Calendar of Dreams
A week is too short, a season too varied. But a month, roughly spanning the progress of the moon from null to full, turns out to match perfectly the human need to divide time into psychic units. We are fortunate not to live in one of those namby-pamby Sun Belt cities, where you walk out on a lovely July morning only to discover it is actually November. Here, each month is marked by a collection of clima-tological and sociological distinctions uniquely its own. The word "June" conveys a complete state of mind, and way of being, as different from "December" as "January" is from "October." Hand us a month, and we know what to expect, what to hope for, what to dream. In this identity-challenged world, anything so redolent, so essential, deserves tribute. Hence, the following pages . . .
An empire of ice
It gets icy cold at 4 a.m. in an igloo you've built yourself.
When I was a Boy Scout, we would go winter camping. The scoutmaster (our family doctor) would ferry my twin brother and me out to his country farm. He was a sturdy older guy, with tangled eyebrows and a drop of wintry snot hanging off his nose. He drove the snowy back roads like a madman. Scared witless, my twin and I would disembark and tramp-tramp through the snow to join the rest of the troop, there stamping in place. We'd all begin hacking and lumping together a crude igloo in which to camp overnight. (Why? I now ask.) The labor was dull, awkward and very cold. After the adventure of making a fire in gathering darkness, and gorging on charred hot dogs and marshmallows while being scorched fore and shivering aft, we'd crawl into our snow cave -- there to pass a sleepless night shivering fully clothed in our meager sleeping bags, my brother's and mine being pathetic little bedrolls. (Again: Why?) At first light we'd crawl numbly back out into the snow, for a brief, bleak morning fire. But soon as we could we'd hobble, frozen-footed, up the road to the scoutmaster's farmhouse, where he himself had spent the night. There'd be lamb for Sunday lunch, in the wood-stove warmth of his kitchen. Bliss! The lamb and its rice were always greasy; and the scoutmaster and his wife had an openly bitter marriage, so our Boy Scout hearth was edgy with quarreling. But our stomachs were filled, our feet slowly thawed. Fortified, we'd hurtle homeward in the icy late afternoon, cringing in fear in the rear seat. The season of igloos was upon us.
The indelible mark of Valentine's Day
We had colored paper and scissors, an infinity of doilies that peeled off a single doily. We had snow falling in the darkness outside the windows. We had a bucket of the good kind of paste, library paste, which I ate when no one was looking. The school radiators clanked and hissed. The room smelled of varnish and steam. Our scissors were so dull that the red paper slid between the blades, but we persevered. We peeled and pasted and cut, and wrote to our parents: Be My Valentine. Store-bought valentines were what we gave one another -- you got 100 in a cellophane bag for 25 cents. They were flimsy and forgettable, not even as sturdy as leaves, but it was important to count how many you received.
In 1950, I liked a boy who sat two rows ahead of me, but I was too shy to sign the card I left on his desk. I used to draw his profile day after day during spelling, and I still can, the curve of his cheekbone stuck in my memory. I think we were both outside the swirl -- observers, not participants -- although I never could have put that into words back then. He seemed lonely and kind. His name might have been Dan.
We were asked to buy an inexpensive present for the Valentine's Day grab bag, and I bought ink. I had spent a lot of time in the stationery store unscrewing all the caps and staring into the bottles of deep color. Green, red, black, blue. I would smell them, being careful not to get ink on my nose. I wrapped the smooth glass bottle in tissue paper and placed it as carefully as an egg among the other gifts, waiting proudly for someone to choose it. Finally a boy ripped the paper off and began to wail, Who bought this?
February is okay -- it's the slippery little footbridge between winter and spring, and it's over fast. I didn't end up liking Valentine's Day very much. As for the boy whose name might have been Dan, lonely and quiet and possessed of good bones, well, Happy Valentine's Day, whoever you were.
Escape to spring training