mother would have thought funny too, and I have learned that her traditions, so many for each season, are actually gifts and not tortuous memories. So this Winter, I am looking forward to what is ahead. I have accepted that the Rum Balls will always have the tiniest amount of bitterness from now on. There will be no more snow day marathon phone calls, and I will always ache just a little bit at Christmastime. However, I am ready to face those things because they come along with a happy snow-dog carving trails in the yard, and a Sunday morning cup of coffee enjoyed while staring out the window at the clean, crisp, white world, and a ride up the ski lift above the wintery planet, with a knee and a heart that are still a little sore, but healing.