Of Chivalry, Credit Cards, and a $700 Snowblower

Brrrrr! The real winter has definitely hit South Bend, where it snows sideways and the bitter cold is imported directly from Chicago. A couple nights ago, the snow piled up enough that the plows were out by 5 a.m., so I bundled up to clear the driveway before my wife had to take Nicky to an appointment.

snowblowr2I suppose I could’ve asked any of my teenagers to get out of bed to do the job or at least help out, but you know what? I don’t mind dealing with our snow issues, because I have a sweet MTD Yard Machine snowblower. It has a two-stage auger and impeller system, a 26″ clearing width, and a 6-speed forward, 2-speed reverse propulsion system with single hand operation. Plus, that gutsy 8-horsepower Tecumseh engine is equipped with electric start, so bring on the sub-zero temperatures, baby!

Actually, none of that means much to me, and I confess I cut-and-pasted most of it from a dealer’s website. The only thing that matters to me is that it gets the snow out of the way, and that it cost me some $700. It’s way more snowblower than we need, but there’s a story there.

It was the blizzard of 1999 (if that doesn’t confirm my old geezer status, nothing will), and I was in the middle of my first year of nursing school. We had three little ones at home, and a fourth on the way if I remember correctly. We hadn’t encountered a big South Bend snow dump yet, so I was completely unprepared when we could barely push open the front door the day after New Year’s. Plus, the cars were utterly trapped in the snow engorged garage, and, since it was on an alley, there was no hope of a plow clearing an escape.Alley blocked by snow drift-737851

What to do. A shovel wasn’t going to cut it, so I borrowed a snow thrower from a neighbor. He was happy to loan it to me, and I freed a vehicle, but since plowing requirements were going to prevent us from parking on the street, I felt pretty strongly that I needed to get a snow machine of my own – you know, just to be on the safe side. Seriously sick or injured kids? Early, precipitate labor? I wanted to be able to dig out in a hurry, without having to rely on neighbors who may not be available.

I called around, and, sure enough, everybody was out of snowblowers – except Lowe’s. They had a couple left, but they were big…and pricey. I was a dad with young kids, a pregnant wife, and a clinical schedule that required me to be places at all hours of the day and night. It didn’t matter that the machine was twice as much snow throwing as I needed – at twice the price – and it didn’t matter that I was cash poor and had to plunk the purchase down on our groaning credit card. It was like a St. George moment: My family was threateneSaint_George_et_le_dragon,_enluminured by the dragon blizzard, and I needed a lance to slay it, regardless of the cost. To arms! To arms! And unto the breach!

So, perhaps it turned out to be a good investment – I’m still using it after all – but who knows how much I had to pay in interest once the credit card dust settled. And even though it’s fun, I’m a bit embarrassed by how loud it is, and how gargantuan. I feel like I should clear the entire neighborhood’s snow to justify my having it.

With a little bit of effort and forethought, I suppose I could’ve organized the purchase of a communal snowblower. The whole neighborhood could’ve used it when necessary, divvying up storage and maintenance responsibilities on a rotating basis, and chipping in on fuel when necessary.

Nope, there wasn’t time for all that. The beast menaced; I reacted; we ended up with a behemoth snow thrower and more credit card debt. But I have no regrets, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

It’s what dads do.

15city1 There’s this movie, City of Joy, about a burned out physician who finds redemption by serving the poor and leprous of Calcutta – but he’s not the real hero of the story. Instead, it’s the impoverished Indian farmer, Hasari, who moves with his family to the city so that he can find work and a better future for his children. It’s tough going, but everything works out alright, Hollywood-style, in the end.

Along the way, though, Hasari takes risk after risk, with no guarantee of success, and not even all that much hope of success either – and that’s the point. Whether it’s buying necessities on credit or uprooting the family from the countryside to the city, risk-taking is at the heart of fatherhood. We make mistakes, but inaction is worse. And it’s not about heroics; it’s about doing the job, whatever it takes.

The job? First and foremost, it’s about providing and protecting – like St. George. And “whatever it takes” might mean paying for it (with interest) later – which in turn might preclude a comfy retirement down the road.

So be it. Even if I’m saddled with debt, I’ll have a clear conscience, God willing, that I did my best to get the job done.

And that’s rest enough.
__________________________

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