Martin Fredricks, Published January 29 2014
Letter: Just 10 more yards ...There’s nothing like opening your garage door in the morning after a snowfall and seeing that your neighbors have shoveled sidewalks between their property lines and your driveway. It’s a warm, friendly feeling.
Shoveling or blowing that stretch of sidewalk is not compulsory, but between neighbors of honor, it is the fulfillment of a tacit understanding.
Like so many traditions and self-imposed obligations, the unnamed yet mutually accepted, neighbor-to-neighbor responsibility is probably best left unspoken. And between neighbors, it is. Yet I feel compelled to speak of it on this cold, snowy, January day. To acknowledge its existence. To make it real. To give it a name.
I’m talking about the “10-Yards-More Imperative,” so named (by me, just now) because somewhere between 15 and 30 feet is the average length of sidewalk between property lines and driveways. It dictates that, if I am the first one out to shovel or blow snow, and if my neighbors haven’t come out to do theirs by the time I am finished, I will remove the snow from our shared property lines to the edges of their driveways.
There is no verbal agreement. There is no penalty for not doing it (other than self-loathing). And failure to do so certainly does not qualify as news that’s fit to Tweet.
Many either don’t know about the 10-Yards-More Imperative or they don’t give a scoop; they just don’t do it. (Then again, there are some who don’t even shovel their own walks and drives, which is a discussion for another cold, snowy day.) But many more who do, even if they don’t know what it’s called.
My father did it for our neighbors when I was growing up, and they for him. Now I do it for my neighbors, and they for me. I hope one day my kids will do the same, and be repaid in kind.
Some go beyond the Imperative, like my neighbor who, when I was laid up from surgery last year, blew my snow not once but three times. When my family was on vacation and Fargo-Moorhead got blasted three or four times, I expected to spend hours clearing a path to the front door. Instead, I came home to a clean driveway and sidewalks. It was a gift, one I’ll never be able to repay.
Those who do not live where the snow falls, where the temperatures stay below zero for days or even weeks, and where the ever-present wind makes it feel 20 to 40 degrees colder still, this probably makes no sense at all. Big deal, I’ll bet they’d say. What difference is 30 feet going to make, anyway?
Listen here, I’d say back. If you have never blown a couple of feet of drifted snow off of a driveway when it’s minus 1 Fahrenheit with a wind chill of minus 27, with gusts blowing freezing flakes right back into your mug, you have no basis for judgment.
Perhaps it is a small thing. Yet that extra 10 yards, that reduction of four minutes from the time spent outside on a freezing, miserable morning makes a huge difference. And without the 10-Yards-More Imperative, the additional time can pile on to what is already prolonged misery over the course of a winter, especially winters that last 5½ months like they do up here in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
Honor. Selflessness. Shoveling. When your respect the 10-Yards-More Imperative, they’re all one and the same.
Yes, it is a warm, friendly feeling when you’re greeted by already-cleared stretches of sidewalk. But it’s an even warmer, friendlier feeling when you know that’s what your neighbors will see when they roll open their garage doors.
Fredricks, Fargo, is an occasional contributor to The Forum’s editorial pages. Email email@example.com.