It’s snow season in much of the United States, and right now for some Americans it’s as bad as it gets, which reminds baby boomer Estella Clifford in Glenside, Pennsylvania, of a snow-inspired incident from long, long ago.
Do you remember as a kid reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit, Or There And Back Again? (which was a prelude to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). And do you remember when the Hobbit asked, “What have I got in my pocket?”, forgetting where he was.
“What … hassss it got … in its pocketsesss?” hissed Gollem, taking the question for another riddle in his contest with Bilbo Baggins, the main character in the story.
By the time I was reading it circa 1959, with so many books published since The Hobbit first came long, the world was largely unfamiliar with this question about what we might have in our pockets. I was a young child, living in a Philadelphia neighborhood. But I was old enough to go out and play in the snow with my friends, who also lived in row houses on our single block. It is a question my mother might well have posed to herself, however, on any given day when I came home from a hard day’s play.
In those days, children could go out by themselves, walk down the street, knock on a friend’s door, and ask something like, “Can Kathy and Susie come out and play?” In those days, snow was a magical substance. One went to bed to a drab cityscape, and awoke to a world robed in white, made clean and new by Mother Nature.
We would put on boots, leggings, coats, scarves, hats, and gloves, until we could barely move, and then face the cold, a minor annoyance in the face of all the frosty possibilities. Stumping out the door, we kids would join forces to have snowball fights and build snowmen, snow forts, and our best estimations of igloos.
When one is five, six, seven years old, so many things are new. New things were to be found, examined, and understood, not feared. Gathering snow to make a fort, I found a strange object buried perhaps six or eight inches below the snow surface. It wasn’t something I recognized. Hard, smooth, and ivory-colored, it had a symmetrical, knobby shape. I had no idea what it was. I figured I would take it home and ask my parents. Shoving it in my coat pocket, I returned to the task at hand, and promptly forgot my treasure.
Caught up in our fun, we would refuse to go home until we were so soaking wet and freezing that our mothers finally used “that voice,” and invoked our middle names to get us back indoors: “Estella Eleanor! Come in the house this second! NOW!”
My snow gear was removed in our tiny vestibule, where the ancient black-and-white tile floor resisted water damage from the snow melting off my boots, falling out of my sleeves, and clinging in icy balls to my woolen gloves. Gathering up my duds, Mom noticed the lump in my coat pocket. Unsuspectingly, she reached in and pulled out my mystery object. “Faugh!” she exclaimed with a start, dropping it. “Where did you get that?”
“I found it. It was buried in the snow in front of Quinn’s house,” I said.
“It’s garbage. It’s some dog’s bone.”
“It’s neat,” I said.
“JACK!” she yelled, calling my father. “From now on, YOU empty her pockets!”