When You Scrape Your Windshield.
There was frost on my windshield this morning when I left my house for church. It was not the hard and wicked frost of winter. It was just the icy threat of what’s to come.
Recently, my aunt said that her neighbor had gathered a batch of persimmons from her tree and cut open a dozen persimmon seeds to forecast the winter. Eleven were “spoons” and one was a “knife.” Not a single one was a fork.
When a persimmon seed is cut to reveal the shape of a spoon, it represents the shovel that you will be using to scoop yourself out from underneath blankets of snow. A knife predestines bitter cold, the wind that will cut through you. A fork is the friendly sign of a mild winter.
My mother replied that she had seen a woolly caterpillar; it was “nearly black” end to end. Barely showing the reddish-brown of its coming and going.
The black of a woolly caterpillar shows the weeks of hard winter—the longer the black middle of the caterpillar, the longer the darkest part of the winter will be.
It is November, and we have just leaned into our first good, hard cold snap. It was in the 70s midweek and just a day later, there were snowflakes spitting in a flint-gray sky so randomly that each of us felt we imagined them.
Winter is the harshest of Missouri’s moods.
My tire had gone low overnight when the temperature dropped and despite all of my best fumble-fingered efforts, I could not refill it with the free air at the car wash for the big rigs at the grain mill in Speedtrap. The hose was unraveling, and the wire from it pricked my fingers in tiny places across the pads and ridges. My hands were chilled enough I could not feel it, and the blood was hesitant to rise through my stiff flesh.
It was no crisis. I called my priest, who came to fetch me without complaint. She was glad, I think, as many of us can be, for the chance to help others. It warms us up in the face of winter.
Cars slide right off of ice and snowpack into the ditches, if you’re lucky. Dead car batteries. Frozen pipes. Come an ice storm, power can be gone for days or weeks.
Neighbors check on neighbors. Drivers stop. Priests pick up parishioners in pickups. And we all say we’re happy to do it. It’s not a problem at all. We say yes to one another when the persimmons turn up all spoons and knives.
When I arrived and heard the Bishop preach, I was delighted, as I always am, and only somewhat because of her New Jersey accent—a bodacious thing that sticks out like a volunteer tomato plant growing among the irises.
She’s terribly funny, wise, and fierce. I admire the way she seeks to make a connection with all the folks she speaks to, even briefly. In that way, she’s like us.
Around here, we try to find who your people are. Where are you from? Are you related to THOSE Smiths? The ones from Small Town? Because my cousin married into them. Where did you go to high school? Do you remember a Paul Smith? Because he’s my cousin.
And so on.
Our Bishop finds other connections since her kinfolk are not ours. What do you do? What do you enjoy? Tell me about your family. Tell me about your dreams. I have been like her—out of place. My accent stood out in other places, as hard as I tried to shed it, snakeskin and poverty-shame and all. I have sought connections compulsively. Finding my people. Making strangers into neighbors.
Because there are winters.
Winter is still threatening outside—a bear around the cabin, unseen but near. When the wind blows, my window frosts, and the wooden floor grows painful to my bare feet, I know it is unavoidable.
The other night, I watched the moon rise as great and red as I think I’ve ever seen it. The moon is brighter and the stars harsher when it’s below freezing. My mother and I stopped, and I took pictures of it off the road at a little alcove in a cornfield; a place where the stars are close enough you could prick your fingers on them. It was a hunter’s moon—red as blood on snow. Nothing truly captured the color but my imagination.
It was beautiful, and as I watched my breath rising in the night, I wondered at the persimmons seeds and woolly caterpillars. I wondered about my tires and car battery and walking in the snow with a bad knee.
The winter’s night chill sits in my house tonight, an unwelcome guest. I try to make friends with it like I would any other, offering steaming cups of tea. Offering rides. Offering hospitality. Offering hope.
There is warmth in neighborliness.
The only thing that drives winter from my bones is the hospitality I share with others. Paper plates on laps brimming with slices of honey-baked ham. China piled high with turkey and sage-gravy. Apples and saran-wrapped sandwiches in paper sacks against hunger. And the endless cups of coffee winter begs.
Spoons. Knives. Forks.