Christmas is a season of love, and light, and magic… and well, so is this story. It’s a Christmas story from long ago—so long ago, in fact, that its precise date has escaped recollection. But rest assured: it’s only the day of the calendar that has been forgotten… because the rest of that day was imprinted on my consciousness like a footprint in a field of virgin snow.
It was, in fact, a snowy day—a winter day. Not like in the thick of winter—not harsh and dry and bitter. No, it was a day of new snow—soft and romantic, like cool white butterflies dancing. The gentle flakes were sparse and sporadic on the drive down to Columbus, and the two of us felt like we were in the opening credits to a romantic holiday film where something unforgettable happens.
Of course, as with any day consigned to the distant past, the memories of that day are vague and incomplete. I don’t remember parking the car, for instance, or stopping to fill up with gasoline at any point—though I’m sure we did… But I do remember walking through the zoo with her, gloved-hand-in-gloved-hand, two of the very few visitors to be taking in the subfreezing sights by the last hours of cool gray daylight preceding the more popular “Lights Before Christmas.” As we walked along the way, oblivious to the rest of the world, I remember stealing a moment behind the sea lion tank for a kiss… Ah, I remember the moment well. The kiss was sweet—like cinnamon—and long. Warming. It would not be decent of me to speak of it more than this… But it was a memorable kiss.
As darkness fell, we continued to wander through the zoo, which took on the appearance of the Land of Sugar Plum Fairies as the twinkling lights glowed from every snowy edge and orifice. We strolled past an open fire which was attracting the bowing adoration of many a frozen stranger. To our amazement, chestnuts actually roasted over this open fire—just like in the song. The experience seemed too classic to pass up, so we bought ourselves a bag: our first time eating roasted chestnuts… It turned out that the idea of the chestnuts turned out to be more appetizing than the chestnuts themselves… So that was likely also our last time eating roasted chestnuts. Still at least we could say that we did it together.
Shortly after the chestnut experience, the pace of the snowfall started to pick up. I guess you could say that it was becoming a snow storm—still a generally pleasant, romantic sort of snow storm, but a snow storm nonetheless. I still vividly remember the bombardment of thick, fat flakes—actually more like small snow balls more than flakes—being playfully tossed from the heavens. Since we had been out in the elements for several hours, it seemed especially appealing to hail one of the horse-drawn carriages to take a little ride, to enjoy the scenery from a different vantage point and to momentarily escape the pummeling snow storm. In the back of the black carriage, we huddled close as we listened to the clop-clop-clopping of the horses’ powerful hooves penetrating through the piling snow to the stone surface beneath—and then, as we rode, we heard another sound. A familiar sound, but strangely incongruous with the wintry setting. We listened again, more carefully, to verify what we had heard… and after a hushed moment’s pause, punctuated solely by the ticking equestrian cadence, we heard it again beyond the shadow of a doubt: thunder echoing through the gardens. The snow was familiar enough to us, born Midwesterners. The thunder, too, was a regular experience throughout decades of Ohio summers… But “thunder-snow”—it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Absolutely unforgettable, much like the rest of that day.
At the end of the evening, we found ourselves back on the road, driving home through the snow in a Ford Taurus the color of glüwein (I remember the car because it was my parents’ car, a special car). The windshields were wick-wick-wicking away watery snow, and we were enraptured in the moment, saying very little. Just listening to Christmas music. And holding hands… And falling deeper and deeper in love.
On that car ride home from the Columbus Zoo, in the confines of that Ford Taurus soaring through the snow-streaked night, I knew that I wanted to spend a great many more Christmases with the woman sitting beside me. I wanted to savor her cinnamon kisses, warm my hands in her tender touch, drink up the sights and sounds of Christmas together for years to come.
And that’s exactly what we’ve done ever since. The best part about this Christmas story is that it’s not over. We can’t just tack on some corny “And they lived happily ever after” line to finish out the account. The story of these two young lovers is still in the early chapters of its ongoing development. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.