As a child, growing up in southern Idaho, the snow could fall anywhere between early November and late January. It depended on the year, but snow on Christmas morning was never guaranteed.
If we didn’t have any accumulation on the ground before Christmas, we would spend that last week of Advent scanning the skies in hope of the snow flurries that would make our holidays white.
It was December 1979 and we were staring a gray/brown Christmas square in the face. It was overcast, an inversion had trapped the smoggy air, there wasn’t a flake of snow to be had.
My father, John, had an uncanny knack of predicting the snow. Maybe he felt it in his bones, maybe having lived in southern Idaho for 45-plus years, he learned how to read the sky or maybe he was a magician, but that Christmas Eve he predicted a white Christmas.
In my sister and me, being 7 and 9 years of age, respectively, he found a very disbelieving audience. This was our first time witnessing my father “snow whispering” and he seemed out of his mind. It was ugly cold outside and he couldn’t possibly know what he was saying.
This was well before smartphones and Internet that easily streams weather related information to anyone who wants to know. My own son is often giving me the forecast and showing me the latest NOAA ocean vapor satellite feeds as we discuss our weekend plans. We’ve tracked real time Hurricane Flossie, Iselle, and Julio, excitedly tracing the path and pondering the impacts.
But, my father did not have this. We all watched the same news that week, read the same paper. The old school TV weather forecasters were often wrong, catching viewers underdressed in the cold or rain, or overdressed in an unexpected broiler.
But somehow he knew.
That Christmas Eve, after a fitful night sleep, counting presents in our heads, my sister and I sprung from our beds, too early for our parents, and raced to the living room and Christmas tree. After a quick inventory, we rushed to the door and, sure enough, my father was right. There was snow and lots of it.
We aren’t talking a skiff, but two to three feet of snow. Snow little kids could build tunnels in. My father’s very good friend, Henry Reiman, a hunting buddy since he was a younger man from another life, showed up on our front porch. He was out riding his snowmobile and brought the family presents.
He told stories of racing down the empty streets, passing patrol cars who were stuck in the unexpected blanket of snow. He took us for rides up and down the road outside our house.
I distinctly remember a photograph my mother took of Henry at the door with his winter snowmobile clothes and snow-covered face guard and hat. A gas fumed Santa on a surprisingly white Christmas.
Like most things, life has brought changes. My father passed when I was 15. Henry, I’m not sure what became of him.
Having lived on Kauai for nine years, only one of my children remembers snow on the holidays.
We’ve filled snow’s absence with Christmas-lit palm trees and a Santa that paddles into shore instead of flying in a sleigh.
Hopefully, my children will have Christmas memories that are as rich as mine. I cherish these ages, where gifts are cheered and fathers are magical.
Richard Stein is operations manager of The Garden Island.