• Christopher Corbett
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Snowbound PDF Print E-mail

My wife left me last winter, just before Valentine’s Day! How’s that for timing?  She walked out on me without any warning. Just put a few things in a Longchamp tote, went to the railroad station and got on a train to Washington.

We had not been having any particular problems. Nothing unusual— just the normal bump and grind of marriage after more than 30 years. There was no one else. She hadn’t decided to go and find herself, or run with the wolves. This wasn’t an unexpected consequence of Pilates or spin class.

She’d heard a weather forecast predict a major snowstorm, on top of the one we’d already had. That was all she needed. She works in Washington. And commuting there and back, even on a good day, is a horror show. With a vow to return after the snow stopped, she departed and I was left alone on a side street in Roland Park with nearly 3 feet of snow on the ground and predictions of much more to come.

I grew up in Maine and consider myself an authority on snow. I can smell snow. I can read the sky, to use an old phrase. When I moved to Baltimore I rolled my eyes at the antics of the snowbound hereabouts. Watching flatlanders drive on snow was especially amusing. I’d call my brother in Maine and regale him with such stories. I always assumed that all local weather forecasting was exaggerated.

But then it snowed last February and it kept snowing. The city made a desultory pass at our street with a plow. Once, I think. After a day or so you could not really tell that there was a street. I shoveled, nevertheless.

I shoveled alone. I shoveled with neighbors. I even shoveled with an enterprising lad from Hampden who arrived quite early one morning with a shovel, eager to improve his lot in life. We shoveled a parking space in front of my house although there was no car to park there and the street was unplowed. It made me feel great. My assistant insisted that we put up an ominous sign in the tradition of his own neighborhood. I felt like a real Baltimoron. The sign read, “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT PARKING HERE.”

So that I would not drop dead, I paced myself. I set the alarm on my cell phone to ring every 20 minutes and I shoveled and rested. Dropping dead shoveling snow was one thing. Dropping dead shoveling snow in Baltimore was another. No one at home in Maine would believe that possible. My obituary would make me the laughingstock of Kennebec County.

I shoveled the pathway out to the garage. Then I shoveled it again. And again. By the time the second storm hit it looked like a World War I trench. The alley behind the garage was impassable— but still, shoveling the path made me feel good about things. My wife called regularly from her hotel in Washington to inquire about the home front. She was thinking about moving to an even grander hotel. They were nearly empty and had suites available!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I shoveled the path from the back of my house to the front— a lot of work, as it runs between the house and a stone wall. I shoveled the front walk and the front steps and the sidewalk. But there was no place to walk to. This was a bad storm, even by Maine standards. I really knew how bad it was when a neighbor staggered through the drifts wrapped up like an extra out of “Doctor Zhivago” and shouted wildly, “Eddie’s is closed!”

The closing of Eddie’s is one of the signs spoken of in the book of Revelations.  Other than Christmas and Thanksgiving, Eddie’s never closes. If the Taliban were coming up Cold Spring Lane, Eddie’s would be open.

Luckily I had plenty of food. And, since I was home alone, I could eat whatever I wanted without being scolded. I figured that a man risking death in the face of a blizzard ought to bulk up. A good breakfast was in order. Bacon and eggs and cheese biscuits!

We have a good neighbor who every Christmas brings me a pound of bacon from a man called Bob who lives in Wisconsin. It is the Chateauneuf du Pape of bacon. The worst snowstorm since the Ark and Dove landed seemed like the right time for Bob’s bacon. I was worried that I might drop dead shoveling snow and I wanted to have a good breakfast before that happened, sort of like a condemned man’s last meal.

Being snowbound seemed like a good reason to break training, in general. I took a few naps (also frowned upon by my wife).  I let the cat do any wicked thing he wished (extremely frowned upon). And when I was not busy shoveling I did what every American does under such circumstances: I watched the Weather Channel. I studied the storm tracker on Doppler radar. I watched Don and Marty. Because even though there was a real storm raging outside, it’s not really a “snow event,” as they call it, unless you see it on TV.

But mostly I shoveled and the snow continued to fall. After more than 30 years in Baltimore, I finally had a real Maine snowstorm. It brought back a lot of memories. And those memories are still fresh as I write this and savor the weather forecasts blessedly calling for a mild winter this year. ss.

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The Other Tipping Point PDF Print E-mail

Christmas is the time of year when men of good will should remember an ancient principle, one surely more ancient than the holiday itself: the tipping point.

My experience in life has been that tidings of comfort and joy are nice, but when chestnuts are roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost is nipping at your nose and Yuletide carols are being sung by a choir, the garbage men would really appreciate a double-sawbuck each. And maybe a cold one. Collecting the refuse of 500,000-plus citizens (and battling rats and cats and folks who double-park) is thirsty work and I tip them every year most willingly. It fills me with the spirit of the season to see them coming down the alley as the holiday approaches.

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For These Thy Gifts PDF Print E-mail

When I was a youth, a great deal of care went into the preparation of the harvest holiday meal known as Thanksgiving. A fresh turkey roasted all the day long from dawn’s early light, filling our house with the aroma of the season. We ate mashed potatoes, not sweet potatoes. (Note: the Pilgrims knew neither member of the spud family— I looked it up!) Our plates were filled with rivulets of gravy, potatoes, stuffing, rolls! Carbohydrates were very big. Creamed onions were prepared from scratch along with a pureé of squash. Same goes for the pumpkin and mince pie. Nothing was store-bought. Such a thing would have been unthinkable. We had our traditions. And one of those was that we never tried anything new. That’s why they call it a tradition, Pilgrim.

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An American Tradition PDF Print E-mail

One of the great pleasures of the autumnal season for me is Banned Books Week— Sept. 25 to Oct. 2 this year— sponsored by the American

Library Association and various other organizations that doggedly fight against that All-American itch to censor.

Censorship is a custom that seems to belong in the time of Cotton Mather but is right at home in the age of Glenn Beck. Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has the distinction of being banned by someone or other for the entire 125 years that it’s been in print. There were even objections to Huck before the book was printed. If that does not make it some sort of classic, I cannot say what would.

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When Cats Could Talk PDF Print E-mail

The ancient Irish believed that cats were mysterious and omnipotent creatures capable of amazing feats. They believed cats could talk (in English and Irish!). They believed, too, that cats were emissaries from the other world.

They had that part right.

In the bleak midwinter a long time ago, I was walking home from John Gach, the legendary, much-lamented, used-book dealer on Greenmount Avenue, when I saw a small, gray cat cowering in a window well.

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