On Building a Snowman


It was a Saturday in late February. Earlier in the week I had compiled a “things to do” list for the weekend. The furnace filters needed to be changed. I had promised my wife that I would remove the light-fixture shades throughout the house and wash them. And the fruit room needed straightening; empty bottles from half a year’s consumption of peaches and pears blocked its entrance.

An early morning storm had dumped three inches of snow on our neighborhood. It was snow with a high moisture content … snow that compacted nicely … snow ideal for building a snowman—a fact that five-year-old Elizabeth exuberantly announced as I was en route to the kitchen sink with a dust-laden light fixture.

“Would you help me make a snowman, Dad? Huh? Huh?” She was biting hopefully at the fringes of her mittens.

“Well, Liz, I don’t know. Uh, I have so many things to do today—these light fixtures, and the furnace filters, and the fruit room, and …”

My excuses had turned my eyes from hers. It was, I am sure, an act of self-defense. But just as I was to deliver my punch line—“Perhaps another day, honey”—I looked back into her eyes. At that moment I knew that my “things to do” list had to be extensively edited. I laid aside the light fixture, and soon Liz and I were in the front yard, rolling snow into huge balls.

The sun was out, the air had a clarity and crackle that was almost magical, and there was a lilt in Liz’s voice: “This is going to be the bestest snowman we ever made, huh, Dad!”

Liz’s younger brother and two older sisters, who had been watching cartoons on television, joined us, followed by their mother. Just as I was struggling to lift the snowman’s mid-section into place, my teenage son’s arms reached out to help. Momentarily, our fashion-conscious oldest daughter stepped forth to offer counsel about the buttons and scarf we should give the snowman, and—small miracle!—our other teenage son, who had been aloof and distant for weeks, arrived on the scene with a suitable broom.

Now the whole family was in place—joking, laughing, cooperating, creating, and even singing (naturally, “Frosty, the Snowman”). It was a moment of transcendent joy—a little taste, a tiny morsel—of heaven on earth. It was, in fact, the way we all know it can be for a family but too often isn’t.

Our snowman melted that same day. He was, you might say, a transitory thing. Time, however, has proved otherwise.

Today—several years after our family frolicked in that February snow—our snowman lives on. He lives in Liz’s frequent query, “Do you remember, Dad, the day we made the snowman?” He lives in family home evenings when he helps us dramatize closeness and caring and sharing. He lives in the pages of our family photo album, resplendent in walnut-shell buttons and a Scotch-plaid scarf. And, if my guess is right, he will continue to live on—in a missionary son’s letter home, in a grandfather’s fireside story to a grandchild, in the pages of a personal journal, in a testimony meeting, and perhaps in a eulogy delivered—who knows?—on some February day hence, after an early morning snowfall.

A clean fruit room is one thing, but a house full of memories is quite another.

[illustration ] Illustrated by Scott Snow

Paul H. Schneiter, a hospital development officer, is director of the Utah Valley Public Communications Council. He is a member of the Provo Twenty-fourth Ward, Provo Utah North Stake.