Dad’s Winter Gift

One morning, during our annual Christmas visit to Illinois in the late 1980s, we awoke to trees covered in feathery crystals — a true winter wonderland. We exclaimed at the beauty and made plans to take photographs of the frost. We wondered what this was — we’d never seen Jack Frost’s work quite as lovely as this. Then Dad, matter-of-factly said, “Hoar frost.”

We looked at him and shook our heads. We’d never heard of hoar frost and how could he possibly know what this phenomenon was called? At some point we looked it up or talked to other people (no Internet on our phones back then) who confirmed that Dad was correct. If I recall correctly, he seemed rather proud that he knew something we didn’t.

I never forgot how beautiful this was and, while we occasionally see something similar on the grass in the Pacific Northwest, we never saw it as beautiful as it was in 1988. I hoped we would get it in Bethesda, but we never did.

We were recently in Illinois and besides spending time with family, and Dean being recognized by our Community College as the 2019 distinguished Alum, we visited some places that meant something to us. One of those was the cemetery where my father is buried. We almost passed it by, but I figured we were right there, so I asked Dean to stop. I trudged through the snow and placed a coin on three gravestones: my Grandmother and Grandfather Patrick’s joint gravestone, my cousin Jim’s gravestone and Dad’s gravestone. I told them hello and that I loved them.

Going back to the car I felt the only grief/nostalgia that I’d felt during the trip so far. Normally I have a lot of feelings when visiting my hometown, but this trip I’d had none until that cemetery visit.

My path through the snow

The next morning I awoke to hoar frost. The trees and bushes were covered in white feathery crystals. Dean had already been outside taking photographs and I went out in my pajamas and stockinged feet to take a few pictures. Later I took a video as the frost began falling off the trees.

After marveling at the frost I remembered that first time I’d seen it and fancied that Dad did this for me because I visited him the afternoon before. He knew how much I wanted to experience a hoar frost again and he used his weather superpower* to give it to me.


*The day we buried Dad there were tornados in the area that morning — one less than a mile from the cemetery. We joked that Dad wanted us to know he was pissed off.

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