On an island that has never seen snow and is considered cold if the temperature hits 60, having a white Christmas means purchasing lots of cotton to decorate the front porch. We watched Christmas movies with a decorated willow branch from our grandmother’s tree lit up on the porch. That was the perfect Jamaican Christmas of my childhood.
Occasionally a relative who lived in the U.S. would return to Jamaica and tell us stories about living in the cold. Those stories made us look at them as if they were superheroes.
I made my first trip to the U.S. in the summer of 1995 as a young missionary. I was invited by the Kansas City Youth for Christ to be one of the leaders at their summer camp. I did not expect my first view of America to be a big ranch in the middle of a forest.
My relatives in New York had talked of high-rise buildings, buses, trains, and lights everywhere. But Kansas was, to me, a bigger version of Black River, my hometown. The weather was warm and the horses were ready for the trails.
I had a blast in Kansas: Bible quiz competitions, table games, field games, horseback riding. There was no shortage of fun. When it was time to leave, my friend Donovan and I, who had traveled from Jamaica together, set out to meet friends in Colorado. We rented a car and printed out the directions. Donovan drove; I was the navigator.
We got to our destination at night, and the following morning our friends took us for a drive up the mountain. As we climbed, I saw something white on the landscape and told my friends how beautiful the marl looked on top of the mountain.
“Oh no, Neily, that’s no marl like the stone you see in Jamaica,” said one of the guys. “That’s snow!”
In that moment reality set in: I am actually in America. We parked and took a short walk. The minute I got out of the car my lungs said, “I need a different air.” I tried to control my breathing as best I could. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the white stuff in the distance. Is that really the same stuff I had seen on TV, the stuff my family would tell us stories about when they visited? Yah mon, ah yah soh name farin! (Oh yeah, this is what I call foreign!)
Driving back down the mountain to the village, I had one wish: Duh mi a beg u God, mek mi touch snow before mi lef yah. (Please, I’m begging you, God, to let me touch snow before I leave this place.)
The following morning I felt like a kid rushing to see what Santa had left under the tree. I opened the door hoping to see the snow I had earnestly prayed for. But all I saw was grass. After three days of emotional arm wrestling with the heavens, I started to wonder. Does God not realize that I need this snow?
On our final day in Boulder, the weather was perfect for snow — except there wasn’t any. We said our goodbyes and headed out to Texas. As we descended from the mountains towards the plains I felt heartbroken. Something small and white hit the windshield and quickly turned to water. I thought it was my imagination, but oh no, no, no. It really was starting to snow. Who is to say Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humor?
Yes, yes, the highlight of my trip was no longer a view in the distance or a wish. I was in that moment driving in snow, with my window down and the powdery stuff falling on my hand. I was king. I owned that moment. I hoped, I prayed, and now it was here. Not in a picture, not on TV, and certainly not in someone else’s story.
A now mi ago hah tings fi tell mi cousin dem bout farin. (I will now have things to tell my cousins about America.) I really touched snow, yah mon!