I guess most people don’t use coal shovels these days, particularly not for shoveling snow. The shovels in my garage, however, have been a part of my life for a long time. Having been made to handle coal, these shovels are practically indestructible. They will outlast me.
The shovels date back to 1963, the winter and spring of my junior year of high school. I was what is known these days as a “latchkey kid.” My parents both worked and I went home to an empty house after school. That was good and bad, generally, and the stories I might tell about that are for another time.
Today, as a late winter storm covers us with snow and slush yet again, I found myself thinking about a storm in 1963. It snowed a lot, enough that the streets weren’t cleared by the end of the school day and the walk home from school was difficult. The storm must have started in the morning, because school wasn’t canceled on account of it, and everyone had gone to work. By afternoon, it was becoming apparent that getting home from work would be difficult.
I hadn’t been home from school very long that afternoon when my father telephoned from work. The fact that he was on the phone got my attention. He probably didn’t call home from work three times in all the years I lived at home. He hated the telephone, and he used it only when he was really fired up about something.
It this case, he was fired up about shovels. On the phone, he told me we needed new snow shovels. The shovel he’d been using wasn’t much good and had to be replaced. Actually, he said, we needed two new shovels because it was going to take both of us, him and me, to clear all of the snow out of our driveway.
He wanted me to get the shovels and to start clearing the driveway so that when he got home he wouldn’t have to park on the street. There was no arguing with him.
Getting the shovels meant walking downtown to a hardware store where my father knew everyone and had credit. I put on the hat, coat, gloves and boots I had just taken off and went back out into the storm to get the shovels. I must have been grumbling every step of the way.
It was about half a mile from the top of the hill where we lived to the store. When I got there I found that the old man had telephoned the store as well. The shovels were waiting for me. Coal shovels? Yep, said the man in the store, that’s what your father said he wanted. Heavy gauge steel shovels with steel-reinforced oak handles. Shovels you can use to chop at snow and ice without breaking them. Shovels made to last a lifetime and beyond.
Dad and I used those shovels together that day and every time it snowed until 1968 when I got married and left home. As a sort of man-to-man housewarming gift for the apartment Marge and I set up as newlyweds, the old man gave me one of the shovels.
He kept the other one and used it right through the last snowstorm in the spring of 1994. He died the following summer. When my mother sold the house and moved in with us in 1996, the old man’s shovel came with her. Since then the two shovels have been reunited in our garage. I can’t tell now which one my father gave to me in 1968 and which he kept.
But every time it snows, I pick up one of the shovels and I think of him. If he were here right now, he’d be telling me it’s time to get out there and clear the snow. He’d be right, too. The driveway is a mess. Fortunately I have just the tool for the job.