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These past few weeks during the snow and frigid February days and nights, we’ve retreated like most folks we know, huddling by the fire, and wearing long underwear to bed. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced cold like this, but I remember a night in 1997 when winter got the best of me, almost.
What my kids, my wife and I still call the “farm” was an old farmhouse in Alfonso in the suburbs of Lively, Virginia, where I lived with my family back in the late eighties and nineties. Neighboring landowners had wiped out the trees on both sides of us for crops, so the wind and rain beat a path across the fields in every season, and in winter, it was a fifty-yard-wide snow tunnel.
It was February, the moon was dark, and the snow had come down heavy all day, drifting across Route 600 and the fields and overflowing the ditches. The whole world seemed white that night, and the cold blew through the car doors on the way home. I knew my old car wouldn’t make it up the lane, so I drove hard into a snowdrift at the end of the lane just enough to get off the road. The snow was over the wheels, so I knew I was stuck for good. I had picked up groceries on the way—three paper grocery bags, no handles—so now the challenge was getting to the house with the bags and my briefcase, which, luckily, had a strap. A journey of fifty yards in the snow begins with a single step—and so I struck off, putting one foot in front of the other in almost one-foot drifts, balancing the bags, wincing from the wind, and watching the house take shape and come into view. I had left the porch light on, but now it was dark. I had lost power. I believe it was in the single digits that night, and the power must have been down all day, because it had to be twenty in the house—and now dark—but I managed to get through the night with a good flashlight, nice blankets and a good friend.
When my father had visited a year or so earlier, he noticed I didn’t have a winter coat, and insisted on buying me a cheap, fairly ugly, black, nylon shell, heavily polyester-filled Army-Navy jacket, which to this day, has got to be the warmest coat I’ve ever owned. Now dad’s jacket is a very old friend indeed, who has kept me (and my wife) warm on the coldest nights and days for many winters, and amazingly, it’s still like new. When I wear it, I remember that night on the farm when the power was out and the wood was wet—and I needed a good friend. pl
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