Saturday, January 28, 2006

Friday, January 28, 1977

The morning was beautiful. Deep blue skies, not a cloud to be seen. Almost felt like spring. My dad had taken the day off, and he and my mother were going to fetch my brother from college. He was in his second semester at an institute about a two hour drive away. His birthday was four days ago--his first birthday away from home. He only had one lab class on Friday, and it was over at 11:30. So they would meet him at his dorm room, they would have lunch, and drive home in the afternoon.

My brother was studying to become an engineer. A mechanical engineer. Just like Dad. He certainly had an engineering mind.

It's been said that there are two kinds of intelligence: abstract, and concrete. Abstract intelligence involves 'what if' questions, while concrete centers around 'how to' thoughts.

Bruce was almost pure concrete intelligence. If it was something he could pick up in his hands, he could deal with it. I was almost pure abstract. My family called it daydreaming.

Put another way--at age six, my brother could read a schematic diagram. At age sixteen, I had to explain to him how to read an editorial cartoon.

On Friday, January 28th, 1977, I was a senior in high school. I had been accepted into the drama department of the school of my choice, I had won a few scholarships, I was in two bands, two choruses, in the drama club, had co-written, produced and directed a readers' theater presentation, was an editor on the school paper, a contributor to the year book, ran track and played baseball.

But I didn't know anything about fluid dynamics.

I was loved in spite of this.

Even though if I just stopped daydreaming...

Actually, the past few months were kind of cool. Without my older brother around, I was able to do more stuff with my dad. When Bruce was around, he and Dad would always work together, and I would move the heavy stuff. Without Bruce there, I had some time with him alone. For instance, one week, my dad was going to be the only baritone in the church choir, so he brought me along to sing with him. That turned into a semi-regular thing. The Sunday singing was ok, the Wednesday practices were ok too. For me, the best part was riding in the car alone, just me and my dad, to and from practice. We'd talk about stuff, and I would almost always get him to laugh. Getting my dad to laugh was the best.

On Friday, January 28, 1977, it was going to be Mom and Dad in the car together, going to get my brother for a birthday celebration.

The ride to the college was beautiful. On the way, my mother turned to my father and said "My life is perfect. I have everything I have ever wanted."

It was during fourth period band practice when it started snowing.

It was amazing. When we started Rimsky-Korsekov's Procession of Nobles, it had just started to get cloudy. Halfway through, the snow was hitting the windows so hard it could be heard over some of the mezzo-piano intervals. By the time the period was over, we were told to get our stuff and get on the buses home. They had let school out before lunch.

My high-schooler brain said: cool!

We lived halfway up a hill that overlooked the southwestern part of a valley. It was a beautiful view all year long. But it was a bitch to drive it when it was snowing.

By the time the bus made it to the bottom of the hill, Mabel, the bus driver, announced that there was no way in hell she was going to even try to get up there, because even if she did make it up, she'd end up in a ditch on the way down. I grumbled a bit, but at least it wasn't school. I grabbed my books and my trumpet, and started up the hill, along with four or five other kids.

The snow was thick and hard. Even with my parka zipped up and the hood pulled up in full nerd mode, I could feel the flakes hitting with the sound and feel of spitwads. A few neighbors cars had slid off the road, and some of us got behind one car and pushed it for a while, until it got enough traction to get moving.

By the time I made it from the bottom of the hill to my house, probably an inch of snow had fallen. I went inside, dried off, and ate my lunch. Outside, I heard the high-pitched vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv of a late 1970's rear-wheel drive GM car fishtailing up the hill on its way home. The road right in front of our house was a particularly steep grade. We were used to helping our neighbors get their car out of our front yard. If they got stuck, my dad, or my brother would get behind the wheel, and I would get behind and push. Again the heavy work.

After lunch, I put on my parka and gloves and went out to shovel. I didn't like shoveling, but I knew that I would get yelled at when my folks got home if the driveway was un-navigable.

While I was cleaning off the driveway, I would hear that familiar vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv, and I would run down to the car, and get behind them and push a while until they got past the tricky spot. And I was doing it by myself. No Dad. No Bruce. No help. It was hard. It was a little dangerous.


For the first time in my life, I was in charge. And I was doing ok. I was keeping the snow off enough of the driveway that Dad could get the Impala into the garage. I even shoveled the walk off to the front door. And I was helping the neighbors. Me.

It was close to six when they got home. They weren't talking much when they got out of the car. But that was ok. I did enough talking for all of us. As they walked into the house, I babbled about what had been going on, and how I had helped all these people, and the radio said that they might cancel school for a week and I shoveld the driveway and the sidewalk and the snow was so cool--

And my Dad yelled at me.

"Shut up!" He snarled. "Has it occurred to you that we've had to drive through this storm for the past six hours? It's normally a two hour drive! We've been driving for six hours! Don't you ever think?"



I guess not. It hadn't occurred to me. Honestly, it didn't. I was not aware that they had been driving through snow that was coming down so thick that my dad could not see the front end of his own car, let alone the road ahead.

Because our life was perfect.

Bad stuff happened to other people on Friday, January 28th, 1977.



Blogger Guy Wonders said...

Beautifully written -- a poignant moment in time that you recall with great detail. . . It's interesting how such significant moments occur without the awareness of anyone else present.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I miss the excitement of snow days, the sound of snowflakes hitting your coat, and the sweet joy of helping a stranger push a car up a hill when the wheels lose traction.

Loved the story.

So glad it didn't end in disaster. One tragedy is enough for Jan. 28.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...


1:13 PM  
Blogger Notsocranky Yankee said...

Awesome post. I felt like I was there.

Cranky talks about the RI Blizzard of '78 the same way. (He helped push an ambulance up the hill near his house.) Don't get him started! Our daughter bought him the book "Blizzard of '78" this year for Christmas and it was a huge hit.

Snow days are great...

10:07 PM  
Blogger Stormmaster said...

Great post.

6:59 AM  

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