Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur


Eskimo Words for Snow

Filed under: Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 5:38 am

They say the Eskimos have a large number of words for snow. I think that’s baloney. Two, maybe three, words tops is all I’m willing to believe from them. It’s not that I think that Eskimos don’t have the creativity to name all the different types of snow, it just that every thing that I have ever been told about another culture has been a lie. I’m reluctant to take this one at face value.

According to The AFU and Urban Legends Archive, it’s all bogus, so I guess my instincts were right. Well, if Eskimos don’t have a million words for snow, we Utahans should make some up. When I started writing, we had that tiny and  fine snow that reminds me of dandruff. It’s just enough to muck up your windshield, but not enough to clean the dirt from the street. Sometimes it just fools you and you think that the fog is really thick, but when you look closely, it’s snow.

When I was researching the Intuit words for snow, the flakes got bigger. They were only about half the size of Christmas Snow. It was the size and quantity of snow that sent my mom into a terror-induced trance one evening. It wasn’t the year of the horrible snow. It was before that and it was before the divorce, so I was younger than eleven years.

We had gone to Valley Fair Mall. You know how things are at the mall. They are warm. You take off your coat and carry it around with you, wishing you had just left it in the car. Eventually, you forget about the outside world and get lost in your errands. That’s what happened to us that night. It was a wonderful evening with my mom and Stacey when we stepped outside. She froze. The most vivid part of this memory is watching my mom just look straight up at the sky at those snow flakes.

Whenever I tell this story, careful listeners always interrupt me. “Isn’t your mom from Wisconsin?” I can see their minds click. It’s like a little cartoon balloon is above their heads. “Wisconsin gets major snow. Why would she be scared of snow?” I remember the day when I asked her those exact questions. “I grew up in Wisconsin, but I learned to drive in Virginia.”

Ah, yes. Virginia. My father was stationed in Portsmouth, Virginia during part of the Vietnam War. I was born in Virginia. I always imagine my young mother on the bus when she realizes that she could just learn how to drive my dad’s car. I can see her on a  bus in 1969 with a baby, trying to bring home groceries. It was so much easier to shop for groceries before the baby came. Here she was suffering, when she could just learn how to drive that car that just sits dormant while he’s away at sea. Easy decision. It’s a time of revolution. Women can drive cars now.

Ah, yes. Virginia. There are bugs the size of rodents and rodents the size of small dogs in Virginia. The reason the bugs can get to the size of rodents in Virginia is because it never gets cold enough to kill them. It doesn’t snow there. I had a friend who went to school in Virginia and she said that the one time it snowed while she was there, the entire city shut down. She said that there wasn’t even an inch on the ground.

Plus, there was that horrible frozen 7th East incident. When my mom first moved to Salt Lake City, she got a job at Grand Central on 7th East and 21st South. Ironically, I live within walking distance of the store in question, except it’s a Circuit City now. After closing, one snowy evening, my mom spent hours trying to get to my grandmother’s house on 17th South and Windsor Street: a three mile drive, tops. She spent several hours trying to drive a couple of miles back home on a “sheet of ice.” Every time she would use the gas, the car would slide. Don’t get her started on this story. The length of time it took her to get home gets longer every time she tells it.

So, my mom was scared of snow. She was scared of the ice. She was scared of getting stuck. She was scared of getting the girls home safely. She was frozen in a trance, looking at the snowflakes coming down from the sky. All of that fear faced her at that moment. I remember suggesting that we just call Dad and have him pick us up, but I saw something change in her for a moment. It’s a time of revolution. Women can drive cars now. She got into the car and drove us home that night.

They say that there can be no courage without fear. Unlike most things that “they” say, I know that this one is true because I saw the courage fill my mother’s body that evening. If I were given the chance to name the kind of snow that’s about half the size of Christmas Snow and falls quickly, covering the ground thickly within a few hours, I would call it Mother’s Snow. Eskimos might not have a million words for snow, but I do.


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