it's cold in iowa.
when autumn turns to winter and the days are short and dark, the snow begins to fall. most years, it doesn't stop until the black earth of the corn fields and green rolling hills of summer are gone, covered under layer upon layer of powder. at night the wind comes, bellowing, and the snow is picked up, thrown against the house and covering basement storm windows, creating massive drifts that merge with the roof in one clean line. in the morning, it’s calm again. the sky is blue. parents open curtains and look out the upstairs windows where they see fields of soft white peaks, like cake frosting, that hide the imperfections of the land. fathers bundle in scarves and hats and brave the cold with shovels, severing the pristine surface and rediscovering the sidewalks.
for Iowa children, snow is not a novelty. it is part of life, its coming and its eventual melting away, no different from the sun or the rain. they enjoy it as children do everywhere, digging tunnels and caves, lying down to make snow angels, and flying across it on sleds and plastic discs. but it is expected, common place, like ocean waves are to the children of California. it is only special when it closes roads and forces schools to shut their doors for the day.
i was an Iowa child. a few times each year, a major storm would come in overnight and in the morning while it was still dark outside, i would stand in the kitchen in my flannel nightgown, listening in anticipation to the monotone announcer listing school cancellations on the radio.
most winter days, though, we went off to school despite the snowdrifts. an orange school bus stopped outside our house to get us each day, its windows foggy from the heaters blowing out hot air and the warm breath of dozens of kids already inside. we waited impatiently at the end of our driveway for it to pull up and open its doors, dressed from head to toe in winter wear, with immobile arms that were forced parallel to the ground like a scarecrow because of our snowsuit bulk. i had white puffy moon boots, a 1970s american phenomenon that made your feet look twice their normal size but kept them toasty warm. i carried a shoe bag alongside my backpack and metal raggedy ann lunch box, so i could take off my wet boots and put on my shoes when we reached town.
once on board we pushed our way down the narrow center aisle, looking for an empty space or a friendly face. our bus had red vinyl bench seats that held two comfortably or three kids in a pinch, and windows with tabs that slid down individually on hot spring days. in the winter they stayed firmly closed, and we wrote messages and drew pictures in the condensation on the glass as we drove through snow-covered fields to school.