When Push Comes to Shovel

this winter, I bid adieu to my favorite inanimate friend

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I never gave it a name. And the name of a thing is so very important. It was just always there, hanging in the garage, year after year, patiently waiting in reverse hibernation for winter to come. It came alive in cold weather. It lived for the snow. The snow, in fact, was its entire reason for being.

My snow shovel broke. And I should have given it a name.

This was absolutely devastating to the snow. And devastatingly bad for my back. But a few years from now, as I lie in a hospital bed recovering from extensive back surgery, I’m sure I’ll fondly recall the many fine hours I spent shoveling snow, and I shall murmur, “It was all worth it, man. Every damn second.”

But what name could possibly do it justice? My shovel was noble and strong. Gentle when it had to be, but fierce as a Viking berserker when the blizzards roared. It was heavy – a hefty hunk of dark metal bolted fast to a stout wooden handle. It was the polar opposite of those lightweight, lime green plastic atrocities you see standing near the entrance to Target for $12.99 a pop.

It was shaped like the sturdy snowplows you see mounted on pickup trucks. The extra weight was hard on my arms, but I adjusted each winter. Over the years, I honed my shovel style, adapting it to my narrow driveway. I could bend (way) over and, using wide, sweeping, warrior-like arcs, I could blast three or four square feet of snow with each swing.

This was absolutely devastating to the snow. And devastatingly bad for my back. But a few years from now, as I lie in a hospital bed recovering from extensive back surgery, I’m sure I’ll fondly recall the many fine hours I spent shoveling snow, and I shall murmur, “It was all worth it, man. Every damn second.”

I thought this shovel and I would be together forever. Maybe I should have named it Blizzard’s Bane.

Or Greg.

I don’t remember when I got the shovel or where I got it from. I know it was one of my first “adult purchases,” something practical I bought out of necessity when most of my money was usually spent at the bar. Truly, this shovel helped to usher in my manhood.

I have such vivid memories. For example: the dreaded snowbank at the end of the driveway – the icy hump left by the city snowplows.

People get so pissed off about this snowbank, but they need to ratchet it down a notch or ten. I know complaining about anything weather-related is a time-honored Wisconsin pastime outlined somewhere in the state’s constitution, but calm down, Cheeseheads. We live in a place where snow falls from the sky each and every year, and there isn’t much we can do about it until I invent my weather control machine and start charging you for sunshine and rainbows.

I understand how hard it is to remove this frosty blockade. On a non-hilarious note, if you are physically unable to clear all that snow on your own, and your car is trapped, it can seriously hobble your ability to complete important activities like “getting to work” or “getting to the hospital” or “getting to Kwik Trip to buy a cheddar-injected bratwurst to eat it in the parking lot while listening to old mix CDs.”

Anyway, that snowbank at the end of the driveway? My shovel could handle it. And I could handle my shovel’s handle while together we deftly cut through the hard-packed, often frozen snow. Yes, it was hard work, but I was never afraid. I was always confident. And afterwards, I was pretty sore. But my shovel was up to the task.

This year, after the first or second light snow of the season, I pulled out my trusty metal friend and under a blanket of stars we got to work. But alas, on the third or fourth mighty push, the blade just popped right off and went skidding across the driveway. I stared after it, my mouth agape. And then, on a cold and quiet winter’s night, my heart shattered, as if a sledgehammer had crashed into an elegant ice sculpture (maybe a swan or something). And I knew then that winter would never be the same. Until I buy another shovel.

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