Home Commentary The Way I See It: Shoveling Snow the 1940s Way

The Way I See It: Shoveling Snow the 1940s Way

The snow was light and fluffy, so the shoveling was easy, except where someone had driven on it and packed it down. The plastic shovel with the metal edge couldn’t get under the packed snow, so I switched to something that always works — a steel snow shovel that goes back to World War II.

Heavy and durable, the steel shovel does better with ice or hardened snow; however, this one, now at least 80 years old and bearing some surface rust and a damaged bracket holding the blade (the shovel part) to the shaft, wouldn’t earn a place in an antique shop. 

This shovel is the same width as my others, but the blade is three inches shorter in height. Although I don’t know how high it originally was, clearly, it has gradually worn down over the decades. Unlike with plastic shovels, there is no need for a metal wear strip at the edge; every time I use the shovel on the paved driveway or sidewalks, the blade is automatically resharpened.

Years ago, I briefly considered buying a new one, but I didn’t have the heart to put this one out to pasture, so to speak. I love the grain and smoothness of the well-worn hardwood shaft and the solid metal brackets that hold the wooden grip at the top.

Most of all, every time I use this shovel, I feel family history run through my veins. My dad gave it to me when he and my mom were downsizing from their house in West Hartford, Conn. Although I had sometimes used the shovel while visiting them there, those times are far from my earliest memories of it. This was one of two metal shovels I used as a preteen and teen, shoveling snow a few miles away at the Hartford house I grew up in. My great-grandfather (the original owner of the shovels) and my paternal grandparents lived next door. Dad remembered using them during World War II, before he shipped out in the U.S. Navy. 

We had a single-family house with a deep lot, and my great-grandfather’s house was on a double-sized lot, so there was a lot of shoveling to do — the sidewalks by the street, up to the houses and around to the back; and two long driveways with parking areas by the garages.

Shoveling snow can be meditative, and sometimes as I do it here in Montpelier, I remember that my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather held the same shovel. I visualize shoveling with them, my brothers and one of my uncles, many miles and years distant. I have now used this shovel over a longer timespan than anyone else.

I have many other items from my parents, grandparents, and great-grandfather — including furniture, an antique mantle clock, and classic books more than a century old. All of them are more attractive than the shovel, and most of them are things that someone else might want. The passed-down family items that I actively use are the ones I like best, like my grandmother’s pie dishes, my mom’s first cookbook, my dad’s tools, and a desk that belonged to my great-grandfather, which Dad refinished. 

Most of us have some family treasures that have been passed down, and the most valuable ones are those with specific memories or stories that give them meaning. In 2022, my dad, my brother Rod, and my Uncle George all passed away. My parents had downsized twice from their last house, so Dad left fewer things for us to find homes for. Mom, still kicking at 95, jokes that she plans to live to 100. On good days, she says 110.

All three of those lost relatives left things that people in the family or neighbors wanted or that we gave to social service agencies. They each also had some things that apparently had meaning for them but that left us wondering what that was. 

Dad had a dresser drawer in which he kept small items, some of which went back to his childhood, youth, or days in the Navy. Fortunately, I knew the stories that went with most of them, but there were some that I had never seen before. Although I may be overly sentimental about it, I was sad to realize that he had kept some mementoes for 80 years or more, so they were important to him, but I didn’t know why. I wanted to know the stories, but they had died with him.

Looking around my own house, I see the similar mix of things that someone else in the family might want, others that could go to someone in need, and some that would have special meaning — beyond mere utility — to family or friends. But, also, there are many items without any remaining intrinsic value — like my battered, steel shovel — that are important only to me and would leave others wondering, why this?