The Wannabe Snowbird Blues
Published: January 24th, 2017
By: Jim Mullen

Nora wants to go south. She's afraid that one day she'll slip on the snow and break her wrist in three places, like her sister did last year. Not a winter goes by that someone she knows doesn't break something.

She's also afraid Del will have a heart attack shoveling the sidewalk. There's always a story in the paper about someone having a heart attack while shoveling the sidewalk. Sure, he uses a snowblower, but does his heart know the difference? Nora'd be happy to pay one of the neighborhood kids to shovel the snow, but none of them show any interest in doing that -- for any amount of money. Not that she ever sees the neighborhood kids anymore, anyway. They're all in their bedrooms playing video games or Snapchatting. They don't ever seem to go outside and play. And what do they need money for? Their parents buy them everything.

At night, after Del's finally finished clearing off the driveway, the town snowplow comes by and leaves a two-foot wall of crunchy, icy slush across the entrance that freezes on the spot. "Snowcrete," they call it. You need a jackhammer to break it apart. So once again, the car is trapped in the driveway for days. Del will go put ice melt on it, but the snowplow will just come back again and add another layer of snowcrete.

Nora is afraid the furnace will break on the coldest day of the year. She's afraid the pipes will freeze and crack the way they did at the Hendersons' last Valentine's Day. The water wrecked Winnie Henderson's entire miniature dollhouse collection, which she'd been working on since she was 11.

And for six months each year, their car is covered in a thick oyster shell of white road-salt spray.

"What's the point of washing it?" Del says. "A block away from the car wash, it will look just as crusty as it did before."

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Should they even wash it at all? Nora wonders. Doesn't Calvin down at the diner say that the first layer of salt and frozen mud acts as a protective layer that keeps out the harmful effects of all the additional layers of salt and frozen mud? True, Calvin is an idiot. Still, even a broken watch is right twice a day.

Nora and Del's friends Betsey and Herb moved south in November, and the last time they spoke on the phone, Betsey said it was 85 degrees. It was too hot to golf, so Herb just sat around the pool and played pinochle with the boys. Betsey says she swims at their community center's pool almost every day. They eat almost every meal on their deck, unless they're at the beach, and they wonder why they didn't leave the harsh winters behind ages ago.

They had been afraid they'd miss their friends, but then they realized that all their friends had already moved south, or were at least spending the winters there. And so many people from home stop in on their way to visit relatives even further south that Betsey knows more about what's going on at home than Nora and Del do.

Katie LaFever visited them in December, and said Herb looked 20 years younger and that Betsey's arthritis had cleared up entirely. "They're so active, they could star in one of those adult diaper commercials," she said.

"I don't know how they can all afford it," said Del. "And the winters here aren't all that bad. I like to get outdoors and breathe the fresh air."

"I drove down our street last night and there wasn't a light on in half the houses," Nora told Del. "Down where Betsey and Herb live, they're not paying for heating their house. Or buying cough medicine in bulk. And I don't think the air behind a snowblower is all that fresh, but either way, they have fresh air down south, too."

"We just can't pick up and leave," said Del.

"Who said anything about picking up?" said Nora.

Nora and Del are leaving Monday. I'll see them again in March.