Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I'll be running around outside today while the temperature is still in the relatively civilized low 30s. (I trust my Canadian and Brit friends can translate.) There is shopping that needs to be done, both for ongoing house projects and for food, and now's the time to do it.

This area has always gotten only a moderate amount of snow. We can go several winters without receiving any at all, though our winters can be quite wet. We are just far enough south that precipitation that falls during the cold months is more likely to be rain, which becomes snow the further north the system travels. No measurable snow has fallen yet this year, and there is only a minimal chance that some may accompany the so-called Alberta Clipper as it descends upon us over the next few days. (They usually bring only air, very clear, and very cold!)

We get so little snow that when some does arrive, the city goes nuts. The mere sight of a couple of flakes can set the entire emergency road clearance system in motion, people crowd the stores for toilet paper, milk and booze (not necessarily in that order), and workers use their sick days so they can stay off the roads. The fact that it's usually much ado about nothing doesn't change our behavior. Mass hysteria sets in at the mention of a snowflake. It's one of the things that defines Washingtonians. It makes us a national laughing-stock, but God knows there are worse things about D.C. that we could be associated with. I'll take the snow.

When we do get a real snowstorm, a holiday spirit takes over. The last really major snow event I remember was in the winter of 1995-96, which happened to coincide with a historic showdown between Newt Gingrich's Republican House of Representatives and the Clinton White House. First we heard the weather report. We were ground zero for two major snowstorms headed for us back-to-back, so this loyal Fed knew he'd have at least one day off. But then came word of the Congress-White House budget standoff. A big game of chicken came to its logical conclusion, they refused to deal with each other, and the entire federal government shut down for a week. This was unheard of, certainly the first and only time it happened in my experience. It meant that only "essential workers" were allowed in their offices. While it was a bit deflating to be considered non-essential, (heck, it's just the Peace Corps!), I was grateful not to have to go out in the mess, at least for a couple of days. Once roads were cleared and the weather improved but the offices were still closed, though, things got a little antsy. All in all, between the weather and the government's shenanigans, I didn't enter my office for two weeks. That's a record I don't think will be broken any time soon.

The street I grew up on, Meadow Lane, gently curved down a long, steep hill, at the bottom of which sat our house. Our little suburban street was among the last to be plowed or salted, so that meant on a string of good, cold days our hill was the place to be for sledding. As was the case with my bicycle, my sled was an ancient hand-me-down, big and bulky, with all the finish worn off by the squirming bodies of my older relatives when they were children. It was a little creaky, but it worked. My father kept the runners smooth, and the steering bar still did its job. Since the sled was so big, I could give rides to other kids, and that was fun. I'd sit up and steer with my feet while somebody else, who may not have had a sled at all, sat in front of me. Depending on who was with me, I'd either make it a smooth ride all the way down or I'd run into a snow bank at full speed, forcing a crash into a cold, wet pillow. We'd do that all morning, then head back to our houses for a hot bowl of soup or some cocoa, and then start all over again.

If I lived on a hill now, I'd actually wish for snow. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I agree with everything especially being a Washingtonian myself. Forgot which year it was but remember Truman Capote had the best seller In Cold Blood in stores everywhere. I bought it as one of the gifts for my Dad, an avid reader and it snowed that Christmas 10 feet. We were snowed in for the first time and sat around eating foods and four adults sharing the book, passing it to the next person when finished with one chapter. I remember keeping the fireplace going for all four days. Finally the snow plows made it to Mt Vernon and we could dig our cars out and head to school/college, work or where ever. Fun.

Ralph said...

Z&M, In cold blood was 1966, so I was in Kentucky and missed that one. But I do remember a big storm in '57 that put us out of commission in Falls Church for the better part of a week. Same thing, no power--without the fireplace we'd have frozen to death. We lived in front of it. Lucky we had a gas stove so cooking could still go on. We could see our breath inside the house.

Mim said...

Hi Ralph,
I was going to comment yesterday on your Lebanon baloney yesterday, but in my lethargic blogging state somehow didn't!
My husband is from Lanc Co Pa and in 1970 I first visited his home with him when we were in college and it was the first time I'd ever tasted Lebanon baloney....
To me at the time almost a raw smokey strong meat taste.
We still buy it when we visit my mother in law, although it is also sold in our local grocery store here.
Loved your foodie post yesterday, and also your post today.
I remember the 2 wk shutdown well in the mid 90's. So you were part of that and got to stay home for 2 wks.
Our snow tonight predicted and anitcipated, I fear will amount to very little.
I'm trying to catch your house enthusiasm you guys seem to be going at full blast for your Feb. deadline!

Ralph said...

Mim, you'd be amazed at how "enthusiastic" you can be when your nightmares are full of dollar signs!

Cuidado said...

I hope to go sledding yet this year.