I was talking on the telephone with my older sister the other day.

“How’s it going?” I asked, noticing she seemed out of breath.

“Whew. I just finished shoveling for the third time today, and it’s still snowing,” she answered.

She lives just a few miles outside of Chicago in Northwest Indiana, where Lake Michigan gives the gift of lake effect snow several times each winter. The skies can literally dump a foot an hour in the communities right along the lakeshore, while cities 10 miles away will get a mere dusting.

The city does a pretty good job keeping the streets plowed, but that’s a double-edged sword. Each time they plow means another trip outside for residents to dig their parking spots out from the snow cleared from the middle of the street.

It makes for some backbreaking work as many people park their vehicles on the crowded streets where the houses sit just yards from each other. It’s not a job for a snow blower. It requires good, old-fashioned shoveling to heave the heavy chunks of ice and slush created by the plow.

Clearing the parking space or spaces in front of your house is a serious business where I grew up, and it helps if you have lots of kids (I am one of six) to take shifts to keep everyone mobile. While street parking spots are technically public domain, there’s an unwritten rule that if you shovel out a spot it’s yours. 

And that’s led to what is known as “dibs” in the Chicago area, a practice that’s been going on as far back as I remember. Technically, dibs isn’t legal, but it consists of the person who cleared the space placing a folding chair or some other item there to hold it for their car. 

So even if you leave your home at 8 a.m. for work and return at 5 p.m., the space is “held” for you all day.

During every mayoral election in Chicago, candidates are asked their opinion on whether the practice is legal. The current mayor, Lori Lightfoot, managed to hedge, which is probably wise as it is a highly charged topic. 

“As someone who has spent time digging out my car, I understand it,” she told Chicago Public Television. “I don’t encourage ‘dibs.’ I understand it’s a long-standing tradition. I understand why people do it. But we don’t encourage it.”

My sister uses folding chairs to call dibs on the two spaces in front of her house. Chairs are what most people choose. Sometimes it’s a saw horse or an old baby buggy or a vacuum cleaner. I’ve seen ironing boards and coat racks, overturned pots and grocery store shopping carts. 

All the items could be easily moved by anyone, but people generally respect the code. As far as I can tell, law enforcement, who certainly have more important things to do, leaves the practice alone, unless there’s a dustup between people, which happens occasionally. While the law may not be on people’s side technically, the shame bestowed on people who break the dibs code is punishment enough.

As for me, while I have to contend with some drifting on the rural roads and driveway to my home, once I’m there I can pull right up to the carport on the side of my house where I have permanent dibs.