“What a beautiful day!” he calls from the driveway, pausing with his shovel wedged into the snowbank. It’s an early morning, 16 degrees, and last night’s snow has faded into flurries under a slate sky. “Cold, but beautiful,” he adds with a smile.
His name is Nick. We’ve talked several times before, but he’s always happy to meet me. I explain that my dog died a few months ago, and I introduce him to Molly, who pauses patiently on our walk, her thick, gray-black coat flecked with snowflakes.
Nick is around 80 years old, I’m guessing, and wears a bright red jacket that accentuates the rosiness of his cheeks above a bushy mustache. His pockets are stuffed with dog treats. “I don’t have any pets, but I have hundreds of dogs,” he says, spreading his arms.
Nick has a snow blower but prefers to shovel, because it “gets me moving around” and allows him to meet “nice people like you.” He tells me that he moved into this house in 1972 with his family and that he wants to die there—“Not that I’m planning to die anytime soon,” he adds with a chuckle.
The street is not yet fully plowed, still white and soft under my boots. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a little puff of snow fall silently from a maple limb. Molly shuffles on her paws. I remember I need to get to work and turn to head home.
“I’ll tell you,” says Nick, and I know what’s coming because he’s said this to me before. “Every morning when I wake up and am looking down at the floor instead of up at the roots, it’s a good day.”
He smiles, again. As Molly and I start to walk up the hill, he picks up his shovel and assesses the small remaining bank of snow in his driveway, in no hurry to finish the job.
—Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers