The doomed man stood in his front yard, wearing a brave smile.
The end was near, and yet Olaf stared into the sun and beamed. Just like him to bring joy.
His eyes were glassy, and all hoped that the 18-foot snowman, melting slowly in the front yard of Ken and Melissa Kirkpatrick was not feeling any pain.
“I’m seeing his head lean a little, which scares me,” Ken said somberly Monday afternoon, grimacing at the bright March sun’s laser focus and the already above-freezing temperature. The forecast for the coming days didn’t look good: Temperatures near 50, then near 60 (you read that right), plus rain. Poor Olaf.
A mark of achievement in public life is a prepared-in-advance obituary, written ahead of one’s demise and published after the dearly and not-so-dearly departed has, well, departed. In this spirit, consider this his snow-bituary.
Olaf — a name of the writer’s choosing based on her favorite character from the 2013 hit movie “Frozen” — shares a birthday with the writer: March 10. (For your future reference.)
He was born into the Kirkpatrick family: Ken, a project designer with the architecture firm BVH; Melissa, who works in health insurance; and their two daughters, Kennedy, age 7, and Kelsey, age 4. He lived in the front yard of their 1950s house just northwest of 72nd and Grover Streets.
Olaf is not the kids’ first snow-brother. In fact, he was the second-born snowman born Sunday. The first, a much smaller version, standing about 5 feet tall, came hours earlier. We’ll call this first-born Frosty, for Nebraska’s favorite character from Ken Kirkpatrick’s hometown of Wood River, Scott Frost.
The snow-brothers are fraternal twins.
The pair were born the way all works of art and creativity come to life: out of boredom, time and materials. Ken, 36, helped his girls build Frosty, whose labor simply was easier: He just rolled right into being.
Then came the real push to get Olaf into daylight.
About a dozen years ago, back in Wood River, when Ken was an architecture student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln home for break, he crafted a 13-foot-tall snowman. It lived in family and Facebook lore, enjoying a recent burst of Facebook fame when Ken dusted off the old photo and posted it.
Friends chimed in: DO IT AGAIN! Ken chimed back: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
Snow alone does not an Olaf make. For much of this cold, snowy winter, the snow has been too powdery. Too dry. Too cold to stick together. Saturday’s rain and Sunday’s warmth made conditions ripe for snow birth.
Ken got to work.
The Kirkpatricks have a splendid and rare — in this neck of the woods — triple driveway. Each time it snowed, Ken snowblowed. Each time Ken snowblowed, the snow pile in his front yard grew. It grew and grew until the stylish curbside mailbox he’d designed and built from wood and cast concrete was almost covered.
It snowed and snowed until the cast-concrete planters flanking the porch steps, which Ken had also designed and built, were buried.
On Sunday, it was show time. First, Ken dug out the base, about 8 feet in circumference. Then, with the help of his wife, his daughters, neighbor kids and friends, with shovels and — ladders — Olaf took shape.
Soon, he towered over the small crowd that had gathered to watch. Beers, which might have been imbibed, provided a much-needed solution for buttons. The glass bottles went nose-into the snow, forming eyes, buttons and that goofy Olaf smile.
Ken cut some scrap plywood, and a friend wrapped it in orange duct tape, which became the nose. The hat was a bed sheet. The scarf was another bed sheet. The right arm was a long stick. The left arm was ... a push broom. No one could find a matching stick.
Olaf’s labor took a couple of hours. But when he finally was complete, the Kirkpatricks hadn’t just given birth to another snow twin. They had brought neighbors out of hibernation.
Children’s voices rang out again on the street. Word got out, and people walked their dogs by. They drove by. Ken laughed each time he saw jaws drop a little.
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“It’s not just snow,” he said, trying to find words for the feel-good Olaf has caused. “It’s — I don’t know — it’s fun.”
But like all fun things — snow days, say — snowmen come to an end. Even 18-foot-tall snowmen whose greatness, ultimately, is no match for a spring that finally appears to be on its way to Omaha.
Frosty will go first, returning to his Nebraska soil.
Then, ultimately, Olaf.
His life was all too short. But glorious.
He lived large.