While we were growing up, our dad had a drinking problem. One blizzard filled South Dakota time stands out in my mind. It had snowed steadily for over a week, and the snow was deep and heavy. But that Saturday the clouds had finally given way to blue skies and thin sunshine. Dad put on his heavy outerwear and galoshes and headed out the door to shovel the sidewalks and the driveway. He came in to warm up and have a bite of lunch (with a couple of beers to wash it down) then told Ma he was heading back out to finish shoveling. But the walks and driveway were already cleared....
My sister Linda and I were at that early stage of adolescence that caused the dreaded disease "Parental Embarassitis". We stared out of the picture window in horror as Dad began shoveling the YARD. Yes, the yard!! We pleaded with Ma to do something - Dad's drinking was no big secret to the neighborhood and we just knew that the entire world figured he was just "tittled" again and doing something stupidly alcohol fueled. We were mortified! Ma just continued mopping up the melted snow from Dad's boots and said nothing, but she couldn't quite hide her grin.
Dad continued shoving the front yard, filling his wheelbarrow and pushing it through the tracks he'd made around the house and into the back yard. Finally Linda and I just couldn't watch this humiliating performance for one more second. How would we ever face anybody again? Ma peeked out the kitchen window and said, "Well he's got to be getting pretty cold, but he's starting on the backyard now." Oh no!
Soon we heard him stomping the snow off his feet, but instead of coming inside the house he headed straight down into the basement. Curiosity overcame our humiliation as we watched him drag the garden hose (stored down there to prevent freezing) outside. He'd hooked it up to the washer faucet downstairs.
We ran to the dining room window and saw an enormous white mountain in the backyard, and words can't even begin to convey how huge this thing was. He started spraying this mountain with a mist of water. Then he used his hunting hatchet and cut deep steps into one side.
Humiliation be darned! Dad had made the best sledding hill in the free world, and all 5 of us hustled into boots and coats, grabbed cookie sheets, and headed out to enjoy what had taken him hours out in the cold to build. We hit the frigid air and stared up at this marvel in absolute awe. Dad wiped his nose with his sleeve and said, "Oh, no...me first!"
As cold and wet as he was, he spent quite some time out there with us, helping my littlest siblings master the slippery steps, holding them on his lap to ease their initial fear for the fast ride down and laughing as his older kids shot off the end and hit the ice that had formed where the hose was still trickling.
Our backyard became the favorite gathering place for all the kids in the neighborhood. During subsequent snowstorms we were all out there helping Dad replenish the mountain. The hill lasted all winter and there were still remnants well into the spring. The memory, however, has remained strong in our hearts and minds, and we still often begin sentences with, "Remember when Dad......"