My old friend Red Burns was in town yesterday. I knew him from grammar school in Clinton, N.Y., deep in the Upstate Snow Belt. When he dropped by the office for lunch he was wearing his camel's hair coat, thin-soled Italian shoes and no hat.
"My God," I said. "You walked? From Georgetown? In this snow?"
"Snow?" he said.
Every northerner knows that snow is a state of mind. No matter how young or old we are, there was always more when we were little. Partly because we were little. A foot of snow came up to our knees, and the drift created by the state plows was tall enough for us to dig a tunnel we could stand up in.
But there was more to it than that. We lived in the country then. It was a time when men were men and schoolbus drivers were heroes, when the papers didn't bother to mention a snowfall unless it came over the tops of the mailboxes, when it wasn't a blizzard until the snow was flying dead horizontal and left pits in the windshield.
Everybody had a personal epic to tell. Mine was about the time a carload of us were driving home after midnight from a party at Boonville--Gateway to the Adirondacks--and we were coming down six-mile Deerfield Hill north of Utica, a winding, treacherous two-lane road where those four nurses got killed the year before, their car flying off a curve 300 yards through the air.
We had just started over the lip of the hill when the swirling snow completely enveloped us. You couldn't see the road, the telephone poles, the near bank. Whiteout. The car heater smelled of alcohol, so we didn't dare close the windows. The wipers quit. We pulled into a roadhouse called, I think, the Antlers Inn. About 40 people were in there, drinking hot bourbon with lemon juice and reciting their personal epics to each other.
"Aw, this is nothing," a grizzled milk truck driver said. "Hell, I remember when . . ."
There is always someone like that. I believe them. It was always worse before.
Let us get one thing straight, though: The best thing about a blizzard was when you got out of it. You'd fill the front hall with sagging galoshes, ice-beaded scarves and hats, puddles on the floor. Leather mittens would be left to curl into claws on the radiator.
There would be a fire going, and someone would bring in toasted cheese sandwiches still smoking on the pan. Hot chocolate. A glass of sherry for the chill. Red faces and layers of clothing, which were gradually peeled off. And talk. Loud, cheery talk. Snow makes people talk.
When you come down to it, the amount doesn't really matter. It is the same for the 40-inch fall that buried Watertown, N.Y., on one weekend in 1952 or for your paltry modern 10-incher.
Yesterday, a handful of us abandoned our cars in drifts and walked to the office, or hitched rides on snowplows, or skied, or helped push the Metrobus to get here. And when we finally struggled in, we took off our down coats and balaclavas and head scarves, rubbed our hands, grinned ruddily . . .
. . . and spent the rest of the day sitting around on our desks talking about it.