He knew he had to do it.
He and his wife had been struggling with the flu since the day after Boxing Day, leaving them both unable to give the driveway, the steps and the back deck the attention they deserved. In the meantime, the snow had continued unabated as 2018 gave way to 2019, covering everything outside the back door in a sea of white.
He finished his cup of tea, bundled up and pushed the back door open, struggling against the snow that had piled up on the deck over the previous 24 hours. He had already been outside this week to meet the post-New Year’s garbage collection, so he had a taste of what was to come.
First stop: The shed, to haul out the three-year-old snowblower for the first time this season. The Strait area had endured its fair share of wintry weather since mid-November, before autumn had even reached the two-month mark. He had even had at least three white-knuckle highway drives before December even arrived. And yet, the snow hadn’t collected in the driveway to the point of trapping the family car.
Until this week.
The snowblower, nicknamed “Biff,” had a full tank of gas and a topped-up oil tank, but it repeated a trend from previous winters by not starting right away on the first day it was needed. He pulled at Biff’s cord 10 times, then 20, and finally gave up at 40, feeling too dizzy and frustrated to continue.
He turned his attention to the deck and the steps, shovelling away the partly-solid, partly-slushy leftovers of the various post-Christmas weather blitzes. The soundtrack in his mind drifted back and forth between Lennie Gallant’s upbeat “Raise The Dead of Wintertime” and Anne Murray’s wistful “Wintry Feeling.”
With the deck, stairway and a basic path around the car cleared off, he returned his attention to the snowblower. Twenty more cord-pulls proved fruitless.
Resigned to his fate, he began to remove snow from the driveway and started chipping away at the mini-mountain left behind at the edge of the street by well-meaning and hard-working municipally-hired plow drivers. The task was long and monotonous but slowly starting to generate results, and by early afternoon he had cleared off exactly half the driveway.
Emboldened, he turned back to the snowblower for another crack at starting up Biff. His efforts ended roughly twenty-five seconds and three tugs later, when the pull cord snapped off.
He left the cord on the snow-covered ground and listlessly returned to his manual driveway-clearing. Progress was slow but tangible. Ten minutes later, however, he was running out of energy and enthusiasm. No jaunty or encouraging winter-themed songs were running through his head any more.
Instead, he rested on the edge of his shovel, not unlike Ken Dryden resting on his goalie stick while calmly watching Guy Lafleur score at the other end of the Montreal Forum ice 40 years earlier. And he recalled a favourite poem.
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will; when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill; when the funds are low, and the debts are high; when you want to smile, but you have to sigh; when care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must – but don’t you quit.”
It wasn’t a prayer. It never mentioned God. But it brought him great comfort. It always had. His mother even gave him a plaque containing that poem, by Edgar A. Guest, for Christmas nearly 20 years earlier. He kept that plaque on his work desk, turning to it during some of the most difficult moments of his personal and professional life.
“So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,” he murmured, picking the shovel back up. “It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when a truck came around the corner, its plow-extension gleaming in the newly-arrived sunlight.
The weary shovel-jockey thought of flagging down the truck driver to see if they could strike a deal for plowing the rest of the driveway. The thought had barely entered his mind when the driver swooped into the entry way and, in less than a minute, removed the snow that would have required hours of shovelling to eradicate.
This driver turned out to be another homeowner from down the street. He wouldn’t accept a penny for his work. Instead, he smiled, said “Happy New Year,” and drove away.
The relieved man he left behind put the snowblower and its defunct cord back in the shed, laid down the shovel, came inside, took off his wet outer clothes, and hugged his equally flu-ridden wife.
More storms would come that winter, of course. But for now, all was calm, and all was bright.