Category Archives: Winter

Two food memories

Carol and I walked by the fondue restaurant on our way to the supermarket. “I can’t believe people are still into fondue,” said Carol. “I remember when my parents were into fondue.”

“My family was into fondue at one point, too,” I said. “I remember one time — stop me if I’ve told you this a thousand times — when the cheese mixture wasn’t right, or the fondue pot wasn’t hot enough or something, and the cheese got all stringy. Remember my parents’ old house? Well, we stretched this one string of cheese from the dining room all the way to the far kitchen wall.”

“No, you never told me that story,” said Carol

How could I have not told her that story? We talked about it for years afterwards; I still have a vivid memory of that long string of cheese, close to twenty feet long. We got to the supermarket: Carol went off to find yogurt, I went to get paper towels. Another memory came to me unbidden, another one of those little stories that we retold over and over again:

Dad was pouring some coffee for my mother. Mom held her coffee cup over Jean’s bowl of cereal, and Dad started pouring. Why over Jean’s cereal bowl? I guess Mom thought that if a little coffee spilled, at least it wouldn’t drip on the table.

“That’s enough,” said Mom, and quickly pulled her coffee cup away.

Dad didn’t have time to react. He kept pouring. A stream of coffee went into Jean’s cereal bowl.

Jean, needless to say, was surprised, and rightfully indignant. I thought Dad looked sorry for what he had done, though I thought he was not at fault. Mom apologized to Jean, but treated the whole thing lightly. “We’ll get you another bowl of cereal,” she said. It took years before Jean and I got over it; we certainly never let our parents pour coffee, or anything else, over anything we were eating for years thereafter.

Random memory

Somehow I had gotten left off the attendance list for study hall in my freshman year of high school. I took to leaving school during that hour, and slipping off to the public library. But by late winter, a small group of my friends had somehow gotten permission to attend study hall in an unused classroom up on the third floor of our building, with little or no adult supervision. I would slip in and hang out with them. G—— was creating a literary magazine he called “Zeitgeist.” B——, on the other hand, liked making illegal things. He brought in a hash pipe he had made from brass tubing, and from that I learned about taps and dies and how to use them. He brought in a ballpoint pen from which he had removed the spring and the ink reservoir, replacing them with gunpowder; the button at one end was linked to a firing pin inside the pen. B—— clipped the pen bomb to a paper airplane, which he flew out the window. The plane hit the brick wall across the way and the pen bomb exploded, leaving a shower of tiny bits of paper. The janitor walking three stories below looked up in surprise.


Yesterday was sunny and warm; yesterday I was awakened by the sound of House Finches singing in the trees down the street. But this morning I was awakened by the sound of sleet and snow hitting the roof as it was whipped along by bitter winter wind. When I looked out the window, the ground was covered with an inch of wet snow. I hope the House Finches found shelter, because all too often early migrants die in a cold snap.

Adventures with “Big Bertha”

When I was a year out of college, I bought my parent’s old ’78 Chevy Impala station wagon, a huge green boat of a car with a 305 small block V8 engine. My mother, who liked to name cars, called it “Big Bertha,” or “Bert” for short; when she didn’t like the car she called it “The Big Green Monster.” I think it was the biggest car she ever drove. I don’t think she ever liked it much, but I was happy to buy it, because it was the only car I could afford.

I bought it in the summer of 1984 and drove it down to Philadelphia where I had been living. I loaded everything I owned into the back, and started driving home. I was on the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike when the tractor-trailer rig in front of me blew a retread off one of its eighteen wheels. All I saw was this huge black writhing piece of rubber flying down the highway directly at me and, Wham! it hit the underside of the car, and suddenly the muffler was dragging on the highway and making a horrible noise. I limped along to the next exit, pulled into a gas station and was told they couldn’t fix the car until the next day. I must have looked pretty sick — I didn’t have the money to stay in a motel — so this friendly guy went out, crawled under the car with me, and showed me how to wire the muffler up so I could drive the rest of the way home.

I had been unable to find a job in Philly, but within a month of moving back to Massachusetts I had several job offers. I went to work full time at the lumberyard where I had worked summers, and pretty soon took a room in a shared house that was close enough to the lumberyard that I could walk to work. The big green station wagon sat in the driveway most of the week; by now it had rust spots showing through the green paint. Once or twice a week, I would drive it in to the Boston Museum School to take art classes. At first I was terrified to drive into Boston in rush hour traffic, but I soon learned that other drivers were wary of a huge green rusty station wagon driven by a long-haired, wild-eyed kid. Then one night after class, I walked out to where I had parked the car along the Fenway, and it was gone — stolen. I went back into the school (this was before cell phones, remember) and called the Boston police, who told me that the Fenway was covered by Metropolitan District Commission Police; I called them and they told me I would have to appear in person at their station up near the Charles River dam. So I walked all the way up there, and the cop on duty, being a Boston cop, was rude and unhelpful and did everything he could to keep from having to write up a report of the theft. At last he wrote it up, and I managed to catch the midnight train from North Station back home. Two days later, the cops called me at work: they had found the car where it had been abandoned by some joyriders. I went in to pick up the car at the tow company lot, paid their criminally high towing and storage fees. The inside of the car was trashed, but all the joyriders (or it could have been the tow company) really stole was an axe I had left in the back of the car. When I got back to the lumberyard, one of the guys I worked with showed me how easy it was to pop the locks in a Chevy Impala of that vintage — all you needed was a teaspoon, and it was actually easier to unlock the car with a teaspoon than with the key.

My buddy Will and I loved that car for driving up to the White Mountains for a backpacking trip. There was lots of room for our packs, it was easy to steer, and that V8 engine went up the steepest grades as if nothing was there. On one trip, the car broke down when we were a hundred and fifty-five miles from home. One hundred and fifty miles was the distance Triple-A would tow my car, so we walked to a phone, got a local tow company to tow us five miles down the road, paid them off, then called Triple-A, and waited a few hours for them to come out to tow us home. The tow truck driver was a friendly guy with a French Canadian accent, and he hooked the rear of my car up, and then we crammed ourselves into the cab of the tow truck, along with him and his girlfriend. He revved up the tow truck’s engine, and drove across the median strip of the highway — I looked out the back window to watch my station wagon bumping and dragging along through the grass behind us. We had a companionable ride home, talking cheerfully with the driver and his girlfriend. So ended that backpacking trip.

The station wagon got rustier and rustier. One spring day, I was driving home from somewhere, and I got to the traffic light that was two tenths of a mile from our house. The light turned green, and as I accelerated the car gave a sort of lurch, the front end dropped down, and the steering wheel pulled madly to the left. I managed to get the car home, driving pretty slowly. Late that night, when there was no traffic on the road, I drove the car over to the garage, with my dad following behind in his car in case anything happened. The next day, the garage called with the bad news — the whole front part of the car was so rusted that they didn’t think they could repair it. I asked around at work, and one of the guys knew someone who owned a garage that did welding work, but when he called them, they told him that if the car had a 305 V8 it wasn’t worth fixing, because those 305 V8 engines gave out at a hundred and five thousand miles. I always wondered if the front end had been weakened by the way that crazy tow truck driver dragged my car across the median strip; but it didn’t really matter, because the engine probably would have gone a few months later.

So after having driven it for about four years, I junked the car. Even though I didn’t know how I was going to afford a new car, I felt a sense of relief — when you get to the point where a car is an adventure rather than a means of transportation, it’s time to let it go.

Winter walk

The warm spell over the weekend melted most of the snow and ice. That meant the sidewalks were mostly clear, so today Carol and I walked all the way to Fairhaven center and back — a good four miles round trip, and the longest walk we’ve been able to take since December. Although the sun wasn’t out it was a mild day, with temperatures in the low forties and very little wind. We walked, and as we walked we talked about our family and friends, and our jobs, and local politics. When we were almost back home, Carol looked up at the cloudy sky and said, “It’s one of those timeless days, isn’t it?” We could have kept walking and talking for another couple of hours, except that we both had to get back to work.


Every morning this past week, I awakened before my alarm went off. With the days now perceptibly longer, the first light of dawn appears in the sky before the alarm sounds. Just as happens every year at about this time, I have been awakened by that first light of dawn, dim though it is. And, as usual at this time of year, I need significantly less sleep these days than I did in December and the first half of January, and my appetite is less. Best of all, my mood has perceptibly lightened with the increasing length of daylight. Even though they’re forecasting snow for Tuesday and Wednesday, it feels as though spring is getting closer.

Last night’s rain

Last night I sat and listened
to the rain falling on the city.

I was sitting indoors, warm,
dry, cozy, with work to do. But still,
I kept listening to the rain.

Last night’s rain came in waves:
soft, then pounding loudly on the roof.

I kept imagining it
meant something — I don’t know — climate change —
greenhouse gasses — some world disaster —

Last night’s rain was only rain.
It rained and rained and finally stopped.

I went to bed. Nothing happened.
I dreamt — I don’t know what — vividly —
At first light, I came awake.

The rain melted snow, it swept
debris down, it crept under our door.


Still down with the flu. At about three this afternoon, I hauled myself up out of the chair where I’d been dozing, and stumbled down to the kitchen to make some tea. It has been a gray, rainy day, so I turned on the lights in the kitchen.

A memory kicked in: those winter afternoons back when I was in elementary school, my older sister and I would arrive home on a gray day at about three in the afternoon, and walk into the kitchen where mom would have the lights turned on. I’d have an apple for a snack, I don’t remember what my sister would eat. Then I remember watching public television while it got dark outside, kid’s programs like Zoom, and then there was a time when we watched an exercise program called The Beautiful Machine, and then when my younger sister got a little older we’d watch Sesame Street and Electric Company. Then it would be dark.

The memory lasted for just an instant. For a moment I craved an apple, and started walking towards the refrigerator to get one, but my stomach rebelled. Then the memory was gone. I made a pot of tea, drank it, tried to read the newspaper but couldn’t concentrate, ignored the headache, dozed again.