Reporter's Note: Do presidents get snow days? I don’t know. But I do know this one gets a letter from me every day.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Dear Mr. President,
I have no interest in writing a serious letter today. Zero. Just as it was when I was a kid, I like to believe that a heavy snowfall is an open invitation to sledding, snowball fights, fort building, and curling up later with a blanket and hot chocolate while steam curls off of my frozen toes. Anything, but plain old work.
So instead I’ll just tell you a little story.
When I was a kid in South Dakota, my parents used to take my brother and sister and me up to the Black Hills in the dead of winter, to shovel the snow off of frozen lakes, and strap on our skates. Sometimes we would just spend hours cutting little patterns on the ice, and playing tag. Other times we’d drag another family and our hockey sticks along, for a frenzied game. Once my dad tied a rope to a metal snow saucer. A kid would climb on board; Dad would start skating in a big loop, pulling the rope and tightening his turns until we were swinging wildly at the end of the tether in a manic circle; and then he’d let go and you’d fly across the blue black surface of Sylvan Lake, ice crystals stinging your face, and the cold cracks booming through the ice beneath you. I saw a fish frozen in the ice one time, his white mouth gaping open as if winter came all in a rush and surprised him. For a second-grader, it was high drama.
One bitterly cold day, my brother Robert and I decided to give up on the skating and go sledding instead. We selected a particularly steep piece of terrain alongside the lake and began stomping out a trail between the lodgepole pines. Higher and higher we pushed up the slope, tramping with our boots, and packing the snow down like a luge run. Periodically we turned toward the lake to eye the daredevil path we were creating. We worked for a long time; smoothing and shaping it into a veritable gun barrel of ice. And the longer the trail grew, the more I had doubts about the wisdom of the whole endeavor, but being the younger brother, I kept them to myself.
We had only one sled, but we had a snow shovel too, which we knew how to ride like the kids in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” So when we finally decided that we had extended the run as far as we dared, we prepared ourselves for the first…and possibly only descent, depending on the injuries. We were pretty sure there would be some.
Robert, in a rare burst of magnanimity, decided that I deserved the honor of the sled. The must faster sled. The much, much faster sled. Or, as I liked to think of it, the death-mobile. And again, being the young brother, I dared not refuse for fear of being slapped with the crushing appellation, “You big baby.”
I did, however, quickly come up with a counter play. “O.K., great. But since you are taking the shovel, it’s only right that you get to go down first.” After some back and forth, and further delays for which we were both grateful, he agreed; because after all, even the “big brother” title can be sullied by any hint of cowardice.
If either one of us wanted to back out, the scope of our efforts had already made it impossible. Every extra minute we had spent sculpting the run to perfection to delay actually using it, had ironically also deepened the cosmic certainty that eventually we must. By making it so beautiful, so steep, so slick, and so daring, we inadvertently engineered ourselves out of any excuse for walking away.
Suddenly, the sun was behind the nearby hills, the purple sky going gray, our parents were making noise about leaving, and we mutually realized it was the proverbial “now or never.” So we pulled our gloves even tighter over our stiff fingers; cinched our hats down more firmly over our frostbitten ears; sniffled up our runny noses, and lowered ourselves into position.
“I’ll take off,” my brother said, “and you start right behind me.” I suppose his theory was if we stayed close enough we might enter the afterlife in each other’s company. “One. Two. Three. Go!”
We pushed off simultaneously, his shovel shooting ahead of me and throwing up a fine spray of crystals while he whooped and hollered. I was face down on my sled, hanging onto the steering mechanism like a man possessed as I ripped along right behind him. Our speed increased. The run roared beneath his shovel and sang beneath the steel runners of my sled. Faster and faster. Slight rises in the path that seemed negligible in construction, now became vaults which threw us skyward as we gained velocity.
It was all happening in a matter of seconds, but I saw him rocking more wildly at each landing, and felt my own sled careening from side to side, dangerously close to leaving the track and cracking my head like a walnut on a granite outcropping. The trees whipped past like pool cues in a barroom fight.
Only a short distance to go. The gray of the woods and lowering sky lightened over the lake. I sucked in a breath and vowed to hold on no matter what; like Shackleton, I would make it. Then the universe unraveled.
My brother slammed into the last bump, and was catapulted into the air. His shovel clanged off into the woods, and he crashed down, rolling, thundering against the snow, arms and legs flailing, and finally coming to a stop, stretched on his back across the trail in front of me. There wasn’t even time to scream. The metal runners shot across his stomach like twin Ginsu knives. My sled and I took flight. Suspended and sailing for just a moment, then pounding down, miraculously still aboard. The snow ran out, and the flat ice of the lake compressed against my chest through the sled. I kicked the toes of my plastic boots against the rime and rolled off, skidding to a stop as the sled went on. I scrambled back to the slope, sliding a step down for every one up, until I reached him, fearing the fratricide I’d surely committed.
He was lying there laughing, gasping for breath, and laughing some more. I collapsed alongside him and was soon consumed by laughter too. He was utterly uninjured.
Later, on the drive home, his belt buckle fell off, and we saw that the runner had neatly cut through all but a few wisps of his belt on either side. True story.
Hope you enjoy your snow day. Call if you can.