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eBay snowball
Jan 07, 2005

In the odd instance, the Internet auction site eBay has become the domain of the offbeat and quirky. For example, one individual auctioned off a piece of toast purported to be in the shape of Elvis. 

One of the items that recently was put up for auction is something that I potentially could have taken advantage of, but I failed to see the monetary value of a snowball. Since I reside in Manitoba, I have the makings of a snowball scattered about for at least four to six months of year. The commonality of snow throughout the long Manitoba winter precludes me from hatching a plan to scoop up a handful of the white stuff and shape it into a snowball and then offer it up for auction on eBay. Abundance means that Manitoba snowballs are a far from sought after item regardless of their packaging.

But, if I had been in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas on Christmas Eve, I could have witnessed the rarest of events — a measurable snowfall. As it was, I was in the Rio Grande Valley at the time, but I didn’t think of taking advantage of the first snowfall in 109 years and shaping some snow into a ball for auction — that was left to the entrepreneurial mind of a 23-year-old Brownsville man.

While visiting my parents in Weslaco, Texas over the holiday season, I chanced to be there when a cold front struck. The local news referred to it as a blast of Arctic air arriving from Canada. 

When I went outside to bear witness to Mother Nature’s desire to create a white Christmas where none had ever been recorded, I was greeted by a neighbourhood who laughingly asked if I had brought the snow with me from Canada. A native Texan, the seventysomething woman said it was the first time she had seen snow in the Rio Grande Valley. That came as no surprise, since the media reported that the last time a measurable amount of snow fell was on February 14, 1895.  Since weather records have been kept, snow has never been recorded for Christmas Eve.

The falling snow was met with wonder by residents. They went outdoors at 2 o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day to play in the snow, doing things like making snowmen or throwing snowballs, all of which is an everyday winter occurrence for Canadians. At the sight of the snow, even adults reverted to childhood and made snow angels or tossed snow at family members and friends. Cameras were used in plenty to make pictorial records of the once-in-a-lifetime event. The Monitor, a McAllen, Texas newspaper, even published a 12-page Keepsake 2004: White Christmas Dream pullout to commemorate the snowfall, containing tens of pictures from around the Rio Grande Valley.

It was rather strange for me to see palm and grapefruit trees clothed in white when I’m more accustomed to seeing spruce tree branches buckling under a burden of snow.

The rarity of the snowfall was reflected in the total unpreparedness of the local authorities to cope with what to a Manitoban amounted to a mere dusting on the ground. Returning to Winnipeg  during the lull between two snowfalls of more gargantuan proportions, I was able to make a comparison to how respective local governments in Texas and Manitoba react to winter storms. 

In Texas, the newspapers, in anticipation of the blast of cold air from Canada, reported that local authorities had been preparing for the worst. The electrical generating companies had purchased more power to serve residents who would be turning on the heat rather than air conditioning (just a couple of days before the snowfall it was a balmy 30°C, and two days after the temperature was climbing well above 20°C).

More comical was the plan to have workers manually shoveling sand off the back of dump trucks onto roadways — a demonstrationpicture was prominently featured in a local newspaper. In a region that worries more about possible hurricane landfalls, specialized trucks to spread sand about on roads do not exist.

But, the best laid plans were futile. Motorists unused to snow, skidded off roads. The workers never got a chance to toss their shovelfuls of sand onto icy bridges because the major roads were quickly closed to vehicular traffic. Electric companies couldn’t keep up with demand. The side of the Winter Texan trailer park I was a guest in was without power for 12 hours and the other area of the park was without power for substantially longer. My Christmas Day meal in the trailer park common hall was eaten without the benefit of lights. But, a good time was had by all in the spirit of the season.

In contrast, Winnipeg during two storms received a total of 41 centimetres of snow and the city was not shutdown and power was not a problem. The only roads in Manitoba closed for any appreciable length of time were those leading from Winnipeg to Grand Forks and the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Of course, Winnipeg is a winter city and the Rio Grande Valley is called Texas’ Tropical Trail. What you’re accustomed to is what you’re best able to cope with. In the Rio Grande Valley it’s heat, while in Manitoba it’s cold and snow. That doesn’t mean that what you’re accustomed to is always welcome. The present bone-chilling cold snap is hard to bear after two weeks of what was primarily brilliant sunshine and pleasing warmth. 

Now, if only I would had brought a snowball back from Texas ...