As far as Ralph was concerned this was the worst winter ever. There were years with more snow, that’s for sure. There were years that brought colder days. There was never a winter that brought one snow after another followed by one arctic blast after another. Memory had no recollection of this many days below zero. There were several days when pipes were frozen at Ralph’s house, leaving him without water to the kitchen.
After that, every sub-zero day meant water would be left running to prevent the pipes from freezing again. Towels and throw rugs were tossed against the bottoms of exterior doors to prevent drafts. Humidifiers were used to make the house more comfortable and the gas bill… Well, Ralph did not want to think about that.
While he hated every day of it, the neighbors might have thought otherwise. Ralph was always out shoveling the snow that fell or that drifted across the sidewalk in high winds. Even when the temperature fell below zero, he was out doing something for a little while.
Some years, there were teenagers to be bribed, but this year there were none around so Ralph was resigned to doing the work himself. When he finished the walks, he would shovel around his car and brush the snow from the windows. Sometimes a snow plow would push a ridge of snow against the car and then it was time to dig some more. This winter, Ralph was a busy man.
After he finished the work by his house, he frequently walked down the street about 5 houses and shoveled around an old brown Pontiac. Some days, he could not do it due to subzero temperature, but when he could he went down there. No one else on the block seemed to know whose car it was that got so much attention. Now and then it was moved and parked back in the same area, but when the brutal weather hit, it just stayed put.
And yet, Ralph walked down and cleaned it off, just in case. It was not Ralph’s car. He never drove it in his life. A few on the block might have wondered why he shoveled around the car and cleaned it with great regularity. It was just something that Ralph felt inside he had to do.
Certainly there were some that felt that a man of Ralph’s age should not be out shoveling snow in such extreme weather. It was winters like this that made Ralph understand why people retired and moved to Florida or Arizona.
As a matter of fact, Ralph might have retired and moved to Florida on his last birthday when he turned 62, but the pension he paid into for decades lost most of its value 6 years earlier. It was reduced to 25 per cent of what he had. He knew he would never make that up in the short time left before he would have to retire. He just hoped when he did, the meager pension and meager social security would be enough to live on. It certainly would not be enough to send him to Florida.
One particularly frosty day, Ralph arrived home to some fresh snow on the ground, took his usual parking spot and went right to work. When he finished his walkways and parking area, he was tempted to go in, but decided to walk down to the brown Pontiac anyway. It was weeks since the car last moved and no one had seen the driver. Nevertheless, Ralph was on the job, cleaning off the car and all around it.
By the time he was satisfied with his work, his fingers and toes were numb and almost in pain. As he started to walk away he noticed an old man come carefully down the stairs of a brick 2 flat house and walk toward the Pontiac. He had a decidedly puzzled look upon his face. Ralph tossed his brush and shovel aside.
“Hello, Mr. Schuman,” Ralph called out. “How are you today?”
“Cold,” Mr. Schuman replied with an odd smile that he had acquired whenever he was unsure of what was going on. “And who are you again, young man?”
“It’s Ralphie, sir. Ralphie Combs. I had you for Economics in Senior Year at the high school.”
“Oh,” Schuman said. “What year was that?”
“I guess it was quite a few years ago, but I remember it well,” Ralphie beamed, as he recalled his senior year.
“Were you one of those boys that I put in the front of the class so I could keep an eye on you? You look like one of those boys,” Mr. Schuman said with a suspicious glance.
Ralphie laughed. “Yes, sir. That was me, sir” At that Mr. Schuman laughed too.
“Well I was expecting a lot of work on the car today, but all the snow is gone. I am certain it was piled on there earlier when I looked out the window.”
“It must have been the winds, Mr. Schuman, sir. The wind was very strong this afternoon and has blown a lot of it down the street.”
“It’s a good thing, because I have to run some errands and shoveling snow is too much for me. I guess I was pretty lucky with that wind.”
“Yes, sir, I think you were.”
“Well, I have to go young man, it is too cold to stand and chat. Now you be good.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Schuman. I will be good.”
The old teacher got in the old car and drove away. That few minutes of conversation was the warmest Ralphie felt all winter.