I wake up to snow falling early in the morning a full week before Thanksgiving, and I know I’m not in Puerto Rico, where my wife and I had planned to be at this very time. Instead, we’ve lived the past two months in Springfield with our 2-year-old grandson, Francis, as his father, our son, recovers from a lengthy illness.
Since retiring from our working lives as teachers a few years ago, my wife and I have spent much of our time traveling around the United States and Europe, enjoying the freedom we had so anticipated as a central feature of our retirement. Just a few months ago, a dear friend had returned to Puerto Rico, and invited us to visit her in her village outside of Rincon. Our November calendar had been wide open but a phone call from our son’s wife in late September forced postponement of those plans. We would go to Springfield to help take care of our grandson.
Here, most weekdays begin with a trip to Francis’ day-care center, but due to the snow on this Friday morning, the center is closed. Francis greets me before daybreak while everyone else still sleeps — “It’s snowing, Poppop!” — and soon we’re stepping outside into the season’s first snow. A muffled hush awaits when we open the back door, just as the first hints of daylight penetrate the dense columns of flakes falling upon us. The night before, we had watched Frozen together, and in Francis’ mind, he is about to create his own version of Olaf, the film’s inanimate snowman who magically comes to life to assist Anna in her search for her estranged sister, Elsa.
The falling snow is heavy and wet, and the trees overhead, still holding the last of their autumn leaves, look more ominous than the snow on the ground. Undeterred by any of this, Francis could have easily been marching with Olaf through the barren landscape of that fictional land of Frozen. While I can see lights flickering on in the warm rooms of nearby houses, including in our own kitchen, he is imagining himself in the company of the snowman taking shape in front of our very eyes. I send Francis in search of some sticks for Olaf’s arms and motion to my wife, now watching from the kitchen window, to secure a carrot from the refrigerator. Soon Olaf’s nose is in place, and Francis and I stand admiring our new friend.
Olaf personifies the voyages of imagination we have enjoyed with Francis these past few months. Living with a 2-year-old, you soon grow accustomed to reality being suspended, sometimes for hours at a time. We revel in the fact that our grandson loves books and have spent our evenings in Springfield roaming together through his favorites. You begin to get a feel for how his little brain is intrigued by animals who talk, trees that move through a landscape as effortlessly as small animals, and children, just a bit older than he is, who navigate uncharted dimensions both ominous and inviting.
My wife and I may not be in Puerto Rico, and plans for a spring trip to the Grand Canyon have also been temporarily shelved. For now, there’s no place we’d rather be than Springfield, where we’ve had the good fortune to travel to destinations that can’t be found on any map. A winter day can seem nearly infinite when you’re outdoors as dawn is breaking, touring the landscape of the backyard with a child before returning indoors to open books and join the company of llamas, red crocodiles, and little blue trucks. For the moment, I’d rather be nowhere else.Peter Schmidt is a retired teacher and school administrator who lives in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Send comments to [email protected] globe.com. To submit your story for consideration for Connections, e-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to [email protected]. We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.