SOON YOU are going to be snowed in. You will wake to find several inches on the ground, on the street, on the car. The snow is still falling, actually, and the young woman at the other end of WE 6-1212 says it may go on falling until this time tomorrow,
It is very quiet outside. No bird sings. No car coughs. If you turn on the radio, you will hear only warnings: traveler's alert. Roads closed. Trees down. Power outages. Church suppers canceled. Bingo games called off. You cannot get out. No one can get to you. You are on your own. Now what?
Some people are prepared for these things. Some people are prepared for anything. I know one or two of these people, and while I admire them in a way, I find I do not like them very much, if you know what I mean. Bet on it: Those people have food in the house, gas in the tank, sand in the trunk. People like this also have something special set aside to read during this long weekend. Something delicous; something they've been saving for just this occasion. "Northanger Abbey," maybe, if a Janeite; or an obscure Trollope. "Ralph the Meir," perhaps, or "The Vicar of Bullhampton." They may even have a first-rate paperback, lying around unread. These people don't really mind that the paperboy didn't make it to the door. They have something to read.
I am not of that number, alas, and the last blizzard found me typically unprepared. I had no tasty casseroles in the freezer. (I have no freezer. I had a freezer once, but I kept the ironing in it, and my husband sold it one day while cleaning the garage.) I am not only unprepared; I am also unlucky. The day before the Blizzard of '78, or whenever it was, I had thrown away a great stack of magazines. Even when I do something right, it's wrong.
So the day yawned before me. I am incapable of watching television during the day. It has something to do with my Puritan background, I suppose. But I'm not really diverted by "The Flintstones" anyway, and watching TV made me think that I should really use this time to clean the kitchen cabinets or sort out old snapshots.
Under those circumstances, I don't want to do anything constructive and I don't want to feel guilty. I want to read. Do you hear? I WANT SOMETHING TO READ. Something good to read.
That experience taught me a lot, really, and I now pass along my prescription for people like me.
First, do not panic. It is not true that you have nothing to read. Of course you have something to read. Go to the closest book shelf. There. Books.
I decided to browse among the books at hand, to nibble and sample and sip. I scorned nothing. After all, it might snow for a week and it was no time for pride.
The first book I picked up was "A History of the Modern World," by R.R. Palmer. A college text, it brought back bittersweet memories, of course. But I had forgotten how well written it was. I read the section on the War of the Spanish Succession and could have curled up with Mr. Palmer for the rest of the day. But I was determined to provide myself with a choice -- variety. Next to hand was my high school annual. Now here was real diversion. Where are they now, all those girls in their identical uniforms? Did everyone wear their hair in a page-boy that year? Is Katherine Tierney still so thin? Did someone tell me she had joined the convent? I wanted to sit down and write the one or two old classmates I know about. I could have spent an hour with that yearbook. But I went on with my sampling. And came upon yet another text book. High school? College? I wasn't sure, and I don't think it was mine. A strange hand had written notes in the margin: "For Thursday." and "Good example of lyric." It was a red book, and quite heavy. It was titled, simply, "English Writers" and was got together by four people named Cross, Smith, Stauffer and Collette. It, too, proved to be a treat. I riffled past Beowulf; likewise Chaucer and Malory. But I lingered over the Elizabethan poetry and, further along, obeyed the instructions to read G.K. Chesterton's "Lepanto" aloud. I was alone at the time, and no one heard me intone the exploits of Don Juan of Austria.
Reading aloud is a very good idea when snowbound. In fact, a person should start the recital with "Snowbound," James Greenleaf Whittier's classic of the cold. I found a copy on the next shelf, in a book of poetry designed for children. There was a treat! I read "The Wreck of the Hesperus" aloud, and quite a bit of Hilaire Belloc. I think I stopped only because I had no audience, and reading aloud requires an audience.
I then picked up an old World Almanac -- 1972, I think, and had an interesting time with it. And in the back I found a travel brochure. It offered a three-week tour of England, Ireland and Scotland for $800, as I recall, so maybe the almanac was older than 1972.
By now you have the idea, which is to examine every book on a given shelf with new eyes. I ended my wanderings in the kitchen with that most delicious of possibilities -- a cookbook. And guess what? I found that I had on my eclectic pantry shelves the makings of gingerbread.
It was Bacon who said, "Reading maketh a full man."