It’s late morning and the Texas sky is blanketed in gray clouds. It looks like winter in the midwest, cold and frigid. I’m finishing my second cup of coffee while my toddler digs in his toybox, trying to decide what his next game will be.
He looks up at me, eyes shining. “Can we go outside, mama? I want to play with my flying saucer!” He races past before I can answer.
I grin at the description of his new frisbee. “Sure, bud! I think we need our coats!” I cross the room to where he stands by the back door. His hand is pressed against the glass and I think back to doing this when I was young, to test how cold it might be outside.
“It not cold! It warm!” He grabs my hand and sets it beside his. The double-paned glass is warm beneath my hand.
“You’re right! We can go outside.” We step out into temperatures that feel like April, although it’s December. He plucks his frisbee off the patio and runs across the yard, and for the next half hour it’s me and him with a frisbee, laughing until our cheeks are red.
We finish and go inside for a lunch better suited to a chillier day than this: grilled cheese and tomato soup. My son regales me with tales of our time outside as he eats. Then it’s time for him to nap and me to read.
I sit down and pull out Little House in the Big Woods. I haven’t read this novel since I was a girl, and nostalgia led me to set it aside for a day like today when I found it while digging in a box filled with books hiding in the attic.
Immersed in Laura Ingalls’ world, I admire her description of snow in the little house, the patterns of frost Mary and Laura find on the windows in the morning, how Ma gives the girls her thimble to make patterns of circles in the delicate ice crystals to keep them entertained. She doesn’t describe what they drew with the thimble, only that they didn’t want to mar the beauty of the patterns already in the ice on the window. Even now, I catch myself wondering what pictures they created out of those tiny circles; did they make houses or snowflakes? I like to imagine both crafted carefully of thimble-circles delicately dotting the window panes on those cold days.
I think about our morning, how we each used the temperature of the glass to determine if it was warm enough to go outside without a coat. I wonder what it must have been like to find frost inside in the winter regularly, to press a thimble into that frost.
Dog-earing the page and setting the book down, I lean back and reminisce about winters in my own old little house. Before we moved to Texas and into a brand-new place full of beige walls and white baseboards, we lived in a 100-year-old red brick residence in Kentucky. We weren’t far from the Appalachian foothills of my childhood. The house was artfully detailed, still offering the original hardwood floors that squeaked underfoot, ten-inch baseboards grounding every room, and delightful floral swirls we found pressed into the brass hinges in doorways. I miss those details in my new house with cream-colored carpet, and floors that never squeak.
The old house held huge windows, single pane and strong, despite appearing so fragile, likely as old as the house itself and flanked by warm wooden trim. Storm windows could only do so much to keep the cold out, but, even so, the house was snug and warm in winter. When snow fell and blanketed our neighborhood, the streets were picturesque with old brick Victorians straight out of a painting, trimmed with snow like frosting on gingerbread houses.
The winter before my son was born was brutally cold, one where I became intimately familiar with the term polar vortex. It was the winter where I learned just what it took for the inside of a window to be covered in frost—frost I discovered early one morning before work, as I cracked the blinds to see if I would need to scrape the car before leaving.
It melted as my breath hit it, and I carefully scratched pictures with my fingertips, surprised at how the frost had appeared overnight, while we slept beneath warm comforters in our bed. I couldn’t help but think of the Ingalls sisters and their thimbles making pictures.
My childhood home had windows impervious to frost. When it was cold enough I saw it frosting the grass in the yard and coating the outside of the car windows—windows my parents had to scrape while I sat in the backseat and watched.
I’ve yet to scrape frost from my car since our move. We haven’t seen snow on par with what I grew up with. I wonder if my son will ever know the joy of sledding down a steep hill on a snow day in mid-January, or the thrill of school being called off in the wee hours of the morning.
I’m pulled from my thoughts as I hear my son stirring, and I look up as his door opens. He rushes to me, arms filled with books.
“Hi mama! Look! I found a book about a snowman! We read it?” He hands me a book told in pictures, titled The Snowman, and I smile, memories of snow days filling my head.
“Of course! Let’s read it together!” I can think about frost indoors and the Ingalls sisters another day. For now, I’ll enjoy the warm December weather and read snow into my son’s day.
A life of books. A life of soul. Karen Swallow Prior poignantly and humorously weaves the two, until it’s hard to tell one life from the other. Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more.
This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.