Despite all evidence to the contrary, my childhood did not consist entirely of looming threats and deep-seated fears. I had as much of a sense of joy and wonder as the next kid. In fact, one of the more vivid memories from my childhood is a very comforting and wondrous memory - the memory of the night I realized that the world was a magical place.
It was a cold winter’s night in Indiana (and a cold winter in Indiana is very cold indeed). Living in a small, safe, idyllic rural neighborhood made it possible for me, my brother and our best friend Mike to run around at all hours of the night with nothing to fear but the neighbors’ unchained dogs (and fear them I did, of course - but that’s another story). It had snowed a lot, as it does in Indiana in the winter, and everything was covered in a downy blanket of white. When I think of this night, I tend to think of us being out at midnight, but I’m sure it wasn’t really that late. I suspect that my brother and I were spending the night at Mike’s house that night. When we spent the night at Mike’s house, we tended to “get up to things.”
I don’t know what drove us out of the house that night. I imagine we were beckoned by the prospect of so much clean snow all to ourselves. The street of our neighborhood was entirely iced over, all the way from the top of the street by our house, over “The Bump” (a repaired portion of the road, no bigger than a tiny speed bump stretching across the street, but big enough to earn it’s own capitalized name in a child’s neighborhood vocabulary), past Jack’s house, Mike’s house, Joy’s house, all the way down to “The Circle” (the cul-de-sac at the other end) - everything a solid sheet of ice. The ice was too much to resist, and we ran up and down the street, slipping and sliding as if we were ice skating, taking running starts and then stopping suddenly to see how far we could glide before skidding to a halt or falling over, gasping and laughing in the bitter cold air.
The sky was perfectly clear, as clear as only a winter sky can be - endless crystalline black, tacked up with layer upon layer of stars that sparkled so coldly and so invitingly at the same time. The most striking thing about the sky that night was the full moon. I can still see how it hung in the sky, suspended jovially at the end of the street, brighter than all the streetlights and house lights put together, brighter than the sun, or so it seemed. It was this moon that made the night magical because, as the moonlight reflected off of so much snow and ice, it made the world light up. The snow shone as brightly as the white face of the moon, as if the earth itself were lit from the inside. Everything glittered and glowed as bright as daytime, everything was padded in soft white and wrapped in crisp silver and dusted with glowing blue.
I had never seen a night like that - I don’t think I’ve ever seen one since. There was no dark to be afraid of, and it was silent, as if we were the only people in the world. Our voices were gently cushioned and absorbed by that layer of snow, and the moon seemed to smile in approval. Such brilliant moonlight was alien to me. The night was like nothing I had experienced before, and yet I felt completely safe and at home. There is no more to this childhood memory than that: the moonlight on the snow, the silence of the sleeping the world, our laughter as we slid along the icy street. I was in awe of the world that night, and I was perfectly happy.