What if one morning you woke to snow without any forewarning at all? No news of its imminent arrival scrolled through your twitter feed; no emails or robocalls warning of inclement weather came from the school district; no breaking news headlines ticked past the bottom of your screen, entitled ‘Storm Tracker 2012’.
Imagine then that your children spent all day outside, enjoying this unforeseen event. They shunned shining computer screens for simple, icy snowballs. They abandoned their vast cyber worlds, and sled down hills in their own neighborhoods, and conversed face-to-face with other kids rarely seen outside school gates.
Life has lost many of its sweetest surprises with the advance of technology. It really is addicting to live in cyberspace, instead of an actual place. Constant advertising and headline news at every bump in the road make most events so drawn out, you tire of them long before they’ve even occurred: elections, oscar winners, celebrity divorces, the Super Bowl.
Nowadays, surprises are truly as sweet to savor as candy. When Damon had to walk to the store for groceries last Friday because the streets were undriveable, and Juliet climbed into the little red sled and he pulled her along behind him like something out of Little House on the Prairie, life seemed a whole lot simpler and more exhausting than we ever remembered.
And when Damon and Juliet returned from that slushy, sleety, sloshy trip, while the weather morphed from snow to rain and the landscape dripped bit by bit back into familiar form, we again realized how easy life is now. Most nights we don’t have to send Pa out on foot to find dinner. We don’t worry about that pound of sugar we just purchased getting wet and ruined if we’ve taken the car home from the grocery store.
Yet last Friday, we were hurtled back into a simpler time for a day or two, and Pa did walk to the store for provisions. Our pound of sugar did get wet, and I wrung my hands like Ma might have done, although without the bitter consequences. Damon came in and warmed by the fire, and afterwards he placed our big, silver wok on the stove and poured the wet, clumpy sugar into a high, white, candy mountain.
That bowl of sugar remained there all day, drying out, while the kids played in the last flurry of snow. Then dinner arrived, and in they came – cheeks red, hair dripping, fingers chilled. One by one, they stopped by the stove and stared, eyes round as peppermints. “What is that?” they asked, one after the next.
“Sugar!” I declared. They looked between me and the bowl several times until finally out popped the burning question – “Can we eat some?”
“Yes!” I replied. “Grab a spoon and go crazy!”
Rarely has one seen a happier crowd of kids then shortly after ‘Sugar Bowl’ is declared dinner. Children danced. Children sang. Our house was pronounced the happiest house in all the land, for a wee little bit. All because of that simple surprise. A wok of sugar, on the stove, sitting in the evening glow like a still life from long ago.
“Wherever did you get candy, Pa?” Laura wondered.
“I got it some time ago. It was the last bit of sugar in town,” said Pa.
Now “…bring me the fiddle, Laura, I’ll see what I can do…”
A few clear, true notes softly sounded. The lump in Laura’s throat almost choked her….then Mr. Boast’s tenor joined the fiddle’s voice and Pa’s voice singing:
“This life is a difficult riddle,
For how many people we see
With faces as long as a fiddle
That ought to be shining with glee.
I am sure in this world there are plenty
Of good things enough for us all
And yet there’s not one out of twenty
But thinks that his share is too small.”
– The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder