I propped up on one elbow and pushed aside the blinds behind the bed to see if the winter storm had arrived. I could see the flakes fluttering outside, illuminated in an orange glow by the street lamp. Then I remembered: the alarm was off. There would be no school, no work, not today. We would soon be making blueberry pancakes and coffee and hot chocolate, deciding on whether we should play Clue or Scattergories while watching the snow intensify through the dining room window. Maybe there would be enough in a few more hours to build a decent snowman. Or maybe we would watch a movie together while the storm had its way with the world outside.
Best of all, there was no hurry to do any of it. It was not yet daylight, and winter had finally arrived all at once. Watching it snow before dawn is the closest think I know to being able to see the quiet. I was the only one in the house awake, but not for long. I let out a long sigh of pure contentment, pulled the covers up to my chin, turned into my pillow, and fell back into a deep sleep.
A couple of hours later, another dream shook me. Somewhere nearby, a fault-line gave way and the collision of tectonic plates below the earth’s surface grabbed our entire house by its collar and jerked it out of its chair as if it were a smart alecky boy, slamming it back down with such force that every loose thing rattled all at once. It was a thunderous explosion of a hundred distinct sounds — glass breaking, metal scraping, wood splintering, chimes chattering — each sound clamoring for attention above the rest.
It was two or three seconds before I realized that if this had been a dream, everyone else in the house had been having the same one. As I was sitting up, trying to get my bearings, I could hear the kids scrambling down the stairs from their bedrooms on the floor above.
“What was that? What was that? Dad, what was that?”
I had no idea.
“Tammy, did you hear that? What in the world?”
My wife is perhaps the deepest sleeper I have ever known. She had heard the noise all right, but was apparently still testing the theory that the whole thing had just been a dream after all and might be stuffed back into that box if only the rest of us would just pipe down and go back to bed like we had some sense.
An instant later, she realized the kids might be in some kind of danger. Before I could even throw on a robe, she was at the foot of the stairs giving them each a thorough physical. As I was rounding the corner, I heard her open the front door.
“Oh, my God!”
I joined her at the open door, both of us staring out in sheer disbelief. A giant tree from the neighbor’s property had fallen across our driveway and smashed into our house, gashing the roof above our front porch and tearing the gutters and siding literally to shreds, with pieces flung all over the place — in our shrubs, on the deck, and against my car, which escaped being crushed like a soda can only because I moved it the night before so our neighbor could use our driveway in case he needed to get out earlier than we wanted to get up.
As I placed a call to our insurance company, Tammy suited up and went outside to get a better look from the hill above our house and to take some photographs.
“It’s not good,” she said 15 minutes later, shaking the snow off her boots. “But we are lucky to be alive.”
Yes, lucky to be alive. And lucky that the tree didn’t reach quite far enough to create a dramatic new sunroof in our living room. And lucky that my car was more than just a pile of scrap metal, albeit a pile of scrap metal with a brand new battery and a brand new timing belt.
We made our blueberry pancakes and hot coffee and hot chocolate. The snow was pouring now, maybe three or four inches and counting. We kept looking out at the tree as if it were a rude visitor who just refused to leave and could not be reasoned with.
“Can we go sledding?” my son wanted to know. Sledding? Now?
“What about Clue? You know, Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a wrench?”
I pictured Colonel Mustard in our driveway with a chainsaw.
“I’d rather go sledding.”
So we dressed up in our sledding garb, drove five miles in the driving snow, and spent the next hour or so plunging down the hill at the fairgrounds at exhilarating speeds. I think it was actually a celebration of not being crushed by a giant tree. I think it was a prayer of gratitude disguised as fun.
Surely Colonel Mustard would understand.