I grew up in upstate New York, in Amsterdam, so I have been shoveling snow my entire life — for almost 70 years now. And quite honestly, for most of those years, I did not mind. Growing up, I shoveled with my dad, I shoveled with the neighbors next door, and I shoveled with friends. Later, I shoveled with my wife, Barbara, and with our two girls: Maria and Katrina. Shoveling snow is one of those winter rituals we share, a rite of passage, if you will. Let me tell you about a few shoveling experiences, and let me also explain why I eventually had to buy a snowblower.
I think I began shoveling at about the age of five. Prior to that, our family rented a second-floor apartment on East Main Street, and the landlord handled that task for us. Besides, I’m sure I was too small and too weak previously to be of much help. Once we bought our own home on Wilson Avenue, however, the task was all ours, and Dad and I were out there often, first cleaning off the sidewalk and stairs in front of our home and later the driveway to the backyard. At that age, I’m sure I still wasn’t much help, but I think Dad liked having me out there with him, and I know I enjoyed working beside him.
As I aged and became more capable, Dad gradually handed that shoveling task over to me completely, and I didn’t mind because the Dufresne boys were out there with me: Mike, Pat, Tim, Kevin, and Sean. Each family had its own driveway, but the two merged together between the houses without a clear line of division, so with all of them and one of me, I’m sure they helped me more than I helped them. And once our dads handed the task off to us and went inside, we had a blast — throwing snowballs while we worked, tackling one another in the snow, and later playing “King of the Hill” on the mountain of snow we created either in front of the houses or out back.
I’m pretty sure, too, that I earned my first real wages shoveling snow. For once we had cleared off our sidewalks and driveways, some of us headed off into the neighborhood to work for others. My one regular customer was the family on the other side of our house. The dad there was a busy lawyer with a young wife and two small kids, so he was happy to have me shovel for him. Their driveway was shorter than ours, but their sidewalk was longer because they had a corner house which meant I had to shovel a stretch on both Wilson Avenue and Bunn Street. The task took about an hour, and I received one dollar for my efforts, a pretty decent wage at the time.
By the time I reached high school, I had even more territory to shovel because by then, Dad had knocked down the old barn that had been in our back yard and paved over it, so we could put up a hoop and play basketball. He even put a spotlight out there, so we could play at night (until 9:00 p.m.). That was definitely one of our best home improvements ever. Unfortunately, Dad had one winter rule for me and the Dufresne boys concerning that basketball court: “You can’t shovel off the court until both of the sidewalks and driveways are completely clear of snow.” By then, of course, we were all more interested in basketball than “King of the Hill,” so we worked pretty quickly and efficiently.
Once I went off to college and began my teaching career, most of my shoveling involved uncovering my car and simply clearing out a parking spot in the apartment complex where I lived. The work was easy by comparison. After Barbara and I met and got married, though, I fell back into my old shoveling routine, and I found I still enjoyed it. I loved the quiet of a late evening snowfall and the pure beauty of snow-covered trees. When the girls were too little to help, I also remember fondly looking up at them as they waved to me from their bedroom window, dressed in their pajamas, before settling in to sleep. Then, as I finished up my task, I reminisced about past shoveling experiences, and I hoped for a warm day on the morrow, so we could all build a snowman or a fort.
With all those great memories, however, I gradually began to consider giving up my shovel to invest in a snowblower? The transition wasn’t immediate because for many years, I told myself and others that “shoveling is my winter exercise regimen.” Eventually, though, when I hit age 65, I knew my shoveling days were over. The snow was just getting heavier and heavier each year, especially the wet snow and the accumulation at the bottom of the driveway when the plows came through. Yes, I’m sure I could have continued shoveling our driveway alone, but I like to help the neighbors as well, and I didn’t want to have a heart attack out there.
So prior to the winter of 2016–17, I finally made the switch. I bought a big, powerful machine with both a pull start and an electric start and one that has self-propulsion with six forward speeds and two in reverse. I love it. I can easily and confidently clear off our driveway and those of four or five neighbors. Yes, the 32 inches we received a while back took a bit longer than usual, but we got it done, and, then, my neighbors and I played “King of the Hill.”
Okay that last part didn’t happen, and, let’s be honest, I haven’t played “King of the Hill” in a long time. As we age, unfortunately, we have to give up some of our youthful games and activities, shoveling being just one of them. Fortunately, if we adjust wisely to the aging process, we can still be productive, we can still help others, and we can still have fun sharing our old stories with family members, neighbors, and friends.