Snow brings a storm, a storm of memories
Sunday, February 16, 2014 12:05 AM
Did anyone else have flashbacks this week?
I'm not talking about the kind of flashbacks Timothy Leary would have had, either. This is about the winter blast we just dug our way out of before being rocked by a 4.1 earthquake compliments of Strom Thurmond's home county.
I'm guessing the covering of snow many of us experienced brought back some childhood memories. Good ones, I trust.
For me, three particular snowstorm memories were vividly replayed in my mind, and they all dealt with my father.
The first was in 1966. Dad, a Marine working in military intelligence (no jokes about that being an oxymoron, please), had received orders for a two-year tour of duty in Bangkok, Thailand, shortly after the 1964 presidential election.
MOTHER, A POLITICAL HACK WHO campaigned for Barry Goldwater, was in utter despair about Lyndon Johnson's election. She told Dad earlier that if Johnson won, she would leave the country. Dad called her one day to remind her of that statement and asked if Thailand would suit her. Mother, thinking Dad was making fun of her, had a few choice words for Dad before realizing he was serious. The Corps offered the whole family could accompany him. And so we did.
All went well until Mother's sister died suddenly. She came back to the States and then rejoined us in Bangkok. But then a matter of months later, her father died following what should have been rather routine and minor surgery. So, Mother, my brother Charlie and I boarded the plane and returned to Virginia while Dad finished the last six months of his tour in Thailand. That was a long six months, but on his return to Virginia's Eastern Shore, where we were living with my widowed grandmother, the Shore had one of its biggest snowstorms.
It was a great experience as Dad, Charlie and I walked along the property that saddled up to a large creek fed by the Chesapeake Bay. It was cold, the snow was blowing hard and visibility was nil. But it was wonderful being in that snowstorm with Dad.
The second memory was from the early 1970s when we lived high atop the 15th floor of an apartment building off Route 1 in Alexandria, Va. Following his tour in Thailand, Dad was now working at the Pentagon.
The Washington area was no stranger to snow, of course, but this particular one was nearly as special as the freak storm on the Shore.
AN INCREDIBLE QUIET SETTLED over where we lived. Route 1 typically produced a non-stop drone of car engines and sirens, but this storm had brought travel to a standstill.
Dad and I ventured out. We trudged through deep snow and found our way into what seemed, in my 11-year-old's mind anyway, to be a large patch of woods. There, in the midst of towering apartments, crammed neighborhoods and endless ribbons of streets, was as beautiful a scene as could be found in the countryside.
We walked and talked, taking in all the beauty there was to be had and enjoying how peaceful it was for those few hours. We got back to the apartment just before dark.
The third memory is a return to the Eastern Shore. After my grandmother's beautiful old home had burned to the ground in 1974, she rebuilt but with the stipulation we all live there together. Dad had retired from the Marine Corps and had been pursuing a degree to teach political science.
But we all wound up in the new home on the property I always callwed home. As a military family, I had long been accustomed to bouncing from state to state, apartment to apartment, house to house. My grandparents' home on the Shore was my home base, so I was glad we agreed to move there.
This particular winter, late 1977 or early 1978, we got socked in with another rare and crippling storm. We lost power at the house and had to rely on a fireplace in the den where three generations huddled and enjoyed each other's company. In that day, when the power went out there was no alternative method of communication.
A mile up the road was Tom Campbell's house. Maybe his phone was working. If so, we could alert the power company to our situation. Mainly for my grandmother, who was not finding the fireplace heat sufficient to warm her 95-pound body.
THINKING BACK ON THAT NIGHT, I suspect the walk to Tom's house had more to do with wanting to get out than to get power restored, but that's what Dad and I did.
Snow was deep and the night was beautiful. Some drifts along the roadside were more than 6 feet tall. And they were packed. Dad and I tried walking up some, but were cautious as we did not want to wind up buried.
Eventually we got to Tom's house. Sure enough, he had power and so we called the utility and alerted them to our loss of power. We enjoyed a little conversation with Tom before heading back home.
Dad had been experiencing some leg pain then, so it was somewhat surprising he was willing and able to make the 2-mile roundtrip hike.
Only months later did we learn that the leg pain was not phlebitis, as had been diagnosed, but rather an early sign of a cancer that eventually took Dad's life at age 52.
I really don't remember what all Dad and I talked about that night, and that really doesn't matter at all. What matters is that we spent that time together.
Funny, isn't it, how something like a snowstorm can provide such precious memories we hold onto and replay in our minds.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2522; email firstname.lastname@example.org ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.