We have great weather on the Peninsula, but there are times when I miss having the four seasons that I experienced growing up. Especially the snow. People often are surprised that we enjoyed the full depth of seasons in Amarillo, Texas, my hometown. But we were in the northern high plains, closer to New Mexico and Colorado than to our Texas neighbor, Dallas.
There’s a lot of weather in Amarillo, and I loved that about the place.
In the winter you can wake up, unexpectedly, to an unbroken carpet of snow. With the silent, cold beauty comes dangerous icy streets, perfectly formed icicles hanging from the edges of your roof, and—best of all—no school, no work and hot, toasty logs in your fireplace. When those days happen, most people stay inside, warm and secure, sheltered in their homes from all the bad weather out there.
But for boys with ambition, those days mean opportunity.
On those mornings, my neighbor friend down the street, Scotty Watkins, and I would quickly eat our breakfasts and head out dressed in our heavy coats, galoshes, woolen gloves and hats, gather our big snow shovels and trudge through the snow, heading for the biggest homes with the longest driveways. We would make our way through the unbroken snow to the front porch and ring the doorbell. Someone was certain to answer.
In our still-high-pitched voices, we would ask, “Would you like us to clear your driveway and sidewalk?”
We must have looked sweet to these generally older adults and they good-naturedly would smile at us. But we meant all business. Shoveling snow was a way to make some big money. And despite living in the finest Amarillo neighborhood and both our fathers being doctors, we lived very moderate lifestyles, far from the children of the affluent today. No trips to Cabo. If we wanted things, we had to earn them.
“Well, how much would it be for both of them?” they would ask.
And we were not shy in our prices, given that without our services they could be shut in for days at a time. Our quote was as much as $20, though given the time and the luck we were having, we were open to negotiate. But mostly they met our numbers.
Once the dealings were complete, we went right to work. Even though we were both small, we were good workers. The first thing we would do was to discard as much of our clothing as possible. Shoveling snow heats you up good and fast, and we knew from experience to go ahead and shed the extra layers first. Often, even with the temperatures in the tens or twenties, we would be in short sleeves.
Sometimes our charge was to clear a whole driveway, but with the really long ones, we would usually just do tire lanes. We would ask the homeowner to open their garage doors for a moment so that we could see how to start and then each of us would take a tire lane and do our best to stick with it. Once we had taken care of a customer’s driveway, we would go to work on the sidewalk stretching from the street to the front door.
When the snow was new, light and not full of moisture or ice, the work was not difficult. But if it were the second day after a big storm, and the snow and mush were frozen overnight, the shoveling could be very demanding. Whatever the conditions, we just stayed at it until we finished. We wanted
to get to as many homes as
possible before the temperature rose and melted our
When we were done, we went back to the front door and rang the bell. Almost always, the residents approved of our work, though now and then there was a curmudgeon who told us that we had not done a very good job and to go back at it, which, of course, we did, though vowing not to offer our services to them after the next big storm.
When they paid us, they often added a couple dollars as a tip, something we were grateful for. And inevitably, we would get an invite to come inside for hot cocoa and cookies or cake. Unless it was our last home of the day, we would politely decline, wanting to get to the next spot. On a good day, we could do four homes—two before lunch and two after—which meant around $40 each. This was serious money to us.
I always hoped for a snowstorm before Hanukkah, since I enjoyed picking out nice presents for my family and this meant I could up my level of gift-giving significantly. And that’s what makes a good holiday, isn’t it? Giving and making the people you love happy.