Monday, December 10, 2018

Closed for Snow

As goes Clay Street, so goes the world. At least, that's what I was hoping.

The moment I looked out the window this morning and saw that my street was passable was the moment I decided that my road trip to the Northern Neck was on, after all. If they'd gotten to Clay Street, Route 360 had to be clear.

Mom and Dad's pre-holiday to-do list awaited. I had to accept that absolutely nothing was going to happen in Richmond today with everything shut down and I needed to get out even if it meant driving an hour and a half away to escape the Hallmark holiday statis.

This girl was gone.

When I went down to clear off my car, a chore I expected to take 15 minutes but which took 30 given the foot of snow covering it, it was to discover that a very Jackson Ward thing had happened to my vehicle: there was a snow penis carved into the center of the hood.

I couldn't even be surprised. Instead, I went back upstairs, got my camera and took a snap of it.

That's because from the month I moved into this place - March 2009 - snowfall has meant male genitalia around these parts. The first one I ever saw was 3' high on top of a car and I tried to convince myself it was an aberration, except that the next morning I saw two: one on the hood of a truck, one in the truck's bed. Over the years, I've been able to count on seeing one whenever we have any appreciable snowfall.

Like so many things, it's just life in the Ward (insert shrug). I cleared it off, along with all the other snow that had blanketed my car and was on my way.

Driving east meant leaving J-Ward with its foot of snow and driving through Mechanicsville with its 7 or 8" (including the snow-covered windmill) to the Northern Neck where it wasn't much more than 4 or 5" and passing 17 snow plows along the way (I counted).

In the median between here and Tappahannock, I saw four vehicles abandoned, including a Fed Ex van, undoubtedly left yesterday since the roads were clear this morning.

Far more scenic was the landscape, with every evergreen resembling a Christmas card-worthy image of snow-laden branches. Large bushes like forsythia must have filled in and then over with snow, so that they now resembled giant Hostess Snoballs, minus the electric pink color.

For incongruous charm, it was hard to beat getting on the bridge in Tappahannock to see each of the docks along the shore covered in a carpet of snow. For sheer grandeur, nothing topped coming off it to see enormous, untouched white fields of snow as far as the eye could see. They didn't look real and no one would have found them believable if CGI had made them look that perfect.

When I stopped at Food Lion in Warsaw to get sour cream for Mom (the one ingredient she didn't have for the cake she wanted me to make today), the cashiers were standing in a gossip circle near the chip aisle, bored out of their minds and dreading the day ahead.

All was well at Mom and Dad's, where the heat is always set too high and Christmas decor is omnipresent. Things did smell wonderful, though, because the Christmas tree they'd gotten in Whitestone, while smaller than their usual ceiling-scraper (for which they both apologized, as if they were shirking their parental duty to only get a 7' tree), had a particularly fragrant scent that I love.

Besides the sour cream, Mom had asked me to bring the recipe when she couldn't find her copy. Mind you, this is a recipe she first shared with me in the '70s after a German co-worker made it and Mom got the recipe from her, a backstory I'd never heard before today.

That led to a conversation about her years working at the International Monetary Fund and how she'd been passed up for a promotion when her boss retired. Everyone was shocked when she didn't get it, but then word leaked that the woman who had was the IMF director's god-daughter. As recompense, when Mom decided to take early retirement, they paid her full salary for a year and a half before benefits began.

I reminded her that she'd used that time to move to this house full-time and do things like plant butter lettuces and cantaloupes and soak grapevines in the bath tub to make wreaths. "Yes, I did," she said, looking pleased with herself at the 30-year old memory.

Somebody's got to remember these stories and it looks like I'm it.

Dad, meanwhile, is in charge of writing out the dozens of Christmas cards they send out every season, as well as addressing all gift tags. It's not just that his handwriting is magnificent (though it is) but that Mom's resembles nothing so much as chicken scratch, a fact she attributes to years of using shorthand to take notes.

In any case, it's a holiday chore that necessitates a great deal of back and forth between them about people and memories.

When 1953 comes up because of a song, Dad reminds me that 1953 was the year he went in the army, a pivotal decision in his life, he now believes, because it set him on the path to meeting Mom. Needless to say, he still considers this the best thing that ever happened to him.

You listen to these stories your whole life and you can't help but be a believer in love and romance.

Driving back late this afternoon against a low-slanting sun, I could see that this morning's pristine fields had now been violated, whether by sun, birds or animals, but there wasn't much more traffic on the roads then there had been this morning and that had been ridiculously light.

It was clear everyone who could be was at home today. Well, not everyone.

Back at home, where the neighborhood felt emptied out and there were parking spaces galore, I briefly considered a movie but decided instead that with my social needs fed by the people who spawned me, I'd stay at home and accomplish any number of things I needed to do.

After putting a load of laundry in, I grabbed the snow shovel and began shoveling a path from my door and along the sidewalk (as the city requires) to the basement door. If I'm being honest, it felt great to do something really physical in the cold evening air after not getting in my walk today...or much movement beyond wrapping presents.

I was scraping away, getting into the quiet of the 'hood in between my scrapes, when my neighbor unexpectedly opened the front door to see me there with my shovel.

"Oh I thought you were my friend," he said unconvincingly and probably annoyed to have gotten up from his video game to find out. "She's supposed to be coming over, so when I heard something..." I continue shoveling and smile. He goes away.

Once I finish shoveling, I pause before going upstairs to enjoy how unusually silent the city is. No hum from I-95 drifting over, no passersby, just an unnatural quiet. It's lovely.

It's broken seconds later when two young women who live next door walk up, crunching through the snow, each with a large bag in her arms, probably from the 24-hour Rite-Aid. In a voice that can only be described as young and inexperienced, one squeals giddily, "He didn't even card me! I mean, he.."

Before she finishes, her cohort brags right back. "He didn't card me, too," clarifying either that this guy casts a fairly wide net when it comes to underage drinking or to establish that it was her narrative, as well.

Both sound tickled pink to have gotten away with buying lots of beer to wile away another snowy night stuck at home.

Shoveling the walk, getting trashed, we like our pleasures simple in J-Ward. And, man, you should see our snow sculptures.