It takes a lot to slow us Americans down, no matter what the weather does. We stand at bus stops, profiles to the wind like those big-domed heads on Easter Island. We churn along snowy roads. We crane our necks in subway stations watching for the light on that first train car to lumber into view. But if the governor says, “stay home,” we stay home. Anyway, the schools are closed and even the officious bureaucrats have to acknowledge that they too are ‘non-essential personnel’.
And so there we all are on these snowdays, walled up in our houses for the duration.
And it’s hard, at first, to stop spinning our wheels. We go out and shovel, or try to anyway. We probe holes in the snow for the dryer vent. We probe holes for the car’s exhaust pipe, in the event that we’re ever be able to drive again, which prospect looks pretty doubtful with everything we own getting swaddled in filaments of white like flies by giant spiders. Then, trekking back indoors, we begin on the small household jobs we always forget we have waiting for us.
In the snowdays just past, I catalogued old photos, sliding them into albums I had bought for the purpose nearly a decade ago.
- I sorted through many perfectly fine articles of clothing I somehow never wear, and bagged them up to give to Goodwill.
- I went through my mother’s old collection of recipes clipped from the newspapers of the 50s, 60s and 70s and smiled at the easy, guilt-free way people cooked before food preparation became a competitive sport. ( “For Hearty Fisherman’s Stew,” one recipe begins, “take a can each of Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup, Campbell’s Lobster Bisque and Campbell’s Clam Chowder adding to these three canfuls of cream…”)
- I climbed to the attic and knelt by that old cabinet that holds all my mother’s diaries and read every single entry she made in the last three months of a life none of us knew was about to go to black as abruptly as that famous final episode of The Sopranos.
But ‘Enough of this clerk work!’ I finally told myself. ‘Enough with this peering and the sorting!’
I drew a bath and sat in the hot soapy water for a full 40 minutes, considering things – and realized, as I studied my feet, that they look exactly as they looked when I sat in the tub at age three while my mother worked a busy washcloth between my toes.
That made me smile and I felt my own inner clockworks slow down at last. I stopped obsessing about how we would ever dig out; stopped fretting over how I would meet my obligations and get to the places I needed to get to in the days ahead.
Then, with the bath drained and me once again dressed, I went into the kitchen and began rummaging among the canned goods – to find there slumbering after all these years, the making of a ‘stew’ of my own, from those trusty soups in the red-and-white cans.
I had Cream of Tomato, I had Cream of Mushroom and I had Cream of Chicken. It was 1960 again. And it began to look to me as though old William Faulkner hit the nail on the head when he said, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” What at though, eh? Now WHERE did I put mom’s old frilly apron again?