Ashton insisted on eating his breakfast on the front porch, out in the cold, just like the starling birds. His grandmother bundled him up in all his winter things, and sent him out with a shovel to clear a path to the table and chairs that were buried up to their armrests in a snow drift. Ashton dutifully cleared a path, removing the frozen barricade by dumping it, scoop by scoop, over the railing, and into the garden. No sense in sparing the flowers now, he thought. With any luck, we won’t see them again until Spring! When the path was cleared, Ashton came inside just long enough to trade his shovel in for cereal. Happily and carefully, the boy carried his bowl over to the table, brushed off his seat, and sat down for the meal. “Thank you for this oatmeal, and thank you for the snow,” he whispered. Eating warm things in a cold place is one of the loveliest sensations that winter has to offer. When he got to the bottommost dregs, Ashton flung a few spoonfuls over the front lawn and laughed as the starlings dove down from the rooftops to feast. Ashton’s grandparents did not as easily interpret the snow as an answer to prayer. Like many adults, a blizzard is a hassle to be reckoned with in their eyes, not a joy to be celebrated. Traffic delays and aching muscles were top of mind for them, not snowmen and skating rinks and hot cocoa with marshmallows.
Ashton readied himself for school. On his way out the door, he stood beside his grandfather who was looking out at their front steps with a weary expression on his face. He was holding the shovel in his hand, like a Christmas shepherd with his crook. He sighed, reluctantly.
Ashton stared at the snow and then back to the older man. “I can do it, Opa,” said Ashton, holding his hand out to take the responsibility and the shovel from his grandfather. “I’ve got time before school, and tons of energy! I cleared the deck already, see? Let me do it today.”
His grandfather smiled gratefully. “Thank you,” he said. “That would be quite a blessing.”
So Ashton shoveled a path from their front door to the sidewalk, then cleared the snow from the sidewalk in front of their house as well. The earth still held a bit of autumnal heat, so the snow was slushy and heavy where it lay nearest the ground. When the task was complete, Ashton traded the shovel for his backpack and headed off to school.
The snow continued to fall throughout the day. Ashton asked if he could eat his lunch by the big classroom windows, instead of at his desk, and his teacher had kindly indulged him. Though his grandparents’ house was around the corner from the school, Ashton could see that people in the neighbourhood had needed to clear their sidewalks more than once since he’d made it to school, and he suspected that the job might be waiting for him again when he got home at the end of the day.
And he was right. The snow was already creeping up past his ankles by the time he dropped his backpack inside the front door. He didn’t even announce his arrival before picking up the shovel and setting to work once again, clearing the walkway from the road to the house.
When he was finished their portion of the public sidewalk, Ashton looked over his handiwork with a sense of accomplishment and pride. Then he glanced over at the driveway next door and saw that not only was it buried by this new fall of snow, but they hadn’t yet cleared it from the overnight dump! Ashton knew in a moment what he was going to do. He’d seen his grandfather do it enough, and now it was his turn to serve their neighbours. He picked up the shovel and started to dig.
Ashton cleared the snow from their neighbourhood sidewalks and paths, moving around their street house by house, one scoop at a time. It was hard work! Ashton took a few breaks to go to the bathroom or to have a hot drink with his grandmother, but he didn't go inside for long until every house was cleared of snow and every muscle in his body jiggled with fatigue.
When his grandfather came home and discovered what Ashton had done, he couldn’t stop praising the boy! “I am so proud of you,” he said, beaming. “What a blessing you are.” Ashton smiled, blushing a little, and stared out the frosty window at the snow. He knew that more would come falling down this year, and when it did, he would be ready to bless them all over again.