Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Last Snowflake

            Jeff was eight years old when he started collecting the last snowflake of a storm.  It was during one of those snow days students dream of; heavy fluffy flakes falling like a spring rain. Inches would fall in minutes, yet the day was warm and kids, bundled up by mothers, headed out to play. 
             As the daylight started to fade, noses red and shiny from the cold, Jeff headed home.  The snow was almost done falling, and with a block left before his home the storm seemed to have ended.  Jeff felt good, as only kids can. No worries about where to put the wet boots, or anxiety of catching a cold.  Those were grownup issues.  The day was filled snow angels, half recognizable forts, and Cindy's mom bringing out hot chocolate around three o'clock.  Jeff was wishing it wouldn't end when he saw it.  A single fluffy flake falling, twirling, reflecting the gold and red of the sunset.
            Jeff let it fall onto his wet mittens.  It was the size of a quarter, an intricate design of diamonds and angles.  Jeff jogged home and placed it in a Ziploc bag. He then stored it in the freezer.  He would add three more Ziploc bags, each with the last snowflake of that winter's storms.
            Over the next three years Jeff would collect the last snowflake of every storm.  Well almost every storm.  When he was 10 his dad found him asleep in the entryway with his boots on.  Jeff had tried to stay awake during a storm that started at dinnertime.  Jeff didn't talk to his mom for two days when he was eleven when she made him come in for dinner.  Jeff had been out in the storm for forty-five minutes waiting for the last snowflake.  Each time he thought he had it; another burst of flakes would be released. By the time he was done eating, the skies were clear.
            Jeff never explained why he collected the snowflakes, not even to his parents.  But as so many magical things disappear in our lives, so did collecting the last snowflakes.  When Jeff was thirteen the illusion of being cool was more important than collecting snowflakes.  Without a word Jeff went to the family room to play video games the night of the first storm.  His dad thought about asking him if he was heading outside, but Jeff didn't talk more than a few words to his parents that year.  The illusion of cool influenced more in Jeff's life than snowflakes.
            Jeff would think about the last snowflake of storms over the years.  During a football game his senior year, sitting in the library studying for finals his sophomore year of college.  Jeff almost told Susan, his future wife, about the last snowflake while walking her through a beautiful snowfall to her dorm during graduate school.  He stood out front of Susan's dorm that night actually hoping he could catch the last snowflake. But the snow kept falling, beautifully shimmering in the light of the lamppost along the walkway.  After five minutes he decided to head home to work on his thesis.  Not wanting to look like a stalker or something outside a girl's dorm.
            Jeff's life and memory moved farther and farther away from those five winters of collecting snowflakes.

            "Daddy, come look!" A little girl, eight years old draped across the top of the couch, watches the snow fall in random patterns. "Daddy, it is so pretty."
            "Humm, yes it is." Jeff joins his daughter across the top of the couch.
            Grace becomes quiet.
            "What's wrong?" Jeff asks her, still watching the snowflakes, big and fluffy, fall in front of the them.
            "Nothing, I just wish I could," Grace looks at her dad trying to articulate a deep feeling she doesn't have words for, "hold the snow.  Hold the way it looks?" She raises her eyebrows in a question.
            Jeff smiles, "You mean have this moment last forever?"
            "Yes!" Grace smiles, “forever." She turns back to watch the snowflakes fall.
            They are quiet for a few moments. Jeff starts to smile, but starts to doubt what he is thinking.
            "Do you want to know a secret, Grace?"
            She turns bright eyed toward Jeff.
            "If we catch the last snowflake of this storm, it will always be with you, in here." Jeff points to his heart.
            "In my heart?" Grace asks with a tone of confusion.
            Jeff regrets even bringing up the idea.  It sounded so silly coming from his adult mouth.  Life was not so magical when you had a mortgage to pay.
            Grace looks at Jeff, "Will it be there forever?"  Her eyes wide.  Her face open and honest, ready to believe in anything her daddy said.
            For a moment Jeff debates whether to tell her the truth or not.  He decides on the truth.
            "Yes, this moment will stay in your heart forever, but only if you catch the last snowflake." Jeff tells her, emphasizing the last part.
            Grace turns to the window and softly asked her daddy, "Can you help me catch it?" She turns back to Jeff hoping.
            "Yes, I will.  Let's grab our boots and mittens and a Ziploc bag to put the snowflake in."
            A father and daughter head out into the yard ready to capture a moment of life together.

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