12 Plays of Christmas: A Tin of Snow

Tin of snow

There was a time many, many moons ago when I hadn’t yet become the noted curmudgeon that I am today, a time when I still believed in magic and Kris Kringle and I put a great deal of effort into crafting the perfect Christmas list, one that was sure to grab Gifty Nick’s attention. Many items on that list changed from year to year but there was one thing that always held the Number One position: A Pet.

And who could blame me? Nearly every book I read or tv show I watched at the time clued me in on the fact that no young boy’s adventure life was complete without an animal companion. Dick had Spot (oh, grow up!) the Cocker Spaniel, Timmy had Lassie the rough collie, Mark had Gentle Ben the American black bear, Sandy had Flipper the bottlenose dolphin, and Sonny had Skippy the bush kangaroo. Who did I have? N-o-b-o-d-y and I only had one person to blame. Somebody in the house was allergic to pet dander, and that somebody’s name was Trista, my middle sister.

Undaunted, I penned (okay, it was in crayon but same difference) many letters to Santa detailing my dilemma and making a request for a non-allergenic pet (don’t look at me like that! If anyone could have pulled off that miracle, surely it had to be the red-coated gent whose belly shook like a bowl of jelly) but year after year no little-boy-bestest-pal-in-the-whole-wide-world ever showed up beneath the family Christmas tree (don’t waste your time naming hairless pets in the comment section below. It was the ’60s and we didn’t know anything about that, or if my folks did, they kept it a closely guarded secret).

Since my pleas fell on deaf Clausian ears, I was forced to take matters into my own hands and come up with a different plan. To my credit (hey, if I don’t toot my own horn, who will? Again, get your mind out of the gutter!) it didn’t take long for me to devise a unique solution to my problem.

Tins were a wonderful thing to me. They were a depository where the things a boy kept precious could be secreted away and tucked into the backs of closets or under loose floorboards. Mostly the contents of tins included stamps, coins, marbles, smooth and colorful stones, and the bits of refuse that could be viewed as a treasure to the furtive imagination of a young mind.

I collected snow.

Not just any snow, mind you—I wasn’t some type of frozen vapor hoarding lunatic—I collected the flakes from the first snowfall of the year and packed little rectangular bricks in the back of the freezer. Why? Because of Frosty the Snowman, who came to life after being imbued with the magical properties of first-fall snow. But I wasn’t going to build some ratty old snowman, no sir, not me. My goals were slightly loftier than that.

I was going to build a griffin. Agrippa the Ice Griffin. I couldn’t see my parents objecting to that, unless Trista suddenly developed an allergic reaction to ice, which she might have done, just to spite me.

I’d be the envy of my neighborhood when Agrippa and I went for a walk, and since I read somewhere how griffins have the ability to sense and dig gold up from the earth, I knew we’d be financially sorted for life. And we would totally rule the airways. That went without saying.

Yup. I saw it all clear as day and my plan was foolproof. Since my childhood predated the internet, I had to go to the New York Public Library with sheets of onion skin and trace pictures from mythology books and experiment with PlayDoh so I’d know how to sculpt Agrippa accurately, and knowing he’d be curious about his heritage, I constructed a fascinating family history that would have made any newly birthed mythological creature proud.

As I collected tins of the first snow and carefully hid them in the freezer, I knew the world was finally mine and I was destined to live the most incredibly awesome life ever imagined, and nothing could have prevented it…

Until I discovered the hard way that refrigerators came equipped with a defrost feature. All my carefully stacked magically imbued briquettes had been reduced to not-so-magical freezer run-off that dripped impotently into a catch tray.

Needless to say, I have yet to bring Agrippa into existence. And life, well, it hasn’t quite reached that most incredibly awesome high watermark yet.

But this year’s snow hasn’t fallen yet in my neck of the woods, so here’s hoping I can still lay my hands on those old tracings…

12 Plays of Christmas: Memory Is The Liar That Whispers Fantastic Pasts In Our Ears (a true story…I think)

Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque-Tiny-litle-snowman-army

There’s a Christmas-adjacent story I’m fond of telling, that hand on heart I swear is true, about a girl I met in a park during a blizzard.

Before I go any further, I need to let you know that I’m probably older than a good many of you who will read this and there are miles and miles of memories between now and when the incident occurred, so the sad fact of the matter is I don’t remember what she looked like. Not exactly. In my fading memory’s defense, I only saw the bit of her frosty red face that was nestled within the fur ring of her hooded parka.

And I’ll admit that my recollection of events might be slightly dramatized and infused with more schmaltzy innocence and devil may care fun, as we built a snow fort to defend ourselves from the invading snow army, but it happened, the girl was real and not some imaginary snow playmate—I’ve had plenty of those and I know the difference—and a good time was had by all…or at least by me.

The memory gets more Michael Bayish with each retelling. It takes on mass and bulks up and challenges me to become a better liar in order to bear its additional weight. But am I actually a liar? If the current version records over the initial memory on the VHS tape in my mind and all I have left is the most recent telling, then I am relaying events as I recall them, no? And why shouldn’t I drape this memory with grace so that it might straighten its back and hold its head higher, as it strolls amongst my other remembrances? I am one of only two people who possess this memory and since I cannot verify that the other party is holding up their end, it’s my sworn duty to keep it alive, embellishments and all.

Just before Christmas vacation, it started out as one of my favorite kinds of schooldays, you know, where you wake up and the world outside is completely white and Alice Cooper’s voice is singing on a continuous loop in your head, “School’s out for-ever!” as you do your victory dance in front of the icy window.

What was that? Just me, then? All right. Good to know.

Anyhoo, after lying about leaving my books at school—thereby avoiding studying to get ahead of the class (perish the thought)—and breezing through my chores, I ventured forth into snowmageddon and discovered… no one else was outside. Oh, sure, people were attempting to dig their cars out, but none of my friends, hell, no one my age was visible in the dense thundersnow.

Cowards, the lot of them!

Undaunted—I wasn’t going back inside, not on a free day like this—I trekked to the local park and that was when I saw The Girl. Out on her lonesome, rolling the lower portion of a snowman-to-be with all the intensity of a Winterland Victoria Frankenstein.

When she eventually caught sight of me, she stopped and glared, trying to suss me out. Was I friend or foe? We stood there for ages, still as statues, locked in a silent Mexican Stare Off. She was determined, this one, to wait me out. She had staked claim to this park and I was the trespasser. If we were ever going to come to an accord, I’d have to make the first move. So, I did the only thing I could do in that situation…

I began rolling the middle portion for her snowman. That seemed to be good enough for her.

You ask me what her name was? Well, there are only two words that come to mind when I think about her: amber and hazel. So, either her name was Amber and she had hazel eyes, or she was an amber-eyed Hazel. Perhaps even something in between like Hazamberel or Amhazelber? I can’t rule any options out at this point.

The park was ours and ours alone, we two intrepid children of The Bronx. We laughed in the face of the snowpocalypse and frolicked—as much as our starfish overlayering would allow—and built an ominous snow army that we waged snow war against, plowed through the snow soldiers, and beat them down to the ground, before turning on each other in the snowball fight to end all snowball fights, tried to sled downhill on a ratty piece of cardboard, discovered how truly fast squirrels are when we tried to catch one, marveled at how far trees could bend under the weight of snow and made a pact to be friends forever.

I learned that day that pacts are not unbreakable—I never saw Hazamberel again—and just how like a delicate snowflake a memory was.

Not a terribly exciting story to hear, I realize, but I’m not telling it for your enjoyment. I tell it so that I don’t lose it and so that it doesn’t fade any more than it already has from the weathers of time or become trapped and freezes to death in the hedge maze like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

That’s part of the duty we owe to our past, to not only remember it but become the architects and build up the bits of foundation that have crumbled away due to neglect.

So, please stop me if I’ve told you this one before, but once, when I was younger, I met a girl in a blizzard, at least I think it was snowing, maybe it was rain, and her name was some sort of color, Vermillion or Fuchsia, maybe…