Snow Days

Lear:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

Kent:

Alas, sir, are you here? things that love night
Love not such nights as these; the wrathful skies
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,
And make them keep their caves

BLIZZARD: The very word shivers, those twin Zs in the middle zigging and zagging like the snow drifts that pile up outside my door, now on one side, now on the other, as the wind shifts from northeast to north and back to eastward again. What a storm this has been; it’s almost midnight and not over yet.

Strange to say, but when we were children the very hush of snowfall would sometimes wake us in the middle of the night as we listened for the distant groan of the fog horn at Owl’s Head Light, its warning trying to penetrate the darkness. Drifting back to sleep again, we’d stir at six and wait, hopefully, in our warm cocoons, for the four blasts of the fire alarm that signaled “No School!”

Snow Days: the best days of all. No responsibilities, nothing but excitement, thrashing about in the fresh fall of snow. In those days, my town seemed to exist for children, no one else. In a gesture that astonishes people today when I tell them about it, the town closed off Chestnut Street all the way down the hill from Limerock to the Y and we all went sledding—or sliding, as we called it back then—on the snowy, icy surface without fear of cars, belly down, steering a Flexible Flyer by the handle bars. Today Chestnut Street gets scraped to its surface when the first inch falls, then scattered with gravel and salt. No sledding there, no sliding either, and no kids.

We all—I mean, every kid in town—wore something called a Brewster suit. These were either onesies or overalls with jackets, made of an impenetrable, itchy, felt-like wool that wrapped us against the cold and the snow. Our mothers had to sew linen patches on the insides of the trousers so they wouldn’t rub a rash on our tender thighs. We hated them. Getting in and out of them at school took way too much time, and their dank odors permeated the air in the cloak room where they hung from hooks like disembodied children. They never did get quite dry in the unheated room so inserting ourselves back in them once again for recess or lunch or after school was a damp and unhappy process.

I meet people on the street, all wrapped against the cold (no Brewster suits—they went away a long time ago), unrecognizable till we get close and spy a familiar pair of eyes behind the scarves and pulled-down caps. “You here?” they say in astonishment. “I thought for sure you’d be in Italy.”

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No way. I have to explain winter over there, in an unheated stone farmhouse high in the hills between Tuscany and Umbria, leaden skies, foggy vistas, mud in the fields, damp firewood, and a steady drip of rain from the eaves and the tree branches. It’s not the sun-blessed Italy of tourist brochures.  I am so much happier to be here in a Maine village house with central heating when necessary to boost the warmth from my Vermont Castings stove, little old reliable, kicking out the heat, snow piling up outside but inside tight and cozy.

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Italy or Maine, however, what I’m thinking is a pot of beans would add immeasurably to my comfort zone, and so out comes the pot and in go the soaked beans, this time some borlottis I found in the back of the cupboard, with garlic and bay leaves and one of those tiny hot Calabrian dried chili peppers. Boiling water, a chunk of pancetta, a touch of Maine maple syrup, a splash of Tuscan olive oil and off they go to steam, bubble, and bake in a low oven until they are tender and perfect for supper on a cold and blustery night. Lear might even have come in off the heath for just such a plate of beans.


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