Saturday, February 21, 2015

Letter from the North (east) Country

It snowed again last night. Another inch. I murmur a quiet prayer of gratitude that it isn't the four inches predicted. Last Sunday, I was supposed to fly out of here for the "winter break", but before I could leave for the airport in an attempt to outrace the weather, Delta called, texted and emailed with an alert that all flights were cancelled. An hour later, the snow started falling. By four o'clock, the sky was that ominous gunmetal grey, the flakes thick and large. I looked in my hall closet/pantry. Having planned to be away this week, I had an overage of Girl Scout cookies and pasta, but not much else. I headed to the Stop & Shop in Provincetown. The store was relatively subdued, men mostly milling around the meat and frozen pizza sections. I wheeled my carriage absently, my brain having gone numb when the snow began its triple day descent.  I loaded up like it was the end of the world.

  It’s the sale prices they hook you on, provided you have the tiny store key fob. Annie’s Soup in the organic aisle, normally an outrageous $6.99, was marked “2 for $6”. I mulled over the different kinds and added ten to my cart.  My favorite Peet’s Coffee, Major Dickenson’s Blend, typically $9.99 a bag was $5.99. Six bags should tide me over. Talenti Gelato $4.99 was now (2 for $5). I picked out four.  Aloutte spreadable cheese $3.75 (2 for $5), perfect with my (2 for $4) boxes of Triscuits. When the sales clerk looked up from her scanner/register, she read the tape, unimpressed, "You saved $35". But I was impressed. I felt like I had clipped coupons without the effort, just a swipe of a little plastic key fob. I wheeled the cart out into the snow and put my bags into the back of the car.

When I got home, evidence of shock and gluttony spilled in front of me (6 oranges, 6 bananas, 6 grapefruit, 14 Chobani yogurts, 8 boxes of Yogi tea, 2 bottles of carrot juice, 2 jars of Newman’s Own marinara sauce). I had fallen victim to the storm surge mentality. You could be trapped inside the house. The power might go out. You need to fill the tub up, turn the heat on high, brew coffee the night before, get out the candles, bring the shovel inside the house to dig yourself out. All of which I did. I even remembered a beautiful red thermos someone had given me as a housewarming present when I moved to Oak Grove Drive, and found it in a box of kitchen goods still in storage in the basement. 8 hours later - the coffee was still hot.

I spent the next day in bed with a plain donut and hot coffee reading back editions of the New Yorker and watching Annie Hall on Netflix, reveling in the East Side Highway and the Madison Avenue of the last 70s. Trash blowing, long, dented cars parallel parked and fat yellow taxis. People smoking everywhere. Watching Woody Allen and Tony Roberts walk down the street on what looks like an amazing spring day is too much. I finally pulled on my snowsuit, and tumble outside, over the three feet of snowdrift that has blown against the sliding glass door and shovel off the deck, stairs and top of the driveway. At some point, Jerre, the former K-9 chief of police (“Bloodhounds" he tells me) will plow the roadway I share with Joy, a sweet 80 something who yells into the phone, or in less extreme weather, from the back door "Kathleen!" "Kathleen!"

About mid week, someone texts that Massachusetts has gotten the most snow, well.... ever. That Winter Storm June or Marcie or Norman, whatever letter we're on, has surpassed the Blizzard of 1978.  That was my storm. I was 11 years old. I had a paper route with The Boston Globe. I was very skeptical about leaving the house.  We couldn't even see out the windows, the snow was as high as the roofline, but somehow, my father opened the garage door, shoveled the drive and like magic, the Boston Globe van arrived and threw out my subscription. "You have to deliver the paper. People are counting on you." I didn't want to go, but my father and mother began chanting the post carrier's creed, and reluctantly, I pulled the plastic bread bags over my socks and long underwear. My father acted as a human plow to clear snow on the paths to front doors. Most people were surprised to see us, and we were invited in for a lot of cocoa. Neighbors traversed Pratt’s Mill Road on snowshoes and cross-country skis. Somehow, my dad and I delivered all of the papers that day. It’s true; I always think of that storm when there is an extreme weather alert. How deep the drifts were, how we didn't have school, power or hot water for a week. We loaded up on blankets, played board games, went to bed in the darkness excepting the frosty air curling out from our breath beneath the covers. We had a wood stove, so we must have had some sort of hot food, but oddly, given my recent plunder of Stop & Shop; I don’t remember eating at all, just playing outside and that first day of delivering the paper. That summer, bumper stickers pasted to cars proclaimed, "I survived the Blizzard of '78!" The Globe gave their carriers t-shirts that pronounced the same. I wore mine like a badge of honor.

After Jerre plows out the roadway a second time this week, I begin to run out of oil. It takes Cape Oil four days to make it to Wellfleet; everyone is in need of fuel. Jerre comes back and sands and salts for the truck, but it cannot make it up the drive. Thankfully Mr. Peabody, my other elderly neighbor, is kind enough to allow the oil truck to back into his flat driveway so that the driver can throw the hose over the fence. I have to hand it to him; he is determined. While the tank is being filled, Mr. Peabody extolls the benefits of his pellet stove, and motions to a hundred bags stored on his porch. To return to my house, I stomp through three feet of snow in my backyard.  I turn the heat up, empty the cold water out of the tub and fill it with a hot bubble bath.

For the Wednesday evening commute, NPR aired a segment aptly titled The Winter of Our Discontent about coping. The guest psychologist first tells the host that people need to remember that weather is something they can’t control, and then coaches listeners on how to frame the storm as a way to be resilient and measure other obstacles against it instead of “encoding” it as something negative.  I wonder what my new students are doing. Most of them are from tropical climates and I imagine they are dreaming of home and humidity and sun siestas as I am dreaming of the 101 Northbound freeway and the spring day when Annie and Alvie meet. Maybe remembering this storm as a marker from which they rebounded will be the same for them as the ‘78 blizzard was for me, not to mention a great story to tell their families and friends back home.

On Thursday, I spend the last two hours of the day out on the roof gingerly chipping away at ice with a plastic shovel. It’s pretty sobering. I tried singing instead of swearing to temper my attitude, confident that my cavalier stomping about might result in sliding off. There was that time early in the autumn when I jauntily threw a piece of wood over the side and ended up breaking a window. I also didn’t want to color Joy and Mr. Peabody’s opinion of me, although it is winter and sounds carry. Chances are they already know I have a potty mouth. I stick close to the windows and try to slide the ice off the side from a distance. The only song I can conjure up is Hide Your Love Away, which I mumble along as I stomp, and scrape, stomp and scrape. It's been snowing, raining, freezing, snowing, raining freezing since January ...

After Jerre comes back a third time, I hand him a check and say “This winter. Wow.” He continues to shovel a mixture of sand and salt out of the back of his truck. “Yeah, but we won’t have another one like this for at least ten years”. After the doom and gloom of certain climate change (brought to me by the BBC) coupled with the relentlessness of the elements including freezing temperatures, gale force winds and meaningless advice on how to cope with it (“You can’t change it!”), that was the best news I heard all week.  I could wait another ten years.  After ten minutes of pulling and unlacing and disrobing, I heat up a box of soup in a sauce pan and listen to Annie Lennox’s new album, Nostalgia. The first track, Memphis in June ambles out followed by Georgia, both resonating like a dream of sunshine and hot lazy days and the months ahead.  

Shameless Crushes...