Winter this year has brought a lot of snow into our lives. New Yorkers got used to not having it for so long, it’s almost like a surprise when the forecast calls for some inches of snowfall. Today we were supposed to be visited by what meteorologists call a Classic Nor’easter. It was supposed to drop 30 inches of snow on the city tonight and the prospect of all that snow started to sound pretty dire. Then, mid-week, the weather people all backed off the original forecast and re-calibrated the inches to a mere tenth of the original estimate. As I write, it hasn’t started snowing yet, but odds are we’ll only see a dusting. What that means is simply this: no boots.
Sidewalks and most streets in New York are cleared of snow in a way that I do not remember streets getting clean when I was growing up in Michigan. I remember walking through streets that had been plowed where the snow was measured more accurately in feet than in inches. And I wore boots all the time. My mother would cut off sheets of wax paper for me to wrap up my stockinged feet so they would slide in my boots. It would get all wet when the snow came over the tops of my boots, but everyone had wax paper so it just became part of the deal.
Except for my dad. My dad had a regular boot protocol too but it was more efficient and less necessary at the same time. More efficient, because the way he would tuck his pants’ cuffs into his boots made it virtually impossible for snow to get into his socks and less necessary, because he drove a car everywhere and rarely walked any great distance in the snow. He would shovel out the driveway every time it snowed of course, but his feet followed the shovel he pushed ahead of him and he walked on the clear ground left by the path.
But every time I pull on my snow boots now, I think about my dad and his boots. They were dark, thick rubber boots, about 10 inches tall with a center front gusset and two big tin buckles. He would sit in the kitchen with the boots next to him on the floor. Then he would carefully fold his pants’ cuffs around his ankles so they lay flat on his socks. Like hospital corners on bedsheets, his neatly folded pants fit perfectly into his boots. The gusset would close and lay flat too so the buckles would make everything close up tight and everything was neat.
Watching my dad perform this simple procedure made me feel safe. Regardless of how imperfect my own boot application was on any given day, I thought if my dad could do this with such precision, it must mean that he did other things with equal thought and experience and knowledge. He knew how to make sure no snow got in his boots and I was always coming home with wet socks. He had neat buckles and creased pants and I had wax paper. I had something to aspire to, something to assign to being a grownup. Kids got wet socks, grownups had that all solved.
My dad stays indoors most of the time now and I’m not sure he still has the boots I remember. When I bought the ones I wear in the New York slush now, I tried to find something practical like the ones he used to wear. I got short Wellies that do the job and I make sure I take the time to fold my pants’ cuffs across my ankles the way he did. I take the extra step of pulling my stretchy socks over the bottoms to make sure everything is snug because, after all, that’s what grownups do.
Last week, I was wearing the boots on my way in from the train station when I came up to a stretch of blocked sidewalk that forced me to walk out into the street, around the car that was pulled over the path. I took one step out to the street and stepped into deep water that had puddled against the curb and the slush went up nearly to the stop of my boots, roughly eight inches. But my feet were still dry! I started laughing out loud at how clever I was to have worn my boots and to have dry socks.
But it was all my dad. And, I have to be honest, I started to feel like a grownup.