The things we remembered

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 5:30pm

It was from the 1960s, a time when a heavy snow could shut down the Neck for two days. There was more snow and much less equipment, one tireless little bulldozer inched its way north from the Breakers, where the deep snow began, slowly breaking through the feet-deep drifts.

The school staff was skeletal, with one administrator, a superintendent, who that year was on the mainland, working on a higher degree. These were the years of a boat, six days a week, all winter; travel to the mainland was infrequent.

A then-young teacher, fresh out of Brown, was visiting decades later, remembering the cold, the tiny winter society and remarked, almost as an aside, in recounting a day at school, “Your mother ran everything.”

No, I protested, and he just looked at me with “of course she did” and continued. Looking back, who else was there? The lower school teachers were still dealing with three grades in a room, the upper grades were often populated with teachers here for a few years, new, at the bottom of the pay scale, about to write off debts teaching in whatever the government term was for “God-forsaken place.”

It seemed to work, until the superintendent needed to take classes and then, well, it still did.

One day, a mainland crew on High Street, was doing something that required the scant few cars parked along the street to be moved. The foreman came in looking for someone to collect the drivers to move them. “Your mother” it was related “told him to just do it, they keys were in them, people were in class.”

I thought of her not because of that story but because she had an ability to tear a sheet of paper in two, deftly, without fuss, an art of which I was reminded the other day when trying to tear the “return this stub” section of a bill for insertion in the remittance envelope. It has no perforated line, and the printed line was, as they tend to be, just enough off from the fold in the invoice not to work. I could have reached over for the scissors but I am nothing if not stubborn.

Unfortunately, neither do I have my mother’s skill in negotiating the practical.

She died 33 years ago this weekend. This is the point at which one is expected to say “it doesn’t seem that long” but, in fact, it does. It didn’t seem especially odd for the first years, not until someone at least 20 years older than I was going off to visit his mother as if it was quite the normal thing to do. I remember standing in a kitchen in Wickford thinking “What? How is that possible?”

It was terrible cold back then, in 1987, but it was February and cold was a presumption. It was not until years later a cousin who had come from the west coast, Northern California or the PNW, recalled she had never been so cold in her life. I did remember apportioning extra coats and quilts, and the fact of the wind.

The weather wasn’t bad, there was no storm, no blasting snow, but it was deeply cold. The Post Office was still on the corner of Bridge Gate and I remember standing in the road, as Rob Lewis tried to remember which of the several directions his wife had given him was the final for the casserole he had just left at my house. He went bicycling in the snow, long before it was in vogue, and seemed born impervious to the cold, as he sat in his old white van, the window all the way down, no heat coming from within (heat, who bothers with such things?). I was loathe to admit I was freezing but I kept looking around, watching for a different car.

had lost my aunt and uncle, also flown in from the West Coast to Logan, arrived on the boat in a rental car with plates from who knows where. I will go to my grave wondering how I ever missed them on the winter road in February, there were no strange cars coming off the boat. But lost them I had, and re-heating a dish couldn’t be that complicated.

On the other hand, it does not seem that those few years should contain multiple generations of change. The Manitou was the boat, and it did run seven days a week, although I am not sure if there were more than two round-trip days, yet.

The summer paper had gone year round, in a manner of speaking, not on the weekly schedule we take for granted today. It came out once a month in winter, at the start of the the month. There was, of course, no on-line presence for news, no cell phones. Answering machines were high tech.

It was February and it was cold, but after the stunningly cold winters of the late 1970s any year without a great blizzard felt like a blessing.

The Mansion Road belonged to the town by 1987 and with the summer traffic came routine care, not just plowing and grading, but a progression of improvements that combined with the less dramatic winters made those old Januarys and Februarys of drifted to frozen to a great river of mud, that caused us to leave vehicles on the main road.

It is funny, though, the things we remember, my cousin walking up the road in my turquoise jacket, telling of being followed by a sweet lab who was followed by a man in a black Audi who jumped out calling “Molly, come here, Molly!”  I assured her it was just John Hobe and his actress of a dog was beloved, not beaten.

Perhaps I did not remember the cold until reminded because it was only air. The world was warm.