'Windy and Cold, With a Chance of . . . '

February 20, 1994|By Linda DeMers Hummel

I'd been tricked. "You didn't tell me Baltimore was south of the Mason-Dixon line," I said accusingly as we passed the sign on Interstate 83. Although I could see by the pained look on my husband's face that my weak grasp of geography came as something of a surprise, it was purely academic at that point. We ex-Buffalonians, avid Bills fans, connoisseurs of the chicken wing, lovers of the snow, were about to come to rest in our new city.

My misdirected jokes about genteel folks sipping mint drinks under the magnolias came to an end as he gently guided my conversation in a more positive direction for the sake of our children in the car's back seat. So, for them, I curtailed my longing to sing "Dixie" in my husband's ear, and for them I went on at some length about all the new adventures we'd have in our new state. But inside I was thinking that however genial this new city might prove, there would be no snow, and that was sad to me.

Buffalo produces the same word association no matter where its name pops up. Snowstorms blow in across Lake Erie, secondhand but unbowed from Chicago. They are fierce and FTC stunning, and as a matter of tradition and pride, life in Buffalo rarely pauses for them. Anything less than 100 inches of snow in a winter is tossed off as a mild year. Just the way it should be.

I was trying to make the best of my new snowless existence in Baltimore by the time we pulled into a gas station. I surveyed York Road, thinking life here might not be as different as I'd thought. When our tank was filled, I presented my credit card to the attendant. Without looking up from behind his plexiglass shield, he half-said, half-asked, "Tags?"

I felt as if I should perhaps say, "No, thanks," thinking that tags were probably something you got free with a certain number of fill ups. I smiled, shrugged and waited to be enlightened the way tourists do in a strange land. A kind man in line informed me the attendant wanted my license-plate number. No snow, I thought, and now a language I don't understand.

An hour later we were graciously ushered into the Realtor's office by a secretary who spoke two entire sentences I did not comprehend. She had taken the liberty of dropping significant consonants at will -- surely a cruel trick rendered by people who don't even own winter boots. "This isn't getting any better," I said quietly in my husband's ear, just in case he thought I was bonding to this new place.

Later, at our new house, awaiting the arrival of our furniture and belongings, we did nothing but bump into each other, all of us feeling displaced. By late afternoon, however, our daughter had discovered that Baltimore's baseball team was called the "Oreos," and she, for one, was now willing to give this town a try.

I sat on a pillow in our living room, homesick and brooding, listening to our voices bounce unmercifully off the walls and watching the 8-inch portable television we'd brought with us. Suddenly, there was a weather bulletin. A severe storm warning. We could get (and here the weatherman paused and we knew this was serious) 3 inches of snow!

Snow snobs all, we giggled at the hype a mere 3 inches was causing. The kids ran to the window and welcomed the first flakes with delighted squeals. "It's going to be just like Buffalo," they sang.

Donning our parental robes, my husband and I explained in geographic detail (mine spankingly new, of course) exactly why they shouldn't get their hopes up. They glared at us as if we had just suggested selling the dog. But it snowed all night, and the next morning it was still going full force. To the consternation of Baltimore's media, which were constantly interrupting radio and television with updates, it continued until midday. It was glorious -- just like Buffalo.

As soon as the sun came out, my children began itching to get outside. Although I insisted on gloves and hats, they hardly needed them. Because they were so used to weeks and even months of temperatures near zero, to them 35 degrees seemed like spring. I told myself that something in their blood had been altered for all time, a rationalization that for years kept me from feeling guilt when other mothers bundled up their children as if Siberia might be on their itinerary.

The sleds wouldn't be arriving for days, but my kids were sure they'd find someone willing to share. The trouble was, they couldn't find a kid. Not one. They returned dejected.

"I hate this place," my son said and he slumped through the back door. And although I should have come up with a Donna Reed, June Cleaver upbeat retort, I said, "Me too, David."

So I searched for activities to occupy three children in an empty home in a town full of roads that were closed (and if the news anchors were accurate, might be until April). Then, like someone stranded on a dessert island, David yelled, "I see a kid!"

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