Old Man Winter

Now I remember.

The winter of 2016 was our first back in northern Indiana since the return from a 14-year Pittsburgh hiatus. I remember we dreaded the return for just that reason — winter. Bitter cold, endless flat farm fields of blowing snow, a gray sky that only seems to turn blue when the temperature is going to dip below zero.

And then it didn’t happen. There wasn’t a day of single-digit temperatures in the triumvirate of December 2015 and January and February 2016. The combined seasonal winter snow barely registered.

Spring actually arrived in March, the cornfields came back on time, summer evening baseball was in shirtsleeves, and fall leaves were raked in khaki shorts.

All that time before heading home, needlessly worried about winter — until this winter.

It started with a crisp 8 inches of Sunday snow in a howling wind, topped with an inch of freezing rain.

The next day, temperatures plummeted, and the whole mess became a white ice chunk rather than a snowy remnant. It was still there a week later — the roads only minimally de-iced — when it warmed up just enough in a few daytime hours for another round of snow and freezing rain.

This all was followed by a quick single-digit plunge to lock it all in place again.

And all this was weeks before the arrival of the winter solstice.

Now I remember winter in northern Indiana.

I am no longer allowed to shovel snow. So I pay guys to do it. Which means I am on their schedule, not mine.

So every hour or so, I put the book down and stared out the window at my snow and-ice-encrusted walk and driveway. And felt old.

About halfway through a distracted chapter I heard the scrape of a shovel. Finally, the snow crew had arrived. I got up from my chair to check on how they were doing. Another Old Guy thing.

It wasn’t them. It was a neighbor, a young fellow with a wife and a little guy at home. He was digging in, flipping ice chunks and snow off my driveway. I really don’t know him very well. Both he and his wife work hard hours, and he’s on the road a lot. It’s not like we’ve shared beers over the fence.

I grabbed a coat and headed out the door waving my hand. He looked up, then kept on shoveling. “Hey,” I shouted, “you don’t need to do that. I got a service.”

“Not much of a service,” he answered. “Don’t try to talk me out of this.”

“No, really,” I said. “Thanks. Really, thanks. But they’ll be here before the end of the day, and I’ll have to pay them anyway.”

He sighed, stopped and said, “OK. But if it’s not cleared by 9 p.m. I’ll be back out. And don’t try to stop me.”

“Deal, and thanks again.” My crew made it before 9, so the whole thing became academic. I got a good man for a neighbor, and that’s a blessing.

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But a part of me — a miserable part of me — resented that I couldn’t do it myself. I resented not my paid cleaning service but that my infirmity was the reason for a neighbor’s good deed.

I felt like an un-guy.

Which goes to show that I have to pay more attention. We want to do good things. Yet we too often kick back when others try to do good things for us. Maybe it’s an Old Guy thing. But we can easily forget that part of our mission is to let others on the pilgrimage offer themselves for our needs.

“Feed on goodness,” St. Bernard said, “and your soul will delight in its richness.”

It cuts both ways.

Feed on the good we do. And the good done for us.

I’ll try to remember that.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.