Just as the meteorologists predicted, the world is covered in the first coat of snow here in Southwestern Wisconsin. Snow is not an element that I welcome with peace. However, I have been musing of favorite snow memories. In the past I have had my share of good times in the flakes: Slating, sledding, the traditional first snowfall ride that I would take on my horse, building forts and jumps, and of course making snow angels. No childhood snow memories are as dear to me as a later favorite snow memory though.
This memory takes me back to Raminika.
Raminika is a poor military village far, far away in a mountainous region of Russia dotted by the shrubbery of trees and little dachas on steep hillsides. When I spent the winter in Russia, there were times when I would make the 4 hour round trip from the city of Vladivostok to the little village of Raminika. I would go with a most joyful group of Catholic sisters that had originally come over from Spain. The trip would be a vernacular collage of Russian, Spanish, and English. The only background noise that could be understood by all passengers was the emotional booming opera music that the sisters were especially found of playing while navigating the twisting roads on those longs trips into the countryside. The operatic ensemble was a deserved relief to the sisters, some of whom would make the trip up to 5 days a weekly. A children’s center had recently been opened by the order for children to have a safe place to play. In addition to making the trips to the village, the sisters also taught at the University in the city and maintained a very detailed prayer life.
While I viewed these incredible ladies with utmost admiration, it was perfectly evident to me that the children at the center did too. On the days that I rode along, when we would arrive at the little rented building, a flock of children would greet us. Entering into the cramped space, the charismatic Sisters would be right in the midst of the excitement, chasing balls and dancing with the children. Every child there would get to drink heavily sugared tea from a plastic cup and have a large chunk of donated bread as an early afternoon meal before playing more games and heading home before dark.
I can still remember the taste of the bread, the sweetness of the tea, the hours and hours of volleyball that I would play with the kids, and the painful Russian lessons that a gaggle of school-aged children would capture me to partake in!
One Saturday, a young woman from the University in the city made the trip with the Spanish Sisters, and just before dark she asked the golden question in the golden language (English!) ” would I like to take a walk with her?”
This walk turned into my favorite snow memory ever. The stillness and crispness of the cold after such a long day in the midst of the close quartered commotion greeted me with a special refreshing lure. My breath floating like a white sheet of fog into the cold air calmed me as we set off to view the fallen ruins of an old military officers club at the edge of the village.
After some time of walking, a little girl who looked to be about seven or so and who had been one of my former volleyball buddies throughout the day, ran up from behind us and linked her little arm in mine. How I enjoyed our unspoken friendship on the remote walk in the crisp snow. After some time, we came to a shack with straw spread in front and a rusty clothesline spread with the hanging of frozen laundry.
My new friend waved goodbye to me. I hugged her and watched as her blue coated back darted into the little house. And just for a second everything seemed beautiful.