After spending a week fielding such fascinating questions as "Nuff snow for ya?" I am convinced that bad weather reveals the essential nature of humanity. Not (as the news commentators pontificate) its "essential goodness," but rather, its essential flakiness.
So, before you read all about it in Psychology Today magazine, let me share with you the cast of characters who inevitably emerge from an emergency.
At the very top of this list is, of course, Fred the Family Forcester. Fred is the cousin or uncle you hear from at weddings, funerals, hurricanes and blizzards. He begins to run down his alphabetically arranged telephone calls 24 hours before the storm, bearing warnings like gifts. Ay any given moment he knows the wind-chill factor and the exact location of every second cousin with a hatch to batten down.
The only family that doesn't need its Fred is one with a Polly Prepared. Polly has been ready for the worst since the Hurricane of '56. She has two kerosene lamps, and a year's supply of canned food on a shelf in the fallout shelter in her basement next to the snowshoe rack. When devastation finally strikes, she is properly pleased because, after all, She Told You So.
Polly would be aghast if she met Frank the Fatalist. Before an inch of snow has covered the earth, Frank has decided that hibernation is the better part of valor. He doesn't own a shovel, and he decided long ago that the only snow-removal system he was interested in was spring.
While Frank settles into February and March reading "War and peace," Dutiful Dan is, of course, on his way to work. Dan - strong of will and weak of mind owing to generations of inbreeding - is a familiar figure on the New England landscape. At the hint of a blizzard he dons his Nanook of the North outfit and heads for the office. Every company has its Dan who is hired to set a standard against which the rest of us can fail.
Dan will long be remembered - in truth, he wouldn't allow himself to be forgotten - as the one who walked seven miles in a blinding snow storm, and slept at the office for four nights to man the helm, keep the ship afloat, and generally convince everyone that he is indispensable.
If Dan is looking for competition, I can only refer him to Can-You-Top-This Caroline. Everyone knows Caroline. Whatever difficulty you have been through, whatever you will go through, you can bet that Caroline has been through more. If it took you three hours to get home from work the night of the storm, it took her four. If you have 36 inches of snow in your yard, she has 54 inches - never mind that she lives on the same street. If you have run out of fresh food and have begun worrying about scurvy, Caroline has run out of milk for her 2-month-old triplets and is worrying about starvation.
There are, of course, other character types. There is Florida Frieda, the aunt who calls from her winter home in St. Petersburg to make sure you're safe and sound and - incidentally - to tell you how she's suffering, too. Just last night it was 60 degrees and she and Uncle Bert had to wear jackets.
There's also Suzie Self-Centered, who takes the storm as a personal affront: "How could this happen to me when I have an important appointment tomorrow?" And then there is Nellie Neighbor who doesn't think your children are dressed warmly enough for the weather.
But I confessed that my favorite of all the characters who come out of the drifts is Snowbelt Sam, the Abominable Chauvinist of the North. If he isn't beating his breast and rolling naked in snow mounds, Sam can be found extolling the virtues of adversity. Self-reliance! Man against the elements!
While you are digging deep into the snow in search of lost garbage pails, Sam and his wife, Pollyanna, will tell you that bad weather is good for the soul. While you and your friends are pushing each other's cars, saying prayers over jump-start cables, he will talk about the Wonderful Community Spirit.
At all times, Sam has in his pocket a list of people who retired South only to die a month later of softening of the spine. What distinguishes Sam from the routine Northerner is that he maintains this attitude long after the first day of euphoria and the fourth day of resignation. He is steadfast throughout slush, potholes and, God help us, March.
But . . . if by some chance you escape all of these attractive characters, fear not; you will never avoid Disaster Dora. When the sun comes out and life is worth living again, Dora is sure to sidle by with her thought for the day: "Well, yes indeed, we'd better enjoy these mild winters while they're here. You know, there's an Ice Age on the way!"