Falling snow brings back childhood wonders

When large, fluffy flakes began falling for the first snow of the season, I felt a childlike happiness that tugged at my heart to go outside and play.

So I donned my jacket, hat and mittens and slipped into my boots.

Outdoors, I slid for a second on the yet-to-be shoveled sidewalk, looking up to let the icy crystals hit my cheeks. I could see how quickly the wet snow was clinging to the bare branches, reminiscent of picture-postcard scenes snow-fanatic Jo Lundeen has photographed whenever possible along the Riverwalk.

Out back, tall evergreens already were drooping from the weight of the new fallen snow.

I welcomed the simple beauty of the winter wonderland.

As the heavy snowfall hampered midday visibility on our street, I could see bright lights from an invisible vehicle coming closer. I could hear the joyful enthusiasm of two youngsters all bundled up as they approached along the sidewalk. Toting their colorful, plastic, runner-less sleds, they headed toward the sled hill in our neighborhood for their first downhill runs of December.

Deeper, playful voices from across the street also attracted my attention. Upon closer look, two teenage brothers were directing each other as they built a life-size snowman.

I flashed back through my snowman-building history as a child, later as a mom with our three children, then again more recently as a mom without the help of our children.

I also remembered the love my father had shown for my mother one year when he put on his boots early in the morning to stomp a huge heart in their front yard after an overnight snowfall.

Then, later in the afternoon, at the Naperville Municipal Band concert on stage at North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall, right on cue, narrator Ann Lord packed historical notes onto "The Sleigh Ride" composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and "Sleigh Ride" by Leroy Anderson. And I got to thinking about all the other songs devoted to the wintry imagery of snow.

When I returned to this computer, my curiosity led me to Leroy Anderson's official website, where it says "Sleigh Ride," written in 1948, "was composed during a July heat wave while Anderson lived in Woodbury, Connecticut. Words were added by Mitchell Parish in 1950 …" And I began singing those familiar upbeat lyrics from memory.

Every time it snows, winter songs fill my repertoire. Unlike most of today's hits, I know the words to "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bells," "Let It Snow," "Frosty the Snowman" and, of course, "My Favorite Things."

As I traipsed my normal walking path the morning after the snow, I counted five snowmen and two other snow creations in my neighborhood, along with more than a dozen humongous snow balls on the playground at May Watts Elementary School, all signs of old-fashioned fun outside in the fresh air.

Once in a lifetime

Last month, Emy Trotz, executive assistant for Mayor Steve Chirico, contacted me with news that Esther Gehrs was celebrating her 104th birthday with a group of friends at Walker's Charhouse.

One of my favorite things to do is experiencing something new. I had never met or photographed someone 104 years old, so I was delighted to meet the engaging, fun-loving woman surrounded by 11 adoring friends.

I asked Esther what would make her happy for her 104th birthday.

"Having all my friends around me …" she said. "Just like this … each one is real precious."

And mindful of lyrics to a song I've been singing my whole life, I got "a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy …

" … These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives!"

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville and other topics - including the snow - every month in Neighbor.

Esther Gehrs celebrates her 104th birthday. Courtesy of Stephanie Penick
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