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Frostbite

Snowstorm memories from long ago bring a real tingle

Sending out school buses to pick up kids at the usual early hour on the slick morning of Friday, January 10, has Anne Arundel and Calvert school administrators
groveling and parents howling.
    When I was a kid, we’d walk miles to school in the worst weather winter could throw at us.
    Okay, I’m exaggerating a generation or two. The only time I walked miles in the worst weather winter could throw at us was to get away from school.
    That escape and its occasion — the great snowfall of Friday, January 31, 1958 — came close to disappearing in the whiteout of long-ago memory. Except for the fire that ignites in my fingers and toes whenever temperatures drop below 38 degrees, I might have lost the part played in my life by the seventh heaviest midnight-to-midnight downing in St. Louis history.
    Instead, as the numbness returns, memory stirs. I must have gotten frostbite as a kid, I announce, more to myself than to anybody who might be listening.

January 31, 1958
    Had there been such a snow as I remembered? Or had I reconstituted it from the stuff of dreams and stories?
    An inquiry or two led me to www.wunderground.com, where I found my storm.
    It would have had to have hit in my first two years of high school, before I became a driver rather than a bus rider, I calculated. Counting way back, I began my day-by-day storm search the winter of my freshman year at St. Joseph’s Academy, 1957-1958.
    Regular light snow fell that winter, with the big drop — 11.2-inches — on January 31. Which was a school day, a Friday, just as it is this year.
    The scene was set. But could the drama really have played out as I imagined?
    Calls to my alma mater yielded nothing. No surprise there. Curiosity scored few points at my time in high school.
    So I called my oldest friend, who was the great gift of my four years at St. Joseph’s Academy.
    That snowy day Linda Kulla and I hadn’t yet met. Our alliance was made in March, shortly before the beginning of the baseball season, the occasion of our first shared interest. But we’d lived that snowy day in parallel time.
    “The biggest snow I remember,” Linda told me, “hit during the school day. By the time our principal, Sr. Teresa Martin, put out the call, the buses couldn’t get through. We had to stay at school into the night, until the roads were plowed. The nuns had to feed us dinner, which they didn’t like, and I remember dancing to records in the lounge.”
    My memory was different. Linda’s story rang true, but that wasn’t the way I spent the afternoon of Friday, January 31, 1958.
    She and I lived in different directions from the school, she south, I north, at about twice her distance. My home, Google maps tells me, was 6.4 miles from my school. That’s exactly the distance I traveled that day, though my journey didn’t take me home.
    Perhaps my bus had gotten through. A school bus figures in my hazy memory. I’d gotten on it, probably with the other girls bound for the suburb of University City. Some place along the route, the bus stalled in the snow. Rather than wait for rescue, Carol Clasquin and I set out on foot into the snowstorm.
    Our school uniforms were wooly green jumpers over short-sleeved white blouses with Peter Pan collars and topped with green blazers piped in white. We wore brogues and white cotton knee socks. Slacks were forbidden, and if we had tights, we’d have been breaking the rules. Overcoats were wool and long.
    Carol — who I’ve not seen since graduation — was smart, short and seemed to be cut to the pattern of Mary Mother of God. I was smart, short and painfully unconventional. We were neither adventurers, yet we plunged into the wind-driven snow.
    Carol’s home was closer, and her people would have been home. Both my mother and father would have been working at our restaurant, a warm oasis in the snow for regulars who played gin and drank Scotch every afternoon. That restaurant, The Stymie Club, was my destination. I still go there in dreams. Whether I ever did that night, I can’t recall.
    For the rest of our journey is imaginary. We were cold, I know, and we must have stopped along the way into any store we found open, as we trudged through deepening snow from the open spaces of rich Frontenac to our more-developed, working class area of University City.
    No cell phones then; no one knew where we were. Certainly not what we were doing. We’d been out on our own for hours. Yet no scolding for our folly met us at Carol’s house. Red-cheeked and shivering, we were welcomed like heroes.
    More than cold, we were rapturous.
    Because of the tingling of frost-nip in my fingers, that much I still remember.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com