Shoveling Off the Roof – a Scene from Superior Heritage

On such a snowy day as today, I thought I’d post a snowy scene from one of my novels. This passage takes place in Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three and takes place in 1992 when John Vandelaare, a college student and living at home, helps his father Tom with cleaning off the roof. Enjoy. I hope none of my readers have to clean off their roofs any time soon, but if you do, be careful!

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three covers the history of Marquette from 1952-1999.

The first weekend of January, Tom Vandelaare was convinced the three feet of snow on his roof, and the several more feet still to come before winter ended, were certain to bring the ceiling crashing down, burying his family under a blanket of snow and ice. After days of hemming, hawing, and hoping for a warm day to melt the snow, he resigned himself to shoveling off the roof.

“John, you want to come up and help your dad?” Tom asked at breakfast.

“No.”

“Come on, be a nice boy and help Dad.”

“I’d probably fall off the roof,” John said.

“No, you won’t. Not if you’re careful.”

“I can’t, Dad. I don’t think I’m coordinated enough to keep my balance.”

“Chad, will you help me?”

“No,” said Chad. “You always yell when I help you. Besides, I have to go to work.”

Chad worked at the NMU cafeteria. John had a job as a tutor at the campus Writing Center, but he could not use work as an excuse today.

“It wouldn’t hurt you boys to help your father,” said Tom.

“Tom,” said Ellen, “they don’t need to go up there. I wouldn’t risk breaking my neck up there either. If you don’t think you can clean the roof off on your own, we’ll hire somebody.”

“The neighbor’s son goes up on the roof to help his dad. I’ve even seen him up there shoveling by himself,” said Tom as he put on his boots. No one replied until he had gone out and slammed the door.

“Maybe I should help him,” said John.

“Just ignore him,” Ellen replied. “If you don’t think you can keep your balance, you shouldn’t go up there. I don’t need two of you falling off.”

“Well, it’s a big job,” said John, “and Dad’ll wear himself out doing it alone.”

“You’ll just fall off because you’re so uncoordinated,” said Chad, putting on his coat and kissing his mother goodbye.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ellen said. “Your father’s a fanatic about cleaning snow. He wouldn’t even clean it today if he had someone to go ice fishing with.”

John helped his mother clear the breakfast table. When she started the dishes, he went in his room. He tried to work on his novel since it was the last day of Christmas vacation and tomorrow he would be busy with school. He had wanted to write all during vacation, but instead he had spent his time doing genealogy and watching movies. He sat down at his desk, turned on the computer and waited for it to boot up. He found himself staring out the window as shovelfuls of snow were thrown off the roof. He could hear his father stamping his feet so no one would forget he was up there working. If Tom had to clean off the roof, no one else would be able to concentrate on anything until he was done.

“Negative attention, that’s all he wants,” John thought. He opened the document that contained his novel, rewrote a paragraph, then found himself staring out the window again.

“Darn it,” he thought. “Why do I always have to feel guilty?”

“Where are you going?” Ellen asked when he passed through the kitchen in his winter jacket.

“To help Dad.”

“Oh, John, just ignore your father. He doesn’t need your help.”

“It’ll take hours to shovel off all that snow. It won’t hurt me to help him for an hour.”

“Well, just be careful,” said Ellen.

“Dad, I’m coming up!” John shouted once he was outside, shovel in hand.

“Okay, I’ll hold the ladder for you,” Tom shouted down.

John had expected at least a “Thank you” for his help, but he should have known better. Now wishing he had stayed inside, he climbed up the ladder, careful not to let his feet slide off the slippery rungs. Soon he lifted one foot onto the roof.

“Be careful,” his dad warned.

For a minute, John imagined himself falling backward, plummeting into a five foot snowbank, but once his feet were planted on the roof and he stepped away from the edge, he felt secure.

“Start shoveling there,” said Tom. “Try to throw the snow as far as you can so it doesn’t land on the bushes beside the house.”

John only partly listened. He gaped at all the snow. He wondered how long this job would take; he imagined it would be time consuming if the roof were slippery. He wished there were a way to bring the snowblower up here.

“Don’t worry about getting close to the edge,” Tom said. “I’ll do that since I’m more steady on my feet up here.”

“All right,” said John, stepping only where snow on the shingles gave him traction. He had expected to have trouble balancing himself, but other than shoveling on a slope, he did not feel as endangered as he had expected. The work was tiring, but he did not mind. He stopped every few minutes to catch his breath and to watch his father work like a machine. Tom liked to complain about work, but he was only happy when he was occupied.

John threw the snow onto the already imposing banks. Soon his back hurt from his crooked stance and the repetitive movement of shoveling. The snow was coming down lightly, but it was a warm winter day, nearly twenty-five degrees. The constant movement kept John warm, and he enjoyed the cool air; he had nearly forgotten how fresh air tasted after two months of being cooped up in the stale house.

Father and son stopped a moment to watch an air force jet fly overhead.

“They can make planes fly and send men to the moon,” said Tom, “but they won’t heat our highways in winter or find ways to make the snow melt off our roofs. The government sure has its priorities messed up.”

John ignored his father’s complaints. He wondered where the plane was going and what it felt like to fly one. He decided it was worthwhile to help his dad, if only to see the snow covered trees stretching in all directions and the chimneys peeking out of snowcovered roofs. He could even see Marquette Mountain’s ski hill and the edge of town where the trees ended. Up here, he realized how small Marquette was—only a little clearing in a giant northern forest; it had grown from a village of a hundred people to over twenty-thousand, but when compared to the size of the forests, it had grown little. All the snow burying the houses reminded John how insignificant people were beside the power of Nature. All people could do was to build shelter for protection, to claim a piece of land for a little while, maybe a few generations, a piece of land that would remain long after its owners were gone. Yet John was descended from the rugged pioneers of Upper Michigan, and here he wanted to stay. John had not traveled much—he wanted to see the land of English literature, and Ireland, India and the pyramids of Egypt, and the Netherlands where his father’s father had come from, but wherever life might lead him, he knew he would always come home to his snowy little town on Lake Superior.

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