Like many people in our region, my plans took a turn last week. I had planned to write about “Minnesota Nice,” our signature form of politeness that has newcomers so perplexed it takes years for them to unravel. But then Big Snow 2019 hit, and life ground to a halt as we all got busy digging out. Minnesota Nice felt off topic. I felt compelled to talk about snow.
Like many Northlanders, we found ourselves temporarily stranded in our own home due to this storm. I expect that over the next few weeks, the topic of what went wrong will be discussed at length, so I will not be discussing it here.
Rather, I want to pay homage to the well-rehearsed, often-repeated event that unfolds in the Northland when the snowstorm eventually subsides: The Neighborhood Snow Removal Party.
The party usually begins when the first bundled-up adult resembling the Michelin Tire Man cautiously emerges from their house. They take a few steps out their back door and place their hands on hips as they survey their new environment. The adults will be followed in short time by smaller versions of the Tire Man, kids eager to get to work building snow forts.
The adults will wave to their neighbors who are also surveying from their back stoop. If they are within speaking distance, they will discuss how much snow each thinks fell and compare it to snowstorms past. The Halloween Storm of 1991 will be declared the winner.
Then the party really gets going. Any adult who can wield a shovel comes out to do so. Paths are shoveled to the snowblowers so that the mighty who wield them can get to work. Cars are brushed off, and driveways cleared. Snow is thrown from over here to over there. During the course of the day, “over there” turns into snow piles towering 8 feet tall. The smallest of the Tire Men beg to play on it.
Most people, when done with their own property, move on to help their neighbors. Parties, after all, involve a lot of people. If it was a particularly heavy snow, neighbors with snowblowers congregate and hatch a plan to clear the alley together, so that everyone can get out.
At the end of the day, when most of the snow has been moved and snow forts dominate the landscape, one household invites everyone into their kitchen to dry off and enjoy a hot cocoa. At this point, it is customary to mention how much your back hurts, but again, all will agree it hurt worse after the Halloween Storm of 1991.
This neighborly dance has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. One of my most vivid memories of my grandfather is him regaling me with stories of how much snow he shoveled as a kid, and how many neighbors relied on him. I personally remember snow days with fondness not because I got to miss school, but because an almost festive atmosphere overtook my neighborhood. A foot of snow needing removal almost guaranteed an all-day party. At least in my head. The adults who did all the work, I know now, probably didn’t use the word “party.”
But sometimes they did. Once, after a particularly bad storm knocked out power in our neighborhood, the post-snow removal party involved everyone meeting at my parents' house (which boasted the only remaining gas stove in the neighborhood) to heat up cans of soup for dinner. If that’s not a party, I’m not sure what is.
I called it a party, but in reality, it was simply neighbors helping neighbors. My neighborhood today is similarly filled with people who want to help. After Big Snow 2019, coffee and cocoa was shared, snowblowers cleared the alley, and snow forts were made. It warms my heart to know the Neighborhood Snow Removal Party will continue.
Well, what do you know? I guess I ended up talking about Minnesota Nice after all.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives, works, and shovels snow in Duluth. You can contact her at KMurphyWrites@gmail.com.