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Local Column

Heimerman: Snow unites kindred spirits

You never know what you’ll learn when you make a friend. For instance, I never knew Gail Taylor owned a snowblower.

Like clockwork, every time I’ve been out shoveling this past week, my 64-year-old neighbor has been in her driveway, shovel in hand, busting her butt to clear the snow.

We all have our breaking point, however. For the first time this season, Monday morning I regretted turning down my mom’s offer to buy us a used snowblower she and my dad came across during the fall. Hindsight is 20/20, my friends.

Similarly, Gail decided a second half-foot dumping within a week warranted busting out her snowblower and saving her back the stress.

Because my back was screaming at me, I took advantage of a chance to take a break – not to mention practice some advantageous journalism – and walked across the street to introduce myself and ask permission to take some pictures of her shoveling.

She obliged, and I quickly found out just how connected we are. Turns out, she’d already met my daughters, when walking by our house during warmer times. She also knows my wife, Kayla, because she walks the track at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA, where my wife is a personal trainer and group fitness coordinator.

Things got weirder when Gail told me she, too, had studied journalism. She’d gotten her broadcast journalism degree – as I did from UW-Milwaukee in 2006 before landing a job in print – in 1976 at Northern Illinois University. She, too, took a different route than her degree dictated, and worked at NIU in IT until she retired a few years ago.

Small world, yeah?

The coolest thing we have in common, however, and what inspired me to write this column, is that Gail could easily use that snowblower every time we get so much as a dusting. (A funny aside: She laughed minutes after we’d met, when she tried to start it up, only to realize she’d flooded it. Back to the shovel.) But she shovels to stay fit.

“If we get really heavy snow, I’ll use the [snowblower], but I shovel for the exercise – to keep moving,” she said.

Preach on, sister. I’m from northeastern Wisconsin, so I often joke that it’s because of my nearly Northwoods blood that I sadistically enjoy shoveling. That’s partially true, but the fact is, I like finding an excuse to work out. To challenge myself. It reminds me I’m alive and, who knows, maybe my girls are seeing it out of their peripheral and learning the rewards of hard work. There’s really nothing quite as breathtaking as a freshly cleared driveway in the morning.

Sure, Gail and I commiserated about how brutal of a week it’s been, but I really dig the way she sees a difficult situation and finds an opportunity within it. That’s the good stuff to me.

That said, the concerned parent part of me was relieved to see, after I’d cleaned up and was heading to the car to drive to work, Gail’s snowblower had started. She was clearing that compacted, break-your-back stuff alongside the road.

Go ahead and use the snowblower, Gail. You’ve earned a “break,” I’d say.

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor at the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at

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