When my family was living in the Matanuska Valley it seemed everyone in our friendly rural neighborhood had some useful skill, helpful to the rest of the neighbors. Some people were good mechanics, some were carpenters, some were handymen. In a pinch they could all be called upon to render neighborly service. They never charged anything and considered helping out a pleasure.
I too was able to provide a neighborly service. I owned a snowplow. It was nothing fancy, just a seven foot blade attached to a Ford tractor. Not as good as a grader or highway department Oshkosh, but enough to clean out the driveway and get through a few drifts until the big boys with the real equipment came along.
For nearly 20 years I plowed out our common road. I got up at all hours of the night to keep it open, sometimes plowing several times in one day. Because it didn’t do much good to plow the road if the driveways were left drifted in, I usually went around and plowed all the neighbors’ driveways as well. I started at the one farthest away and worked my way home, so naturally my own driveway was always last. After two or three hours I’d come into the house, frozen and exhausted.
One Christmas Eve it snowed about 18 inches by 4:00 p.m. The extreme shortness of the day was accentuated by dark, low hanging clouds overhead. Dressed in my winter boots, knit hat, parka and trail mittens, I struggled outside to brush the snow off the tractor. The engine came to life, making its unique diesel clattering sound, and off I went into the gloomy, snowy night to do my unelected job as snowplow man.
It was the one night I really didn’t want to be out. But out I went, hoping everything would go well and I would be back in only an hour or so. It surely could get cold plowing snow, sitting on a cabless Ford tractor.
The snow was so deep that night it was clear I would not be back in an hour, but rather in three or more hours. I forged on. Sometime during the project my imagination began to run wild. I could see the bright lights of the nice warm houses up and down our road. I just knew everyone was enjoying Christmas Eve with their families, while I was out in the freezing snow trying to keep their driveways open so they could get out and Santa could get in. I doubted they even noticed who was plowing.
As time wore on I began to get angry.
“Why am I doing this?” I asked myself. “Who cares? No one appreciates my efforts.”
I must have expected my neighbors to be throwing rose petals in front of me as I cleared their driveways. Where they would get the rose petals this time of year I had no idea, but I didn’t let that get in the way of my growing rage.
When I finally finished snowplowing I was seething. I parked the tractor and stomped into the house. Immediately, I started a tirade about my ungrateful neighbors and how they didn’t appreciate anything, meaning of course . . . my heroic efforts.
My wife and family looked at me and listened in total disbelief. They were dumbfounded at what they were seeing and hearing and gave me the most incredulous looks. I must have looked and sounded like a complete Grinch, a total jerk if you will.
I pulled off my winter parka and other cold weather gear and put on my comfortable dry clothes. Sitting in the reclining chair by the heater, I continued to seethe and complain. As my body warmed my temper failed to cool. I kept going on and on about my unappreciated sacrifices.
Suddenly, a knock came at the door. I wasn’t really interested in visitors, but I reluctantly got out of my comfortable chair and opened it. There stood one of the neighbor ladies with a plate of fresh, hot, home-baked cookies.
“This is in thanks for all your years of plowing out the snow. We really appreciate you as a neighbor,” she said, with a big generous smile.
I felt humiliated as I stood there with her plate full of cookies.
Just a few minutes later another neighbor came bringing a fruitcake and said the same thing. Within the next hour all my neighbors came over with Christmas treats and genuine thanks for all my years of snowplowing. Our living room table held a generous stack of cookies, Christmas cakes, and homemade candy.
When the last neighbor left, my family, great people that they are, just looked at me with raised eyebrows and expressionless looks. I quickly caught the meaning of their stares and silence. I felt like the complete, selfish jerk that I was.
Times have changed. The road is now plowed by a local contractor as soon as the first snowflake hits the ground. Nearly everyone has four-wheel drive cars and my services are no longer required.
Today, when it snows, especially at this time of year, I look out my window and remember what a blessing it was to have such great neighbors. The kind of people who were always there at just the right time.
Story by Roger Lincoln
Roger Lincoln arrived in Wasilla in 1950 when he was 3 years old. His parents homesteaded the property where Snowshoe Elementary School is now located off Fairview Loop Road. He graduated from Wasilla High School in 1965 and witnessed firsthand the area’s significant growth and change. After retiring from the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District as a computer/electronics technician, he and his wife, Nancy, relocated to Utah. He has a passion for preserving history and currently volunteers as a historical re-enactor at a living history site in Wellsville, Utah. Despite no longer physically living here, in his heart he considers Alaska home.
Categories: Life in Alaska