Well, it here it is. It is December again and, depending upon where you live, the weather this time of year runs from the semi-tropical to the brutally cold. I’m personally not a big fan of winter but if you have to have it, this is the time of year or it.
For the past 50 years when I have returned to New Hampshire for my high school reunions, I have heard one phrase time and time again. It is always spoken by a different person each time but the conversation remains the same. The phrase? “I have had it! I have shoveled my last shovelful of snow! I’m moving to Florida!” It always amuses me because I “get it.”
As a young man, I made some good money digging my neighbors out after each snow storm; sometimes I’d have to dig them out as many as 3 times in 10 days depending upon the snow fall. Frankly, I loved the snow. I remember times when they called off school because of snow and how later in the morning a bunch of us were down at the bus depot trying to catch a bus up to the Gunstock Ski area. We couldn’t go to school but we surely could go have fun. We made snow forts and played “King of the Mountain.” We’d dug snow tunnels in the bigger snow banks. It’s a wonder we didn’t get killed when they caved in. I got to race sled dogs in the snow for a couple of years in the Laconia Jr Sled Dog Derby. Gosh, we had so much fun.
For me, the snow was magical. I have so many memories of snow and the situations I found myself in the snow. As it turned out, I have lived in Texas almost all of my adult life, I don’t have the occasion of seeing a lot of snow anymore so maybe I still see the white stuff in a more fanciful light because I don’t have to shovel it anymore.
Some of my earliest memories of snow was being bundled up in that big, bulky, oversized snow suit that you couldn’t move in. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that made you walk like a robot because you could barely bend your arms or legs. Add snow and you might as well be paralyzed. You couldn’t move! So you just stood there and did the only thing left to do and that was cry.
As I got older, snow was just flat out fun. First, it was my American Flyer sled and later it was that dented up aluminum “Flying Saucer” which always made my ass cold. You remember that don’t you? It took you ten minutes to climb the hill and fifteen seconds to ride down—and we did it ten times or more, at least. We made countless numbers of snowmen or snow-women—some more anatomically correct than others. Oh and there were the snow sculptures and ice carvings at the Winter Carnival during our winter break. When you live in New Hampshire you grow up with snow. It is just a given. It is part of your life. I even remember it snowing while taking Driver’s Ed. Some snow was not going to stop Mr. Estes.
One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts in the early ‘60’s was my Motorola 8 or was it 12-transistor AM radio, complete with white ear piece! Every night, I scoured the dial for far off radio stations in in exotic locales such as Buffalo or Albany, NY or WLS in Chicago. There was always “Cousin Brucie” on WABC in New York City. The world was mine through that radio.
One of my fondest memories was listening to a Chicago Blackhawks vs Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game. As the expression goes, “I had no dog in that hunt” but the fact that I could hear it all the way from Chicago to my little earpiece was just astounding to me. I clearly remember sitting in the big cushy armchair in the living room in our second floor apartment. I sat there in the dark looking out over Charles St. My chair was positioned just above the street light outside. I sat there watching the snow fall accumulating on the street below as I listened to the hockey game. I watched the snow get deeper and deeper and whiter and whiter. I was watching many of the neighborhood’s details disappear under the frozen blanket. I watched the night transform into a winter wonderland under that street light. It was like magic to me.
I remember the snow at my very first radio job in Brattleboro, VT. Let me preface this story with one thing about New England. You will get four seasons. No, make that five. There’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter & Mud. The weather of Easter of 1970 in Brattleboro wasn’t anything I planned on. I lived across the Connecticut River in Keene, NH. That meant I had to make the 22 mile drive over a big mountain and drive across the river down into Brattleboro. The station was a couple of miles down and off I-91.
Easter morning started out pleasant enough. It was sunny and mild. Not a hint of what was to come. In those days, every radio station had one or two (sometimes three) loud clunking teletypes hidden in a closet somewhere. They had to be placed somewhere behind a closed door, in another room or cabinet because they were so loud. They incessantly spit out yards and yards of paper with an equally incessant nonstop “chunk-chunk-chunk” rhythm. They constantly banged out national, regional news and weather forecasts. If those systems were still in use today, the environmentalist would be picketing outside of every radio station in America. It was a tremendous waste of paper. I even thought so at the time. The teletypes might bang out 50 feet or more of paper in a few hours when in reality; over that period of time a mere sliver about two inches wide is all you’d really need for the next 3 or 4 hours, particularly if you’re not running a heavy news operation (which we weren’t). I ripped the weather forecast for our zone and placed it on the front of the audio control board.
The latest Easter morning forecast cleared the wire around 5:20 AM and called for partly cloudy with a high expected to be in the mid-forties. No mention of rain or snow. It looks like it’s going to be a cool but beautiful Easter morning. Just the kind day you want for Easter.
After I signed on and got everything rolling on-air, I walked over to the teletype and read several stories. There wasn’t much else to do while the church tapes were running. There’s one thing about working in a radio station I noticed even on my first job. I always felt connected to the world and what was going on in it. The business keeps you young for a long time because you are a part of something happening right now! The world was letting me know minute by minute through those noisy clunking machines what was really happening. They rarely quit banging out stories of all kinds from all over the world ranging from urgent news to the ridiculously sublime. I was in touch with it all, all the time. It made me feel vital and a part of something larger. What’s more, I got to be the first person to share that information with people. I knew it before they knew it. Now that was cool and some heavy stuff for young guy in the media. I’m tellin’ you, it was addictive.
By about 7:30, I noticed the clouds had moved in and the sunshine all but gone. The sky continued to lower and become increasingly grayer. A quick check of the weather wire showed no change in the forecast; it was still expected to be partly cloudy with highs in the mid-forties. Hey, it’s what I’ve been told and it’s what I have to go with until I get informed with something different. The morning droned on. Just after eight, I looked out the window and to my surprise; we were having snow flurries; just big lazy, meandering flakes falling to the ground–nothing to be overly concerned about. Flurries rarely last long and melt on contact with the ground. That’s how it usually works. It was interesting but I went back to my work.
By eight forty or so, I noticed that the ground behind the station was covered with a dusting of snow. I sauntered over to the teletype again to look for an updated forecast. There was nothing. No mention in the news stories of any snow coming our way either. Well, it seemed to be one of those fluky things and I got involved doing something in the production studio. When it came time to change to the next church tape at nine, I glanced out the back window of the radio station to see snow coming down hard. This wasn’t any flurry anymore. This was some serious snow. My car was covered already. I watched in wonder. There is something really soothing and peaceful about watching falling snow. I just stood there with my hands wrapped around my coffee mug staring somewhat mesmerized out the window enjoying the sight.
By half past nine, I was sure we’d have an updated forecast sent to us with the necessary changes. My forecast is obviously wrong. Again, I checked the wire. Still nothing. At ten, I finally got a weather recap. Unbelievably, the forecast they sent was partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-forties! How the hell can that be? Don’t they know it is snowing and snowing hard here?
It’s shortly after ten and I have at least two maybe three inches of wet snow on the ground and it is still coming. By now, I am fielding some calls asking me what the hell is going on and where did this come from? I didn’t have any adequate answers other than to joke about how the weather guessers guessed wrong again. The official weather forecast was still calling for partly cloudy. I am on the air until noon. I got to thinking how this snow needs to stop because I have a big mountain to get over if I’m going to get home this afternoon. Watching the collecting snow, I am beginning to have serious doubts.
By 11 AM I am easily looking at 4 inches of snow and still nothing changed in the official weather forecast. Understand, that amount of snow isn’t necessarily a big deal for the local residents. It’s just a part of living there. You deal with it but this was more than that. No one was expecting this. I mused over how many Easter egg hunts were getting rethought that morning. My phones started picking up. More and more callers wanted to know what was going on with the weather. I explained to one man how the only forecast I actually had was still calling for partly cloudy. He said, “Well let me tell you something, right now, I have about 6 inches of partly cloudy in my front yard! When do you think we’ll get snow?” For some questions, there are no answers.
I grew up in and about the woods & forests. I loved walking in the woods when it was snowing. Often, you could hear the snowflakes clicking on the dead leaves that still clung tenaciously to the frozen limbs. Other times the snowflakes drifted to the ground without a sound. There were times when we had frozen fog. The fog would form and freeze on contact to every tree, every limb and every twig leaving a stunning display of natural art that was wondrous to behold. Those were rare but beautiful days until the sun got high enough to melt any trace of the frozen tapestry.
I had always heard that no two snowflakes were alike. I didn’t believe it. Of the billions or trillions of snowflakes that fell in any given storm, how could that possibly be? One snowy afternoon I stood by the neighbor’s car. It was a big old green Pontiac. As the snow persistently fell, I would wipe all the collected snow off the hood and examine every new flake that fell on the hood. I searched and searched for maybe 20 minutes or so. As many of those 6-pointed beautiful snowflakes I examined, I never saw any two alike. Close maybe, no two alike. So I guess it’s true.
My step dad, Hal was the head chef at the Laconia Regional Hospital for many years. Shortly after I got out of the Navy I was at the house on Lincoln Street with my mom and my wife, Zee. It began to snow rather heavily and it just kept up. Because we knew the snowfall was predicted to be heavy, Hal decided to leave his car at home. He called the police. In those days they would take “essential personnel” to their jobs. By late afternoon, there had to be 8 or 10 inches of snow on the ground with no letup in sight. It was obvious there was no way Hal could have driven down Pine St Hill in that big ol Mercury. He had made the right choice to have the police drop him off.
He was, however, going to have quite a hike home. So we decided to walk up there and walk back home with him. I’m sure he was surprised to see us. It was cold, snowy, and it was a bit of a hike but we loved every minute of it. Here again, there was something magical about walking on the deserted streets watching the snow fall. There is a quietness unlike any other time. There is a feeling of a hollowness in the air. It’s almost like you are in another world. It’s tough to explain unless you too have lived it. The snow cover is like a cushion where very little is heard except that one of a kind crunching sound your boots make as you shuffle along. I remember how the three of us walked down Pine Hill arm and arm and arm, slipping & sliding, giggling like children. What a grand time that was. It was one of those family bonding moments. It will remain with me always. Just like my mom, I loved that man. I still miss both of them, dearly. Christmas just isn’t the same without them.
Then comes a time when you have children of your own. Both of my kids were born down south but they always looked forward to going to see “Grammie” in New Hampshire. Although we usually made the trip in the summer we did make it back on occasion in the winter. One time while we were there we endured a pretty stout snowstorm—several inches of the white stuff. My daughter had never been on a sled. I’d say she was about 4 years old or so at the time. My mom bought a plastic “Flying Saucer” It was nothing more than a big plastic dish to sit in. We traveled over to the Laconia Country Club where they had a nice sized hill beside the Clubhouse. So I trek up the hill with Whitney in one hand and the big red saucer in the other. After some huffing & puffing on my part, we got to the top of the hill. I put the big red dish on the snow and set her in the middle of it and told her to “hang on to the handles and don’t let go.” With a gentle nudge she was gone down the hill. Her mom was at the bottom to catch her.
She giggled and squealed all the way to the bottom. She loved every minute of it. We continued the pattern a few more times. Then at some point we were standing at the bottom of the hill and I noticed Whitney walking up the hill dragging that big old dish behind her. She was going to do this all by herself. So we watched her make the climb and jump in the saucer and gather speed as she plummeted down the hill. As I stood there, I realized at her current trajectory she is going to plow into some trees! So big brave Daddy runs out there into her path. When she arrives she has a good amount of speed going for her and so I lean over and push out of the path of the oncoming trees. As soon as I shoved her out of the way, I realized I had just merely diverted her path into another set of trees. The saucer hit the tree and she did bump her head. She looked a bit stunned. She looked into my eyes and broke into tears. I thought it was because she was hurt but then I knew that puzzled look was her realizing that she really was related to me.
As I’ve said many times, Christmas has always been the time of year when I do my deepest reflection. Those memories that rush at me tend to center around the people I loved who are no longer here to hug, touch or just peer into their eyes. I miss them all dearly. I know you have those people in your life too. As you prepare for another holiday season, take a moment to remember your most cherished memories of people and places past. Mixed in with that sense of loss remember all the joy they always brought into your life. Allow yourself to smile. I know my life is certainly better because they touched and influenced me. Each touched me deeply. Each helped mold my life story to become what it is.
Well, in the course of sharing these thoughts with you, I have had my hot chocolate and it’s time to bundle up again and see if I can go outside and scare up just one more snow ball fight. Best wishes to you and yours from me and mine. Merry Christmas!