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Columnist Sara Shallenberger writes on a nostalgic return to carefree childhood

I was catching hail in my hands today. It's a childish thing to do, I know. But I don't regret it.

The hail began mid-afternoon, as I sat doing homework at my dining room table. Calculus problems covered sheets of graph paper, as I racked my brain trying to figure out how I was ever going to solve this integral. "This is why I'm never going to be a mathematician," I complained to my dad. It was a relief when the hail came, a dusting of cold pebbles falling from an overcast sky. The clouds had been ripped away in some places, revealing a blue so bright it burned the eyes.COURTESY PHOTO - Shallenberger

The move was more instinctive than anything, the closing of the laptop, the rise from the chair. The walk across the room to the back door felt like an echo from a distant childhood, of days filled with snow and laughs and hot cocoa. Someone or something was calling me outside —a childhood friend, perhaps, or some other force I couldn't possibly explain.

It was the type of cold that makes you tense — your skin tightens, your spine contracts, and the hairs on your arm stand at attention like soldiers. I was barefoot —in my childish haste, I had forgotten shoes. I felt the little marbles of ice dig into my heels, then melt into puddles under my feet. Though the protective facade of my house sheltered me, the wind whirled violently high above. The evergreens danced to a primordial rhythm, swaying to a melody more complex than any of Mozart's. And the hail —how it leapt upon the rooftops, jumping for joy down the shingles! It seemed to come in great quantities, filling the air like cherry blossoms do in the spring. Yet when I stuck out my hands to catch it, the beads seemed to arc away from my warmth, as if repelled by a magnet. Each piece seemed to evade me — slowly, my feet froze and the color drained from my face, but my palms remained empty.

When one finally spun into my hands, it was as if a miracle had dropped into my grasp. It was the perfect specimen —large, clear, fabulously cold. Faceted in a perfect diamond shape, for a moment I held a precious treasure.

Then the sharp edges dissolved, and the crystalline core fractured. In a matter of seconds, the piece of hail was gone as quickly as it had come. At that moment, the cold, held at bay by some childhood determination, came back to me. The wind's music, once familiar and welcoming, seemed foreign now.

I wiped the melted remains of the hail on my sweatshirt and headed inside. For a moment, I felt stupid — I was 17! I didn't know any other teenagers who did this type of thing, much less adults. They were too busy with homework and jobs and friends to even notice the weather. How immature must I have been to go outside barefoot and catch hail like a 5-year-old?

But I thought of the wind's melody, and the trees dancing, and the hail keeping the beat. I thought of the one perfect little crystal that fell into my hands by some act of fate. Perhaps, I thought, a little bit of childishness isn't all bad.


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