It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I just finished shoveling the snow off the driveway.
This is the picturesque kind of snow that we want and expect in December, even though we are more likely to get it in February and March. Not that we got much snow of any kind this winter, until now.
Is this what the oldtimers call sugar snow? The passing cars on Route 73 all look white, from snow or salt or both. One of them is turning into my driveway. Wait, I think this car really is white.
As I prop the shovel up against the house, a long, lanky creature with orange curls unfolds itself from behind the steering wheel. It's Oshkosh, my friend Biff's 20-year-old son.
"B'gosh," I shout. Kosh is used to it. People have been greeting him this way ever since he was born. I doubt he thinks much about it. His mother, Margaline, told him that he was named for the Wisconsin town where she and Biff vacationed by the shores of Lake Winnebago one magic summer about 21 years ago.
His sister Jenni came along about three years later. It seemed Biff and Margaline had gotten travel out of their systems by that time, so she wasn't named after some strange and exotic faraway place. On the other hand, her parents didn't name her anything as ordinary as Jennifer, either. No, they named her Jennings, a name that sounds plural, as if they were expecting more than one of her: identical twins, maybe, or quints. Jennings, after William Jennings Bryan, although he is no relation, as far as Biff knows. Margaline just thought the name had a distinguished ring to it, he told me.
Later, the magic in Biff and Margaline's marriage dissipated, as if Lake Winnebago had never been. They divorced. But they agree that the boy Jennings is dating is all wrong. Too old for her, no ambition, no direction... I find myself nodding. They're so right! But of course the more they say it, the more Jennings loves him.
I have changed so much. The stories I used to read about star-crossed young lovers being kept apart by their cruel parents I now see in a different light. "Listen to your elders!" I hiss at the heroine. "It's for your own good, you ninny."
"I came to return this Joan Baez CD," Kosh tells me. "You wouldn't happen to have any early Dylan I could borrow, would you?"
"Sure," I tell him, "come on in." I'm glad he likes the music I used to listen to.
It turns out that Oshkosh is thinking of moving away from the area. I guess it was bound to happen someday. Naming him after a farflung location on a distant northern lake has given him outlandish notions.
On the dining room table, a stack of newspapers awaits sorting. And can wait awhile longer, as far as I'm concerned. Oshkosh picks up a Boston paper, finds the want ads and starts going through them alphabetically, running his finger down the page, face crumpled with concentration. He leans, his other hand on the table.
"Antler work... antler work...can't find any antler work."
"Bob run," he mutters, studying the page. "Creosote buildup removal..."
I give him a sharp glance. Is he joking? Impossible to tell for sure. I go to get the Dylan CDs, and when I come back he is reading "Weekly World News."
"Listen to this," he says. "'Alien cookbook found in wreckage of 1975 flying saucer crash....Hungarian goulash using real ground-up Hungarians.... Canadian bacon..."
"Yeah. That article is really interesting. Turns out experts cracked the secret alien code with just one English word - potato," I tell him. "It was in a shopping list in an archive of alien messages, I think in Washington D.C."
"Llisten to this. "Wife kills hubby for saying she's fat. All-gal jury said Maureen Krebs was a victim of male psychological subjugation and the homicide was justifiable.'"
"Sounds right to me. Here you go, three CDs. Take that "Weekly World News " with you, why don't you, I'm through with it."
"Thanks. Cool! 'Bride bursts into flames at altar...''"
Back he goes into the snowy day, still reading, shoulders hunched. He folds himself into his car and reverses out of the drive. I watch him go. You can't help but wonder with somone like Oshkosh where he'll end up. Or, rather, where he'll wander while he's getting there.
Have a good week.