It’s winter. I can feel it now. I still spend the greater part of the day throwing off cardigans and waving my hands at my own flushed face, but sitting by the window within view of the sun is no longer torture. The nights are cool enough to require socks and hot chocolate, and to enjoy the occasional fire beside the chiminea in the garden of bibliotopia. Twin Darth Vader’s have taken up residence in my bed at night (my husband and I both have the flu), and the windows remain shut at night with curtains fully drawn to conserve heat. My dog now sleeps with one paw over his nose and hates to touch the dew-laden grass at night. I used to hate winter, but that could be because I spent some of my childhood in icy Christchurch, New Zealand, which seemed to bare the full brunt of the winds coming straight off the antarctic icesheet. I lived within walking distance of school, but those early morning tramps to the classroom were nightmarish. Sometimes it was so icy we could practically skate to school, most of the times it was foggy with poor visibility. It snowed three times while I lived in New Zealand, and it always felt warmer and brighter on those days. On one of those occasions, very soon after my family arrived in Christchurch from Sydney Australia, we discovered a penguin in the backyard. With my sister holding my hand, my brother carried the confused penguin across the road, over the sand dunes and back to the surf where it quickly waddled off without looking back. That was my first experience with snow. I don’t remember feeling cold, only wonder.
The next winter I started primary school. My teacher was Mr Tollege, a large and bristly man with a reputation as a calculated bully. I was his antithesis: small, quiet and awkward. One particular morning it started to snow and quickly blanketed the playgrounds.As a result school was cancelled and all the children were sent home. I had been instructed by my mother that morning, in the event of snow, to remain in the classroom until my brother collected me. Mr Tollege , already put out by the snow, was even more peeved at having to babysit one of his students. He suggested I go and wait at the office. I refused, telling him my brother wouldn’t be able to find me there. In truth I didn’t want to disobey my mother. My stubbornness annoyed him so much that he grabbed me and proceeded to drag me out of the classroom, hanging by one puny arm, onto a slippery wooden boardwalk. I remember my legs flailing under me as I tried to hold myself up, terrified of this angry gargantuan who was cutting off the circulation to my fingers. I knew what he was capable of; I’d seen him belt the boys and slap girls for the most innocent of transgressions. I tried not to cry, or at least to hide my tears from him, for I was certain it would anger him more. I was afraid for my arm in the grip of so much anger, afraid for my feet, struggling for purchase on the icy wood. I was afraid for my knees and what my mother would say when she discovered they were wet and torn from being dragged too long. Most of all, I was afraid because I was cold and he was sweating. With his shoulders thrust forward, his brow collapsed over his eyelids, he hauled me toward the office, snorting his rage into the snow. I told him he was hurting me, but he didn’t hear me. Something else had his attention now. It was David, my brother. He was on his way to collect me when he saw us on the boardwalk. David was a scrawny ten year old with hollow legs and a cavernous chest. Tollege was a troll compared to him. But here he was yelling at the troll to let me go. Tollege all but dropped me where we stood and carried on towards the office without another word. My brother collected me off the ground and brushed the ice off my knees. We were halfway home before I felt safe enough to let go of his hand. By the time we reached our street Tollege was all but forgotten and the wonder of snow had replaced the pain of the icy wood.
It amazes me how I can touch those early memories with such clarity, and remember the cold of that day. There is more to memory than the mental capacity to retain information. Memory is a full-bodied experience. Every season I’m reminded just how much my whole self remembers.