My back was sore and I was outside on my hands and knees rolling a snowball that would soon become a frozen statue of ice and yard waste. From the ground level and where the frozen ball was lining up, I already knew the snowman would be in the perfect position to stare longingly into my kitchen window. I have always felt bad for snowmen, because they stand alone in the snow and we let them.
I would give them matchsticks if I knew they could strike a timber.
When I finally constructed the snowman, he had leaves stuck to his body because I had refused to rake any more before the first snow of the year (laziness and back pain and general apathy). He was a bindle stiff. A Red Skelton caricature. Old Man Winter’s dispossessed. And he had decided to squat in my backyard and pine for impossible comforts because my three-year-old daughter had never made a snowman and fathers will create abominations for love.
But he was done and there before me, my daughter, and wife was the eyeless, armless, mouthless, seasonal transient that was forced into a life of drab misery.
“Eyesh,” my daughter said and pointed at her own eyes, and I pulled two pieces of charcoal from under the expensive barbeque hood that was hidden under a tarp and jammed them in the snowman’s head to let him see the world through the eyes of a vagrant.
“Mouf,” she said pointing at her own mouth, and I took a stick and jammed it into the snowman’s face, creating a fake smile—one he would carry for the rest of his life, however short.
She waved her arms around to indicate that the snowman should be able to do the same and so I dug through the snow and found sticks where I had created a pile in the summer. And so the snowman had arms and I used a smaller stick for the mouth and a smaller stick for the nose, and after my kid touched her own hat, I pulled a facemask from my pocket and placed it on his head and he smiled at me with the eyes of a sundowner.
He looked cold and he looked tired and he looked poor.
My daughter and I stood on the porch while my wife snapped a picture. We smiled at the snowman and he smiled back.
Some mornings, when my growing daughter is feeling spritely, she wakes up early and joins me in the kitchen and waves at him from the window, and somehow I feel as though there is a kinship between the two and it’s okay to not understand why because it warms me inside.
I don’t hate him because he is poor and living in my backyard. I hate the thought of such poverty existing, and that it was of my own creation. But, snowmen provide joy, even with the absence of capital, and even with the absence of warmth, and my daughter’s face, pressed against the glass of the kitchen window, was proof of that.
Author and poet Joyce Kilmer wrote that the extraordinarily wealthy have concrete pillars, “steps of stone,” and condos for garages, but in the winter, “I have something there that … (is) better worth having than all their wealth–it’s a snowman in the yard.” While I feel uneasy about such an assertion, the joy the snowman brings my daughter each morning is enough to persuade me.