As my 77-year-old mother shoveled out her neighbor’s parking space this afternoon, I thought about her years of shoveling snow in Boston.

Years of putting on gloves, a hat and scarf, and heading out to shovel that same Brighton sidewalk.

The years when she had her seven children to get it done for her and the ones since we’ve moved out that she has handled it herself.

Now here I am, stopping by to shovel her walk and when I finish she comes bundled up, ready to dig out a space for her 20-something year old neighbor from the South.

Sticking her cone in the street, as is the way, then shoveling someone else out.

I take a moment to thank the powers that be for her good genes and good heart and hope that she has passed them on to me. I wonder if the act of shoveling itself has helped her maintain such vigor.

The silence of snow in the city is hard to explain to one who hasn’t experienced it.

White powder muffles the train, cars are quiet and still–buried under mounds of fluff.

Your own sounds are amplified. Your breaths pass through your scarf and echo into the speaker of your hood. Other sounds too. Your boots crunching the ice, a passing plow scraping the pavement or distant shovel at work all reverberate down the streets.

You’ve left life’s noises inside. Kids, cooking, work, phone, tv…

Outside, in the snow, it’s you and your breath.

For a woman with seven kids, this may be peace. For a woman who has shoveled that same walk with two husbands and traveled down those same stairs on her way to both of their funerals. Who has the concerns of 11 grandchildren ever present in the back of her mind.

As an adult with a family of my own, I see how the physical effort of pushing several feet of snow in the quiet is a break from the tax bill, the grocery bill, the electric bill.

My mother is a Boston girl through and through. She chats with her neighbors as she shovels her sidewalk but never enough to let them slow her down. Sometimes she loves the snow and other times she puts up with it but she never complains.

She has shoveled through blizzards and hard times and sickness. She has shoveled through joy and new life and healing. She gets it done then goes inside to a cup of tea and the dinner that she has prepared for her family and anyone else who passes by.

As I leave, Ma tells me to take one of her good shovels home for my own sidewalk. She ignores me when I ask her to go inside and continues to shovel for her neighbor.

Maybe she wants to listen to her breath.

I drive home and send my kids inside with my husband. Today, I will stay outside and shovel in the hopes that the magic of a city snow will rub off on me.


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