The winters were rather harsh in Maryland. The snow banks piled up to immeasurable heights when the wind blew. Our first winter in Maryland, the snow drifts covered the back of our building, completely blocking the back door and nearly allowing for a fun snow slide from the 2nd story windows. I remember fondly an igloo my dad made for my brother one winter when I was around 4 years old. It was the one and only igloo I ever really enjoyed. Even at an early age I hated the freezing cold.
My dad had gotten a snow shovel and had worked for hours out in the chilled air to clear the sidewalks for the neighbors. I remember the way my father piled up all the snow next to the building where the laundry machines sat running on the other side of the red brick wall. The drier heater vent pumped nice, warm air out of that vent every time it was turned on. My dad hollowed out the igloo over the top of that vent.
The first time my brother and I went out to the igloo, I remember my hands were freezing from wearing the only knitted mittens I had. They were nice and warm, as long as you didn’t attempt to pick up snow with them. Once inside the igloo, I started feeling warm and cozy, as if I were in the house sitting on the floor in front of the television. The heat from the laundry machines warmed the igloo up so much that it began to melt and drip on us just a little.
It started to get late. The sun was setting. We began to get cold and decided to go back in the house before our teeth chattered out of our heads from the freezing water. That night, after my mom got done running the laundry, the night air was chill. The parts of the igloo we thought would melt away refroze as we slept, but this time they formed a thick layer of solid ice. Our igloo had become an impenetrable fortress, complete with ice cicles hanging from the doorway like sharp daggers.
Every time my brother and I went out to the igloo and shimmied on our bellies to avoid breaking the hanging ice carrots, my mom would run the drier again. Every time we came inside, the process would repeat. The igloo would refreeze as another sheet of ice would form. Eventually, we no longer had an igloo. We had a dome made entirely of refrozen melted snow, as see-thru as the glass blocks forming the walls of the shower in my mother and fathers bathroom. It was a magical, crystal kingdom belonging only to us.
That igloo still stood that spring long after the rest of the snow had melted and the only things left of the neighborhood snowmen were the coal eyes in the grass by the sticks some child had used as arms for their chilly friend. The neighborhood kids were jealous of my brothers’ igloo. One day a band of young boys were seen jumping on top of the igloo, trying their best to cave it in. My brother started to panic! His fort, his mighty indestructible fort, was tumbling like the Alamo!
My mother came up with an old saying then. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” she told my brother. He instantly ran out and decided he was going to be the one to cave in his precious fort. They didn’t deserve to! He jumped with the other boys for nearly an hour before the roof of the ice castle finally gave way, tumbling all of the boys inside the walls. Peering out of the window, all I could see were about 12 snow boots sticking up at odd angles. When he came back inside, my brother was extatic. Soaked from head to toe, he proclaimed that it was the most fun he had participated in since he could remember.
I've never seen another ice fortress like the one my father made for us in all my travels, but just like my family, that ice fortress was special because it was a one of a kind. It was chilly and cool to the touch, but when it took us in, its warmth lasted long after the rest of the world had forgotten the snow ever touched our lives. It remained when all else had long since faded into distant memories of coal black eyes and stick figure arms in the budding grass.