The snow was a bother, but not the Apocalypse


January 14, 1996|By Elise Armacost

MY MOTHER, who loves a good snowstorm, used to call it a "flitch" when a snow forecast didn't pan out, which in Baltimore is more often than not. Last Sunday morning, the phone rang as the wind howled and the snow drifted the back door shut. "No flitch," she said. "This is the real deal."

For once, Baltimoreans had a legitimate reason to stock up on milk and diapers, stay holed up in front of The Weather Channel, gripe about shoveling the driveway and panic about how they were going to get to wherever they were supposed to be come Monday.

But a week has passed, and it's time to put things in perspective. The Blizzard of '96 was not the Apocalypse. It was ** not a plague visited on us by God as penance for our sins, nor a tragedy worthy of the mournful platitudes offered nightly by local TV news anchors.

"Our hearts go out to all those folks in northern Baltimore County who still can't get out," one of them intoned Tuesday night. Well, sorry, but judging from what I see on the news every night there are too many people with real troubles out there who ought to have a piece of our hearts before we start handing them over to somebody in Sparks or Severna Park who had to stay home for two days.

Shut in? What's the problem?

I have never understood this paranoid fear of being trapped in one's own home that grips people the instant a snowflake floats into the forecast. People work like fiends to be able to afford a nice house, but apparently can't stand the thought of actually having to stay there for several days in a row.

Personally, the idea of being snowed in in front of a big fire with a good book and a nice bottle of Merlot sounds pretty appealing to me. Add a significant other, and I would have figured this scenario ranked right up there with long walks along the beach as one of the two greatest romantic fantasies of all time.

But when once every 10 years the conditions are right to make the fireplace scene a reality, what do people do? They moan and groan about how terrible it is outside and obsess about getting the driveway cleared.

He said, she said

It has become clear to me during this unusually wintry week of winter weather that there are two kinds of people when it comes to snow: those of us for whom the glass is half-full, and those for whom it is half-empty.

I liked the way the wind howled and drifted the snow into "ells" on the windowpanes; my husband worried about what the wind and snow would do to our slate roof.

I found the idea of an historic winter storm rather exciting; it made him anxious.

I was furious I forgot to buy a birdfeeder for the cardinals and chickadees; he found this endearing, but was slightly annoyed that I seemed more concerned about the cardinals and chickadees than the roof or driveway.

I mentioned how pretty the snow can be just after it falls; he said, "I see slush and grit, 'cause that's what it's gonna be in a few days."

I couldn't look him in the eye and tell him that he was wrong. The kind of snow we just got can be a headache and a hardship, there's no arguing that.

The workaday world doesn't stop for very long these days, which means you can languish in front of the fire for one day at best. Then you've got to pick up that shovel, and even a whimsical attitude like the one we tried to adopt while tunneling to freedom can only stave off exhaustion and a backache for so long. There's no way to make a day without pay fun if you need the money, and even die-hard snow lovers will start pining for spring after a fender-bender on Ritchie Highway.

So let's give the Blizzard of '96 its due. It was a once-in-a-blue moon storm that brought every major East Coast city to a standstill.

Some businesses and workers lost money. It's costing taxpayers a lot of money. It caused everybody who had to get anywhere some measure of aggravation. It left a lot of us with achy backs and runny noses.

It was a nuisance, but not a disaster, except for homeless people with nowhere to go and a few unlucky souls whose hearts gave out in the act of shoveling, and they aren't the ones you hear complaining.

Why, a Sun article this week noted that a typical summer heat wave causes more deaths and illness than a blizzard such as this; indeed, it said, snowstorms actually save lives because people are snuggled safe at home.

Think about that the next time the real deal blows into town, and perhaps the prospect of two days in our own houses won't seem like such a heavy cross to bear.

Elise Armacost is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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