January 12, 2011

Where Sleigh Bells Ring.

I lie in my driveway and wave my arms and legs. Harry, my 11 month old border collie, jumps on top of me, mouth open, tongue hanging out, smiling.  He steals my hat and runs.  I give up my snow angel and try to get it back.

“Mom!” my son calls. “Pretend you are the bad guy and I am a superhero destroying your icy lair.”  He stands atop a six-foot drift that the plow left behind.

I smell the fire my husband built in the kitchen hearth. My face feels cold. “Lets take our picture, head in, and eat cupcakes,” I tell him. The lure of sprinkled covered, vanilla icing trumps his superhero game.

His Dad comes out carrying a camera and our 12-week-old puppy, Tom. We endeavor to get our son and dogs to pose in front of our newly built snowman. Little Tom sinks into the drift. His black fur is coated with ice. I scoop him up, hold him and smile into the camera.

My boy and I build a snowman after every snowstorm. Then we eat cupcakes. It’s our little tradition that I offer up to my father.

He was a funny, complex, generous man, who put his family first. Next month marks the tenth year of his passing.  This post is for him. It is a powerful example of Chakra Five and the way moments from the heart have a far reaching effect on our lives.

A grandson of Mr. Carrot Nose with my son and dog Natick

The letter read:

“Dear Boo,

Your father called me last night and told me there was a problem.  He mentioned that you have a snowman friend that was melting away in warm weather and asked if I could help. I owe your Dad a favor or two so I sent some of my elves down to rescue Mr. Carrot Nose.  We invited him here to the North Pole where it never gets too warm for snowmen.  Here they live forever.  I am sure he and Frosty will be good friends.

Keep being good!


I don’t know what I remember for sure. It seems memories are pieced together with photographs and other people’s stories.  We cling to what we need to be true and not necessarily what is true. But I have my letter and with it I can imagine my father sitting at the green, formica, kitchen table writing. I see him out on the front lawn in the middle of the night leveling that snowman.  He ran his company all day, waited for his children to fall asleep then disassembled Mr. Carrot Nose so that his little girl would stop crying. He dug out a circle where my snowman’s round bottom sat.  I like to remember that there were tiny elf footprints and a trail that led to the magic sled, and that somewhere in my dreams that night I heard sleigh bells.

Late March is not a time when you get storms but we woke up that morning to find inches upon inches of snow in the yard. It was the biggest blizzard I had ever experienced.  I was five.  My two older brothers and I sat by the radio listening to the alphabetized school cancellation list.  Waiting. Waiting to get to the “M’s”. Malden, Medford, MELROSE.  We cheered.

We sat on the ledge of the bay window and watched our neighbors dig themselves out of their homes. My Dad climbed out of the living room window so he could shovel a path from the porch door. For three days the world slowed down. The only transportation was by sled or if you were lucky, a snowmobile. My family was home for those three days and we did lots of things we usually couldn’t.  We ate cupcakes for breakfast and slept on mattresses that Dad carried down from the bedrooms and positioned in front of the fireplace.  Even the dog slept there with us instead of on his shag rug remnant in the kitchen corner.

That day the five of us built a snowman, not just any snowman but Mr. Carrot Nose. I was in charge of the name. I wasn’t great with names. He was a sturdy and tightly packed white giant. He stood six feet high and was the clean, white color that only new snow can be; the kind of white that is blue. Mom attached a broom to his arm, gave him a hat and scarf and placed three black felt buttons on his chest. I waited for him to move.

One by one my father hoisted us upon the icy shoulders.  My oldest brother posed to be a good sport. My middle brother held both his arms out as if he were flying.  I wonder what the two of them think when they look at their photos of that single moment.  I have few pictures where I look into my eyes and remember what I thought.

My father held out his hands to hoist me up, I backed up and my eyes filled with tears. I felt my blood pulse and for one split second I could not move. Everything froze except my hands, which raced toward my face to cover my eyes. I was afraid of heights and didn’t want to sit up there alone. It was the same dread I felt when I would fall asleep on the couch and my father would carry me up to bed. I would clamp my eyes shut as he walked up the staircase.  It was a long, narrow stairwell and I was panicked with the thought of falling backwards. Over and over in my mind I would see him lose his footing and the two of us would tumble. So I would bury my face on my father’s shoulder and know that, if it were to happen, he would break the fall.

Mr. Carrot’s shoulders held no such promise.

My father knelt in front of me and tapped his fingers on the pink mittens that covered my face. I made a small window to see him. “What do we always say?” He asked with a smile and a wink. My fear dissolved. I took a deep breath, returned the wink, and reached up to let him lift me high onto the giant’s shoulders. I was proud and brave and smiled into the camera.  The picture captured a rare moment for me.

My mother climbed up next and as my father snapped the photo, she fell.  The snowy head broke free from those icy shoulders and started to tumble to the ground along with my mother. I don’t know exactly what happened because I could only see pink fuzz but I heard my father voice saying what he always said.  “Its ok, I’ve got you.”

My favorite hour is between five and six in the morning.  It’s my time to sit and chat with my Dad and have him to myself. I always wanted to share this time of day with him; the hour he would wake up for work. I recall the few times I awakened to keep him company but he would send me back to bed so I would curl up under my covers smelling the perking coffee and his constant smoldering cigarettes. I knew the routine. The shower would start and stop with a squeak from the faucets. I listened for the tap tap tap of the razor hitting the sink while he shaved. The scent of Aramis wafted into my room while he dressed.  I deciphered the muffled whispers of his conversation with my mother until finally the heavy footsteps of his work boots led him out the kitchen door.

Now, many years later, we sit quietly. There is no hustle for work. I tell him my plans for the day and he smiles and nods. I look in his eyes and think I know what he feels.

I long for the smell of his cologne to replace the smells of the hospital room.

I startle when the nurse knocks at the door.  I look up surprised to find that it is time for her shift already. She is a tiny woman and she seems to sing when she speaks. “Good morning” she chirps.

My dad gives me a wink and a smile and I give his hand a squeeze.  It is warm, not like Mr. Carrot Nose.  I lean down to kiss his cheek and tell him I will be back later in the day.  His skin has turned yellow and his muscles are weak. His body is reduced to lumps under the white sheet.

I look back at the nurse performing her routines. Her pug nose wrinkles and her blue eyes laugh as she talks to my father. She flutters around the room and I notice how elfin she is.  I watch her unwrap gauze. I wish she were wrapping presents.

If only she had a magic sled and could take my father away, somewhere in the middle of the night, where sleigh bells ring and no one can melt away.

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For more of Marylee check out her previous articles I Hate Handstands, Letter From A Bully, and The Apprentices Gift.

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