The Snowstorm

Sometimes you have to be reminded where you came from.

I grew up in Connecticut, when it used to snow, when every November you put on snow tires, before all season radials, before anyone had four wheel drive. You’d walk to school, the thought of being kidnapped never crossed one’s mind, if anything you planned to run away. I did that once, packed a suitcase, got as far as the front lawn, down the slope, hidden from the house, my mother didn’t come after me, she knew I would be back.

I was.

I remember the snowdrifts topping the trees on the side of the house. I always wondered thereafter, was there that much snow or was that before the trees matured?

I’ll never know.

We had galoshes. The big breakthrough was clodhoppers. Boots that went above the ankle. We had a veritable cornucopia of outdoor gear and we’d go out and roll in the snow and come back in an hour and strip ourselves down, take a bath, and if we were lucky our mother would make us hot chocolate, long before it came in a mix.

And then I went to college in Vermont, during the dark ages. There was one snowy television channel, no radio other than the college station, one movie theatre in town and if you were lucky the films they played on campus every Friday and Saturday night appealed to you. Usually they didn’t. This was long before the cinema was taken over by high concept drivel, Marvel stars, if a film was in English it was a surprise. But they were minting snobs at Middlebury College. Not that they did such a good job, because after we graduated money became more important that education and my classmates were not so good at making it.

But we were hearty, we survived.

Nights far below zero, when we wore the same jeans we partied in during the spring.

There was no food in the dorms. You had to hike out to the SDUs, aka the “Social Dining Units.” Today, people would Uber over. But we walked. Before the age of hoverboards, back before skateboarding was revolutionized by polyurethane wheels.

Hey, did I ever tell you that story, about skateboarding after the revolution? You see I was part of the first wave, when Jan & Dean implored us to grab our boards and go sidewalk surfin’ with them. Then the boards had steel wheels, and it was nearly impossible to go around a corner. But in ’75 I was in California and an acquaintance showed me the new equipment and I went for a ride down the Mammoth Mountain parking lot and a few hundred yards down I realized I’d have to walk back so I stepped off the board and…

That’s right, I stepped off. And I immediately hit the pavement. Took the skin right off my palm, ripped right through a turtleneck and long underwear, Duofold to be exact, and my ski pants too.

I don’t think I’ve been on a skateboard since.

Oh yes, this was long before synthetics. Most people bought long underwear at Sears. It had a waffle pattern. But if you were a skier you went for the state of the art, the aforementioned Duofold, which featured two layers of cotton, one perforated to trap heat. But we were still damn cold, it was years before anybody invented fleece.

But what I remember most about those cold winter nights was the isolation.

No one’s isolated anymore. You just pick up your device and dial in, text a friend, surf the web. You might be alienated, but you’re connected.

We were completely alone.

I was just reminded of this walking through a snowstorm.

You forget how the flakes sting your eyes. How you have to put your head down and focus on the destination. And make sure not to slip. There are all these skills that are second nature when you live in the hinterlands, but are completely forgotten when you reside where it rarely precipitates, never mind snows.

And then there’s the quiet. The snow absorbs all the sound. It’s just you and the elements.

Except for the occasional car. Reminded me of my mother driving me to school one night, for some activity I do not remember. Her Ford Falcon did a 360 a block from home. What did she do? Keep driving. She took me there.

My mother will be ninety on Sunday. She’s seen so much.

And I’ve seen so much too.

They call us old farts, they tell us to get with the program, they don’t want to hear how it once was.

But we remember. When life was different.

I won’t say it was better, but it was harder, and difficulty yields character.

There was no foam on the playground. If you hadn’t been dumped on the seesaw you never went on one.

And sledding oftentimes ended with bloody lips or noses. You were constantly cracking into something. But that didn’t stop you. Because life was about the thrill. Make everything safe and you end up with dullness. I don’t know what’s caused the obesity epidemic, could be fructose corn syrup, but one thing’s for sure, we were constantly moving back then. My mother wouldn’t pick us up from school on a rainy day, never mind a snowstorm. I’d be trudging along, getting soaked, thinking of that warm abode at the end of my trek.

So I found myself out walking tonight. Everybody else waited for a ride. I was the only one. I was alone.

And I regretted my decision instantly. I could not see where I was going.

But I pulled up my hood and it blocked the wind. And I watched out for automobiles because I was breaking the cardinal rule, I was not wearing white at night, mostly black, could a driver see me?

I doubt it.

And then I got cold. And I was reminded of walking back to campus from the Alibi. The bar where beer was a quarter and drinks were a buck and you could not get a DUI because no one had a car, you took the shoe leather express back home, to an overheated room, back before the energy crisis, back before Jimmy Carter implored us all to put on a sweater.

And sometimes you were with a buddy. And sometimes you talked, but most of the time you were just too damn cold, you focused on the destination.

So I focused on where I was going.

But then I noticed the roads were covered, but the sidewalks were nearly clear. I remembered how snow stuck variably, depending upon the surface. That was always a question way back when, was the snow gonna stick, was the ground frozen?

We’d only been playing football on it weeks before.

And during a storm most people stay inside. So despite being in civilization, almost no one was on the sidewalk. And that’s when I remembered, all those nights in Vermont, walking, walking…

When I went to college it was a sentence. You weren’t trolling for a job, you were just doing your duty, fulfilling your parents’ expectations. And one thing we did for sure was to live up to our parents’ expectations, they were serious people, not our friends, and they could and would rage and exact penalties…

Then again, most faux pas were not visible. Little was trackable. You were on your own.

Except for your grades.

But you grow up and realize grades are irrelevant. That school does not square with the game of life. You’re set free and you try to figure it out. If you play for safety you never really live.

Because living is dangerous. You can slip in the snow. Break a bone.

But those with character get up and keep going. Not because anybody is watching, but because if you’re not moving forward, if you’re not eating up life every day…

You’re already dead.

Comments are closed