By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I don’t know why just the right song seems so often to pop out of nowhere. I mean I hadn’t thought of Satchmo (Louis Armstrong 1901-1971) for a good long time. Why then does it feels so absolutely normal, indeed predictable, as the first flakes of our first Nor’easter fell, the grand notes of Satchmo rising at the appropriate time for any snowstorm in the world.
I am standing at the window in my office, The Blue Room, staring out into the wintry scene now developing. There are still tufts of grass that snow has not yet covered, and though there is not at this moment enough snow to justify their presence, the snow plows are here in force with their glaring noises, and air of pomposity. This is the beginning of the blizzard which the avid weather girls now cover, for it is now the day for the cute jeune fille.
For now it is mandatory to deliver weather with sex appeal. They know nothing about weather except what they are told to read from a page. Their job is to make minimum mistakes and look like they are going to a cocktail party even though the time is 6 am.
In days gone by I would at this time of the morning (just about 9 am) be dressed in my adorable yellow all weather outfit, the outfit which when wet smells of dog. I had just enough time before school to make exuberant snow angels. My brother complained as his snow was not always neat as mine always was. I always had first dibs on the pure snow and never failed to make the boisterous model. The incidental fact that this irritated my brother was an extra benefit not to be underrated.
The snow is falling faster now but cannot beat the wild range of remembrances of snow days gone by. It seems to me my life was divided into just two days: winter with its promise of the bountious snow and ice skating on the local pond; summer with scorching temperature and pink bodies soon burnt to the consistency of French toast. Seen one snow day, seen them all, you might say, but you would be wrong, because each day of snow creates a different montage. They may look the same, but there are no two flakes in the universe that ever are the same.
My mother served as Grand Marshal of the snow parade. She knew where everything was to be found. “Yes, Jeffrey, check the hall closet under the green blanket”. No request when it came to snow was too insignificant to produce the desired effect.
A lot of bubble gum could return a sled to service. How many mothers, particularly those of the millennium, could do as much?
She was young and vibrant then. Winter suited her, and Jack Frost nipped at her cheeks and created a thing of joy and beauty.
Although she had a job out of the house, she was always there to provide the breakfast she knew we would need. For once out of the house we were energy machines, paying no attention to anything but the snow which piled up outside our back door.
“Mind the ice!”
The trek to school — for we walked everyday except the worst — revealed new landscapes. Familiar objects were no longer familiar, but radically changed. The snow provided us with a whole new vista; one that we must touch, not just see. Otherwise, we wouldn’t believe. And so the tracks of my mother’s children went one way and another, thereby proving we were great explorers, not put off by the millions of pounds of snow falling from the unremitting gray sky. We defied it.
Neighbors we might not see for weeks at a time, we would take time to see as the snow fell and the blizzard blew. We all wanted to know what the old folks were doing (for any one above our tender age was certainly old no matter how young they might have been). These neighbors came out even as the first snow fell, so that they could clear the path the falling snow would obliterate in just minutes.
These folks would have to rely now on shovels and patience. Sometimes my mother would say “Knock on Mrs. Jenkins’ door. Make sure she has heat and she is alright.” In such ways my mother demonstrated what the word “community” really meant. Does anyone stop today to find out whether Mrs. Jenkins is comfortable at 88 and frail? Probably not. If she is lucky, someone from Community Services may take a moment to look in, but more often the line is busy. “If this is a life threatening emergency call 911.”
I think Mrs. Jenkins preferred the red-cheeked banshees who sharply tapped the glass and rapped rat-tat-tat, smiling the broadest smile. She would have been delighted to invite us all in for cocoa with little marshmallows, which every marshmallow connoisseur knows are manifestly superior to their bloated bretheren.
I see a hearty traveler on the sidewalk walking diligently, no doubt to his perch in the great University which scoffs at the very idea of Nor’easters. After all, it has lived through centuries of snow and ice and wicked contours which soon become nothing but mud and housewives shouting with asparity, “Wipe your feet!”
It is a wonder to me, after so many years, and so many deserts of mud, especially those creating themselves particularly for my birthdays, that these housewives did not become murderous. A kind of patience, restraint, even sainthood was expected. It was the hallmark of the lady of the house that she did not, as a matter of course, take a rifle off the wall and blow the encyclopedia salesman to kingdom come. We knew they were capable of it; their restraint, therefore, was heroic.
As we neared the school, I sometimes thought of my paternal grandfather, Walter. He was the dark horse of the family. A contractor, he helped build the local schoolhouse… grand in a full display of continental brick work. You see my grandfather, Germanic to the core, liked things that last. And so today, when he is hardly even a memory to anyone, that brick schoolhouse he built stands solid, as good today as on its inauguration. Yes, he was a dark horse. His metier was doing, not talking, and I admire that trait today more than I can say.
I think another word is owed to Grampy. He would sit in my grandmother’s kitchen each day… his chair never touched, much less sat in by anybody else. Each day after four would see him in his special chair. It was not patriarchal. It was made of aluminum, with a seat easily cleaned. This chair was as important as the Pope’s, and was the scene of far more judgments rendered ex cathedra.
Brief, laconic, rendered with a certainty that must be God-like… Grampy dictated the course of world events. There was nothing shy about his delivery. There was nothing shy about where he stood. And if he liked you, you got a double portion of his favorite potation. I often tried to advise his guests that one such drink was enough, but they never believed me until it was too late.
I would arrive in this scene of unadulterated family about the time my uncles appeared (for sometimes they worked for my grandfather and sometimes they did not); no one ever questioned my right to be present; no one hesitated to make some deflating comment if they thought that perhaps I was gaining an unfair advantage. Of course I was, and I dished back just as good as I got, probably even better.
The snow continues to fall. The weather girls are making one silly comment after another. Do we really need to know the temperature in Springfield, Massachusetts, or how many tree branches have fallen off in Arlington? So much information, so little that’s important.
I prefer my grandfather’s way of handling it. He’d listen, he’d grunt, and everyone knew precisely what that grunt meant. No one outside this careful circle ever learned how to interpret what to us was so clear and manifest.
I had one more trek to make, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” The snow might abide… the drifts might grow… ’til my trusty bicycle was forced into the middle of the roads… dangerous as the sun fell low on the horizon. I was going home, and though I didn’t necessarily know it everyday, it sometimes did occur to me that all the to’ing and fro’ing, all the high flying and the low flying, were nothing compared to a single word just four letters long, “home”. It is a pity that I learned this lesson so late in life. Perhaps we all must be significantly detached before we see what we had, what we have lost and can never regain.
And so, in my mind’s eye I see myself and think on this, my 70th birthday, how fortunate I have been. I have kept more promises and traveled more miles than most. “You’ll never know how many dreams I’ve dreamed about you.” It has all been a long, long time.
It is hard not to be seized by the wintry scene playing out before me. It is the cause of so many reflections. But when you add Satchmo to the mix, it is overwhelming indeed. That is why I have chosen “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” as the music for this article. Written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, it was released in 1945. You cannot get through it without the insistant tug of memory, because that after all is the important thing… the thing that defines you… and you must not resist it.
About the author
Over the past 50 years and more, Dr. Jeffrey Lant has written 61 books and thousands of articles on a wide variety of topics. He is the greatest lyric writer of his age. Don’t just read the books and articles, enter into their flow, for they will touch your heart if you allow yourself to have a heart.
To see Dr. Lant’s complete ouevre, go towww.drjeffreylant.com. You will be reminded of just how powerful the English language can be.