The snow wasn't supposed to start falling until midnight, but when I emerged from the movie theater I was in with my family at around 9:30p.m. streams of white had already begun coursing down from the sky.
"You guys," I whispered when I returned from the bathroom. "It's snowing!"
"Right now?" Pie asked, her eyes wide in the glow of the feature.
I nodded as my mother shushed her.
About half an inch had already accumulated by the time our movie was over, and driving home proved more hazardous than we'd thought it would. The whole point of going out Friday night had been to do one last thing while the roads were passable and before we were snowed in for several days, but conditions were already dangerous as we made our way home.
After we were safely back in our house, leaving quickly-falling snow and freezing roads behind us, I headed over to see my neighbor, Black Boy.
There are two young men around mine and Powell's age who live on either side of us, and they could not be more different from one another.
Ghetto Boy, a nineteen-year-old former classmate of Powell's, has been in trouble most of his life, and he brought that trouble to Mountain Town when he came here from Native State to escape a violent past that included gang membership.
At sixten, he had an opportunity that many young people in his situation could only dream of: removed from a destructive environment and settled in a small town where his history was whatever he chose to tell, he got the chance to start over.
Instead he got involved with drug dealing, was caught, and then found himself expelled from Mountain Town High School after only several weeks' attendance. Ghetto Boy is smart as well; he's perfectly capable of doing well. His bad example and indulgent manner proved to be a negative influence on Powell, nurturing my brother's already curious nature regarding alcohol and marijuana. It was this aspect of Ghetto Boy's behavior that finally ended our friendship; I considered him a close companion for a long time and could handle his illicit activity because I wasn't susceptible to it, but his conducting himself in such a way around my young brother was something I could not abide.
Now, Ghetto Boy spends most days sitting at home or looking for another party to go to, the only things left to someone who has no job and is not enrolled in school.
Black Boy, on the other hand, is an eighteen-year-old college Freshman whom I met as an overweight fourteen-year-old 9th grader. Over his four years of high school he joined the track team, lost a significant amount of weight, and worked hard toward making it into college.
It was to his house that I went after my family returned from the movies. I hadn't seen him in months, and the two of us talked for over an hour about his university experience (he's transferring because the all-black school he attended this semester is "too ghetto") and my brother Powell, whose actions the last few months have troubled and distressed me.
He helped me gain some insight, and I told him I hoped he'd keep me informed of what twenty-year-old Powell does, keeping Powell of course in the dark about our collusion.
By the time I trooped home at around three o'clock in the morning, my feet sank through the snow all the way to the ankles.
The next morning, my front yard was a sea of white, undisturbed save for the occasional wind that blew the crystals around in a fine, cold mist.
For the entire morning, our only interaction with the snow was through our windows; we much preferred to stay inside eating warm food than go out into the intensifying storm, much to my sister's agitation.
"Alright," she said the moment she was done with her breakfast. "Time to go out."
"No, Pie," my mother answered.
"Okay," she said once breakfast was cleaned up. "Time to go out."
"No, Pie," my mother repeated.
When my parents were attempting to pick a movie to watch and couldn't agree on a selection, Pie shot in, "Well, I guess we'll just have to go outside."
It was around one o'clock that we actually left the house. All four of the children, with the rare inclusion of Powell, piled into my father's huge company truck and headed out into a town that had been abandoned to the snowdrifts by its residents.
As we approached an intersection near downtown Mountain Town, we saw a truck broken down in the snow. We stopped to ask its driver if he needed help, but he told us he was calling friends who would come for him, so we made a right onto Main Street.
Ploughs had made no dent, and even if they'd tried, the snowfall was only getting stronger. We'd spotted one of our neighbors shoveling his drive Saturday morning, only to have it submerged again within hours. The roads were more spaces between the buildings than they were actual streets.
We drove around looking for an empty parking lot in which to repeat an activity we once engaged in thirteen years ago. During the Blizzard of 1996, when I was eight years old, my father tied an inner tube to the back of his truck and hauled us around in the field behind the local middle school, giving us a winter thrill ride as we clung to the sides of the plastic bowl with bumps in the road sending us airborne and the wind and flying snow searing our faces.
After a half hour or so of looking, we located a desolate space adjoining a book-binding factory behind a dead apple orchard.
We had a great time taking turns braving the biting wind and threat of capsizing on our small plastic toboggan before a curmedgeonly security guard emerged from the almost-empty factory to tell my father we were on private property and had to leave immediately.
Going home didn't end the fun, though.
My father, Powell, Thomas, Pie, and I grabbed sleds and headed off in search of hills to slide down.
Powell wound up turning back, but that still left four of us to trudge through the two-foot snow down to what used to be a lake and is now an empty sodden bowl. Filled with snow, though, it made for a compelling sledding opportunity. It was challenging at first, as the deep powder collapsed under us when we tried to sail across it, but after we'd tunneled a path down the incline and flattened it out with repeated use, we found ourselves flying atop the snow with ease.
Even my father got in on the action.
Going home, it became evident that the storm was far from over, in fact hadn't even peaked.
The neighborhood was drenched in rapidly-rising snow, and as we walked down the street to our house the precipitation was coming so fast and so thick that the forms of my father and sister were obscured in white-gray haze.
By this time it was three or four o'clock in the afternoon, and with sunset coming before five we resolved to stay inside.
While no one actually went out in the sense of going anywhere, Thomas and I had vowed as soon as we heard of the snow to get in the hot tub, located conveniently in our backyard, before the storm ended. The fact that two and a half feet of snow was on the ground by Saturday evening in no way nullified that commitment.
I layered myself in three pairs of pants, a tee-shirt, two sweaters, and a jacket before pulling on some boots and going out to clear, unclip, and take off the hot tub cover.
The plan was for us to do this in full winter attire, come in, strip to our underwear, and run like the dickens back out to the tub.
I hopped atop the cover and swept thirty inches of snow off with my arm, then got down and unfastened the side farthest from the house. I walked around to do the same with the opposite end, and that is when the snow-covered fire escape from my basement room collapsed beneath me and I fell five feet to the bottom, the plastic door and two feet of snow coming down on top of me.
Oh, no, I thought. For a moment I couldn't move.
"Help!" I yelled.
No one heard.
Then I took a breath, got my wits about me, and lifted myself out of the snow with some effort. That experience, however, was nothing compared to running in boxers through thigh-high snow with temperatures below twenty degrees.
"Oh, oh, it hurts so good!" Thomas cried as our bodies sank into the 104-degree water. Every inch of me burned as if it were on fire. In that hot tub, that small square of heat surrounded by deadly cold, the world was a warm and comfortable place. Inches outside of it, though, wicked winter reigned.
Thomas and I took turns reaching out and gathering huge handfulls of snow that we dumped into the water, watching them melt within seconds as our hands singed with the sudden transition from frigid to boiling.
It wasn't the smartest thing that either of us has ever done.
When the day was over, though, we had no regrets. The only thing we mourned about the snow was that there wasn't more of it, and that this weekend's storm was likely to be the biggest of the season.