|The Cool Hat Guy|
We dropped out right after Chris’ graduation from U. Mass. That winter found us living in a wood-stove shack north of the Quabbin Reservoir, trying to make ends meet on $32 a week from leather work. We already had a three year old, and another baby on the way, so this wasn’t the wisest course, but 1968 had been the famous (infamous?) Summer of Love and a mad and totally unjustified sense of optimism had been in the air. We’d stayed in contact with saner college friends, now dispersed around the area, so that weekend, we went to visit another graduate family who’d moved to Brookline, Mass. It was supposed to snow that weekend, but so what? In those days, that’s what it did in winter.
We arrived, had supper, stayed overnight and then arose early (they had a new baby and we had a 3 year-old dynamo) for breakfast. It was snowing heavily outside, with big thick flakes whizzing past the windows. WBZ was issuing gale warnings. Disappointed, we cut our visit short. The three of us climbed back into our 1963 Beetle, and started to drive through what already was a pretty stiff snowstorm. We’d have to pick up 128, the great Boston ring road and then wend our way on blue roads in the general direction of Amherst. (When our little family had moved into the town of Cooleyville at the tip of the Quabbin the year before, we’d raised the year-round population to a grand total of six.)
Almost at once we knew we were in trouble. Plows were running, opening a single lane of four northbound, but the wind howled and freshly plowed snow came rolling back, lapping in like a winter tide. Big, softly-sprung American cars wallowed around us, fish-tailing and sliding. It was a white knuckle drive for Chris, wearing his very cool and big-enough-to-fit 1890’s hat, with pregnant wife beside him and little boy playing in the backseat. We had the radio on, and all of a sudden the music stopped and we heard nothing but blizzard warning and get-off the-road-get-off-the-road! We began to push snow. Larger cars were sliding off on every side, heaving helplessly like beached whales. The VW‘s windows were freezing up, leaving Chris a small porthole through which to navigate. Visibility was down to just about zero every time the wind gusted. We were being blown, too, side-to-side, and other drivers were heading up any exit they could navigate.
Fortunately, my husband had grown up in Boston, and knew his way around. He’d set his sights for the exit to Lexington, where his parents lived. We crawled; I prayed. After what seemed a blind and howling eternity, he found what he was looking for, but the exit was already disappearing under a curling drift. Foot down, we went plunging in, only to find someone stuck at the last rise ahead of us, grinding and throwing snow. We came to a stop, Chris cursing like a sailor. I was none too calm either, but we were both determined we were going to reach his folks’ house.
We got out. I remember the blizzard whipping my long dress, ice lashing my legs and face, eyelashes instantly freezing. A wade around and I was in the driver’s seat, with Chris, alternately cursing and barking orders through the open window, shouting against the wind as he pushed with all his might. Our VW, (“Rosinante” after Don Quixote’s faithful horse,) lived up to her name. Her back feet found purchase and she maneuvered around that other car and fish-tailed her way to the top. We were free—but his wonderful hat was a victim, vanishing in the white out gale over 128. Our bug was the last car to escape. Not until three days later could we find a way home, because that’s how long it took for Boston to dig itself out from this nameless, infamous Nor’easter.
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