There’s something about the first frost each year that takes me back to my childhood in Wisconsin…
Sissy and I are bustling about our two bedroom apartment, getting ready for school. Daddy adjusts the tie around his neck and grabs his briefcase before stooping down low to kiss our faces. “Frosted over last night and it’s going to be cold today. Sure you don’t want to wear those long underwear I bought you?”
I giggle, partly because his thick mustache tickles my face, but mostly because he said underwear. Sissy, almost three years older than me, just rolls her eyes and declares, “No one wears long underwear, Dad! That’s weird.” I wonder if when I get to middle school I will roll my eyes and make declarations.
Daddy shrugs and kisses Momma goodbye, then leaves for work. I slurp down my Cream of Wheat while Sissy spoons oatmeal, and then I remember! My new purple boots! Right there near the door! I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to wear them and now, maybe now that all of that crunchy white frost masks the ground I have my chance. Momma sees my stare and smiles. “You can wear your new boots today, Trice.” I smile and nod.
We’ve never said it out loud, but Momma and I have an understanding. Maybe the small things that make me happy make her happy, too, because she always knows when I need to wear new boots, or splash in one more puddle, or wait just a little longer for one more shooting star. Carrying my bowl to the sink I rush to brush my teeth. If I hurry, I can beat the school bus by 10 minutes today and have more time to play in the frost.
Glancing in the bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth, I frown at my tight braids and wide eyes. Howard, the only other black kid in my grade, says I have the neck of a turtle and buggy eyes. Daddy says not everyone will like you and they’ll come up with a thousand reasons why, but not one of them matters as long as you like yourself. I look in the mirror again and wonder if I like myself? I hate the two french braids Momma insists I wear, “because I’m a wild child and my hair is always wild”. Then I smile. I like being a wild child. I like Momma and Daddy and even Sissy with her eye rolls, and I like myself, too. Stupid Howard. Daddy says we should try to make friends since we’re the only two black kids. I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I make a mental note to beam Howard with a snowball on the playground when we get our first good packing snow. Of course that will earn me a spot on the wall during extra recess on Friday, but it will be worth it when he discovers he’s been beamed by a turtle with bug eyes whose got a heck of an arm to boot.
Smirking, I rush to the door and to my new boots! Sissy laughed at the shoe store when I chose purple boots, after she declared that “No one wears snow boots anymore.” She opted only for a new pair of high tops. Dummy! I got high tops and boots. And purple is my favorite color. I pull the first warm boot on and tighten the velcro strap, wiggling my toes; then the second. Then I pull on my purple coat and gloves, leaving my scarf for last. Wisconsin autumns moving into winter are fiercely cold in the mornings, while the sun is still warming up, but I leave the scarf off my face so I can see my breath outside.
“I’ll be at the bus stop!” I yell and slam our apartment door behind me.
Outside, a cold wall slaps me in the face and my eyes water. Then I take a deep long breath and inhale the cold, “winter is on the horizon” smell. It’s one of my favorite scents.
Rushing down the huge, outdoor wooden staircase to the lower level, I skip across the pavement and finally into the open air and grass. Frost! Everywhere! I step onto the grass and savor the delightful crunch as one new boot and then the other make their acquaintance with this new ground. I slowly make a deliberate, winding path all the way to the bus stop at the far end of the lot, stopping for a moment to watch my breath swirl in front of me. I lay down in the grass and blow warm air on a nearby, frost laden leaf. It doesn’t change at all, so I pull off a glove and warm the leaf in my bare hand. The frost melts and the leaf bends and partially crumbles in my hand.
There will be no warming for the other leaves scattered about the ground. For months, starting now, the ground will continue to harden and the air will get colder. Lake Michigan will freeze and my winter adventures will begin.
I can’t wait.