As we thrashed about under conflicting desires, the children pulled us, as always, back to the rhythm of the days. James turned four on January 16. He had insisted that I bake a chocolate cake for Margaret Ann and Matthew’s birthday, and another chocolate cake for his grandpa’s birthday on January 7th. When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, I thought the answer would be a given. He smiled and replied, “Vanilla.” That’s James. He has a contrary streak that has only been refined as he’s grown older. But he also has a shy side that still leaves him a bit awkward at times. I made his vanilla birthday cake and we sang “Happy Birthday” and gave him his presents. We had bought him a zither to encourage his musical skills, and his grandma had made him some pajamas. My friend Rita had sent a gift from California, but my sister’s gift for him was still in transit. As we gathered around him in our living room at Gabi, he was too shy to open his few presents. That changed quickly when Matthew offered to “help.” He held Matthew back and said he would open them himself. Just as my sister and I had done, my children were growing and interacting and finding their places within the family. They defined their roles, even as I resisted naming those roles, trying to allow them alternative options.
|James on his fourth birthday with his siblings|
For his birthday that year, James received a gift that no one else did. It snowed. Although it had been cold and foggy and miserable for most of the month of December, it had not snowed enough to settle on the ground. But it started snowing the evening of January 15 and kept going for twenty-four hours. It was beautiful! The landscape that I had loved green and lush looked wonderful in white. We celebrated James’ birthday with a snow party.
George found a piece of plywood, and he added runners with some scrap lumber to make a sled. Then he gave each of the children a ride in the snow in the field behind the barn that didn’t belong to us. In the middle of winter, there was no grass to worry about flattening, and the owners of the field didn’t mind us sliding down the long slope. We all had great fun. The next day the weather warmed a little and the snow began to melt, but we still managed to build a strange-looking snow creature on the side of the courtyard.
While the snow provided fun for the children and a change in the scenery for my afternoon tea, it created problems driving up and down the hill. With ice coating the gravel underneath the snow, the road became very slippery. Even in the snow, a cold damp mist drifted around the road, screening the snow-filled ditches so that driving back up the hill to the house became treacherous. Later that month as the snow and the ice hardened, the car couldn’t get traction on the last steep slope, so George, Zio Silvio, and I tried to push the car while Marino steered. The wheels spun and the car fish-tailed as we strained, and I was sickened by the exhaust fumes of the racing engine billowing in my face. Eventually, Zio Silvio and George used an ice pick and buckets of sand to create traction for the last slippery hundred feet.
The dangerous road conditions gave me something else to worry about every afternoon as the children rode home from school in my father-in-law’s car. But we were to realize those were minor problems. Mother Nature had a few more tricks up her sleeve.