As a child, few things have left such an indelible mark upon my memory as my snowsuit. Braving the Pennsylvania winters meant one thing – snow and plenty of it. Oh, how I remember my snowsuit. A child’s soft iron maiden of nylon and polyfill. Funny, but I don’t see many of them anymore, besides on toddlers who can’t protest. Mine had a zipper that started at one ankle and ended at my neck. I believe it may have been the world’s longest zipper. Getting into this thing was no easy task. This was a two-person job; this called for Grandma. I felt there was nothing she loved more, save her coffee and her afternoon stories than stuffing me into this puffy contraption. She’d get a wild glint in her eye as she grabbed the suit from the coat hook, the mittens strung through the arms on yarn.
There would soon be a whirlwind of activity and an avalanche of outerwear. Put one leg in, tuck in the clothes, put the other leg in, keep tucking, start world’s longest zipper – and try not to lose any skin. God forbid you were wearing a dress. This maneuver added bonus points to the feat. Put on the hat, tuck in the hair. As if my limited mobility couldn’t get any worse – then came the extra socks. Not only extra socks but bread bags as well. I’m not sure if anyone else had this distinct pleasure, but in our house, once all the bread was gobbled up, the bag lived on as a waterproof sock. By the time my double clad, plastic coated feet were crammed into my snow boots, I was sweating profusely. At this point, there was more outerwear than there was child.
Huffing and puffing, tucking and zipping, snapping and hooking. I was now set out into the whitewashed world, while Grandma looked on with a broad smile of satisfaction admiring her handy-work clumsily waddling down the driveway. With my knees unable to bend, arms unable to rest at my sides and mitten-clad hands reduced to the equivalent of flippers, I looked like a strange red penguin.
Coming back to my limited mobility and to the driveway, these two collided in a perfect storm one cold January afternoon. My walk from the school bus was a short one that wound down a small road and ended with our ever-so-slightly inclined driveway. Our driveway – seemingly harmless in the warmer months, secretly lay in wait to claim it’s unsuspecting victims. For in the winter months, it transformed into an Olympic style luge, and I was a human sled.
After plodding along the road uneventfully and thinking nothing more than kid type thoughts, I attempted the driveway in vain. I slipped and bit it face first on the ice. There I lay, flopping and flipping about trying to gain some kind of traction, helplessly slapping at the ice with my mittened flippers. After some time, I gave up, surrendered to my emotions, and rolled onto my back crying. About the time I was imagining I’d never make it home and an APB being put out for a four-foot red penguin, my Mother’s yellow Subaru appeared from the road behind me and stopped short at the wailing child before her. I did make it home that night after my mother scooped up a sobbing eight-year-old and delivered it to our door.
I still think about that snowsuit and that day. I still think about that driveway. Probably still lurking under the ice, just waiting for fresh prey. What I think about most is how that snowsuit wasn’t really just a snowsuit. It was the tangible expression of love that Grandma was bundling me in, layer after layer. Maybe trying to ward off the cold, maybe something more. That’s what stays with me and still keeps me warm, 40 years later.