“Wait until your father has warmed up the car,” my mother would yell into a draft of cold air as we disappeared out the front door. If we didn’t hurry, we’d miss the best part.
As he opened the rear door to get the snowbrush, we’d dive past him into the station wagon. Our breath would hang in the shrouded cold, even the sound of the lumbering engine seeming otherworldly. We knew he’d started clearing snow from the roof first, but the game was where he’d go next. We’d dash for opposite ends and sides of the car, eager to be right, eager to be first.
We’d strain to hear his footsteps, following the muffled sound as he rounded the car. If we heard the creak of the ancient garage door, he was getting a shovel, and the scrapings were messing up his recently clear driveway.
A thick curtain of snow would drop from the first window, and a ray of weak winter sunshine would enter. After that, we’d race from window to window, as he used the snowbrush to create a life-sized advent calendar. We considered our giggling faces the prize, though we knew the ultimate win would be Dad smiling back. We were playing; he was working. This intersection was the best place to find him, a man who turned most things into work yet had children who could turn anything into play.
If you had a question – and you always had a question – you would creep a window down, a small red plaid arm futilely trying to prevent a wall of snow from entering. “Put that back up!” he’d yell and you would, desperately cranking, realizing you’d forgotten to ask if you could come out and help.
“You’re getting snow on the seats!” I’d yell at my sister, because I was older and could. We’d furiously brush snow onto the floor, failing to realize there was snow everywhere, anyway.
With no rear defroster, we’d rush to help when he started scraping the back window. We’d push our faces to the glass, panting and laughing believing we were melting the ice. We’d pull off mittens and hold our hands against the window, small handprints disappearing as quickly as they formed. Sometimes, rarely, Dad would mirror the gesture, his rough ungloved hand dwarfing mine as we briefly shared that ancient symbol of both connection and separation.
The windshield was always last, giving the defroster a chance to labour against the ice. We’d scramble to the front – do not touch the pedals, do not touch the key – and jam our hands to the base of the window, desperately seeking heat. He’d yell at us again and tell us to let the defroster do its job. We’d yell through the glass that the defrogger wasn’t warm yet, knowing how funny we were.
As he chipped away, I would prise open the tiny triangle window we called a nose draft, and ask if I could put on the radio. The answer was always don’t touch anything and I wondered if music slowed down the car’s ability to warm up.
We’d head to our seats when the fun was over, daylight filling our snow cave which was now what it always had been, just a station wagon. Mom would come down the steps and Dad would stamp snow from his boots as he pulled the complaining garage door back down. He’d finally slide the bar to heat, though I knew in my heart that a car only heats up when you’re two blocks from where you’re going.
It’s funny, sometimes, to realize the things that keep you warm.