This Memory I Can’t Shake

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Me as a chubby little girl in my Christmas dress

Quite often, this memory I have of being snowed in during a blizzard in 1996 crosses my mind and tries to linger. The moment that I see myself staring out the window at the rushing snow, I quickly think of something else. I don’t know why, it’s not a bad memory at all. But for some reason, I try not to entertain it.

So here it is.

It’s 1996 and I am seven years old. I remember the year because my baby brother had just been born and I had already started to resent him. Naturally, he was the family favourite  and I had lost my position as centre of attention.

The day before, my mom took me to the Pen Center shopping mall (still around, but renovated) to take advantage of the “sidewalk sale”. Unless you’re from North America, you might not know what that means, but it’s basically a big sale that retailers have at the end of a season so they can make room for new stock. Yes, it’s like boxing day except it usually runs mid-January and the difference from it being a regular sale is that every store puts sales racks or bins out front, so people can literally shop the “side-walk” or perimeter of the mall. Sidewalk sales were so special to me as a kid, because as you might know if you’ve read any of my previous childhood memoirs, my family wasn’t very wealthy so sales were a big deal for us.  At this particular sidewalk sale, I spotted a pair of flannel pyjamas at Reitmans. I can still recall exactly what they looked like; white with little Winnie-the-Pooh’s all over it. He was wearing blue PJ’s and a matching sleeping hat, and he was surrounded by these fluffy clouds that could make you fall asleep just looking at them. It had three or four buttons down the front and elastic bands at the wrist. The size ‘large’ fit me like a glove, and while the saleslady said I shouldn’t sleep in something so snug, and maybe she should order me the extra-large, I didn’t care. I wanted that exact one.

It was on sale, but mom said it was still expensive. She asked the lady to hold it for us but she said it was against store policy to hold sale stock, so I was forced to walk away empty handed. I sulked all the way home, as mom tried to comfort me. That part I don’t remember, but I can still hear her soft voice playing to me on the car-ride home.

I was unreasonably stubborn, and still am, but I like to think that these days there’s a good reason behind it. Back then, I had no right to whine about pyjamas or to make my mom feel bad that she couldn’t afford such a luxury. I had plenty of pyjamas, and so what if they were my sisters hand me downs? I went to bed warm and safe every night, and that’s more than most children could ever hope for.

That night I dreamt of the Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas, and I told mom about it over breakfast the next morning. She apologised again and said she would talk to dad about it, which is what she always said when she didn’t have the heart to say no. I never counted on her actually talking to him, and even if she did, it wouldn’t make a difference. Money was money and we didn’t have much of it.

Dad came home from work and said the weather was expected to get really bad. It was either a Thursday or Friday, because the two of them always went out for a “date” on one of those days. I used to beg to come along but mom said they needed time alone, like they used to have when they were young. To this day, whenever I see a picture of them in their 20s, I can hear her saying this to me. 

They went out, even though the snow was getting bad and the news channels were warning people to stay inside, it was a blizzard! Mind you, it didn’t take much for those warnings to be issued. Ontario had a reputation for “whinging” as Aussies would say, about the weather.

I didn’t think of the pyjamas while they were gone. All I could think about was if they were safe. I sat by the living room window and watched the snow pour down, minute by minute, until the minutes turned to hours and the roads turned to ice and they still weren’t home. I asked my older sister and brother if they thought our parents were ok. They admitted that they usually weren’t gone for this long, but we had to keep in mind that the roads were icy and they would be driving slow.

Then it turned 9 o’clock and I was crying. I had my favourite stuffed animal smothered in my face so my little brother couldn’t see that I was in tears. I was sitting beside his crib, praying that he would live to remember mom and dad. He was only a couple months old, and it just didn’t seem fair that if something tragic happened that night, he would grow up wondering who they were. These were my cryptic seven-year-old thoughts, which were so silly and dramatic and over the top, as such I was. I still don’t know why I feared the worst, but not much has changed to this day. I still often do.

I hadn’t been crying for too long when I heard the front door opening. I kissed Nik on the forehead, threw my stuffed animal at him, and ran downstairs. I gave my mom the biggest hug and started crying into her jacket. She couldn’t understand why, and everyone was laughing at me. My sister explained that I thought they might die in the blizzard.

“As if,” dad said, “We survived the blizzard of ’77,”  and that’s a whole other story. 

Mom took me upstairs to tuck me in. I crawled into bed wearing Elisa’s old nightgown. Then mom handed me a grey Reitmans bag and said,

“You better go get changed.”

There was this smile on her face, it was so big. I can’t think of it for too long or I start getting sad again, but she had this way of smiling when she knew she was about to make you really happy. And it was just the best thing I ever saw. It’s how I want to always remember her.

I loved those pyjamas, and I wore them to death. They were tight, as the sales lady had warned, but in a strange way that made me feel somewhat safer. In hindsight, I hate the person I was that day, who guilt-tripped my parents into risking their lives to buy me a pair of Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas. But then, I wasn’t really a person yet. I was just a kid. And kids do those stupid things, and they don’t regret anything at the time…

Until maybe 17 years later, when they wish they could go back in time and for once in their life, not try to get their way. 

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