Josna Rege

93. Snowed In

In 1950s, 1970s, 2010s, Books, Childhood, Food, Inter/Transnational, Stories on January 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Snow at Blackberry Farm

As a child in India, my only experience of snow came from Snow at Blackberry Farm, my favorite of our four Blackberry Farm picturebooks. In it, Mr and Mrs. Nibble and their three little bunnies get completely snowed in and the other animals work together to dig them out.

Snowed In

I loved that book, and must have pored over it hundreds of times, drinking in every detail of the richly-colored illustrations.

Mrs. Nibbles’ smiling face

The story ends with all the animals sitting round the Nibbles’ kitchen table over a feast of freshly baked bread, home-made jam, and piping hot tea.

Hungry after all that digging

I didn’t actually experience snow firsthand until I was fourteen, when we lived in England for a year and a half, while waiting for our Green Cards to America. There—in the London area at least—three inches of snow was  enough to bring everything to a standstill.  In the States, the hardy New Englanders prided themselves on taking snow in their stride, and it took a really big snow to interfere with business as usual.  But the Blizzard of ’78 was a really big snow, and my first experience of a New England winter as it might have been in days of yore.

When it began to snow in earnest that sixth of February nearly 33 years ago, Andrew set out from our cabin in Concord to rescue Eve, who was certainly going to have difficulty driving back from work. Several hours (and several inches) later they finally got home, snow-covered but safe, and we all hunkered down for the duration, building up the fire in the woodstove and stoking it  throughout the night. In the morning I was thrilled to find the snow all the way up to the windows of the cabin and drifted up high against the front door, looking just as it had in my Blackberry Farm picturebook.  We were well and truly snowed in and would remain so for almost a week.

We met more of our neighbors in that week than ever before or since. That day we received a telephone call from Ara and Susie, who lived at the top of our road no more than a quarter of a mile away, inviting us to dinner the next evening. After bundling up in every item of clothing we owned and all looking like the Michelin man, we set out, each equipped with a snow shovel. It took us more than an hour to shovel a narrow passageway between our house and theirs, but how delightful to arrive at last and be welcomed into a warm home with a hot, comforting meal. Although we were fond of Ara and Susie, such was the nature of our busy lives that it took a 100-year blizzard to get us together.

The Blizzard of ’78 was also the only time when the neighbors joined together to help one another.  The day after our dinner outing, we trudged back over the hill to find old Mr. Fox’s bungalow completely snowed in, the only sign of life a wisp of smoke from the chimney. Spry old Foxy, as our neighbor Ginny called him, was a typical Yankee, self-sufficient to a fault, never one to ask for help. After every snowstorm he was to be found digging himself out, refusing all offers of assistance, and insisting that his diminutive  “half-pint shovel”—a square-point shovel with the end cut off—prevented him from over-exerting himself. But that day he was nowhere to be seen, so we joined a group of the surrounding neighbors and shoveled a path up to his front door.

Mr. Fox answered the door with alacrity and thanked us for our efforts and concern, but said that he was well-provisioned and needed no further help. His words were confirmed by the half-eaten bowl of soup on the tray table next to the well-worn armchair pulled up to the pot-belly stove in his dark but cozy living room. Mr. Fox was just fine, thank you, so we withdrew to allow him to finish his meal in peace.

Happily snowed in, January 2011

A third of a century later, this has been Massachusetts’ snowiest January on record. Happily snowed in on the fourth snow day since the university opened up for the new term just a week ago, I have just made a pot of tea and a big batch of scones. If anyone wants to shovel a path to our door I’ll gladly put the kettle on again.

Tea, scones, and blackberry jam

Tell Me Another

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  1. I love the image of Mr. Nibble peering out. Your recent posts are making me positively nostalgic for New England, Josna. It’s hard to feel quite as cozy out in California! But this morning I went out for a walk in the fog and kept the blinds down all morning to try and approximate something of that winter gloom which I find so conducive to writing. I couldn’t help thinking of your generous offer of scones and a spot of tea. Spring is on its way here, try as I might to hold onto something of winter. I feel a bit like Bilbo on his travels, longing for that cozy hobbit-hole.

    • I can imagine you out walking in the fog, Swati, and I love “that winter gloom which I find so conducive to writing.” Yes, there’s something in that gloom that gathers and incubates (not quite the right word) creative energy–if one looks at it that way and doesn’t simply hibernate and wait for spring. I was just reading a family history written by my Uncle Ted, who describes my father’s delight in going out to experience London’s last really dense “pea-souper” fog. Thinking of you as Bilbo Baggins braving the goblins and dragons of Berkeley brought a smile to my face. Here’s to tea together before too long! x J

  2. I feel similarly enchanted by this little story complete with illustrations. We were snowed in once while we lived in Bellingham and it was a most exciting and cozy time then, as well. The neighbors became even more friendly and Jennie was as thrilled as I was!
    Swati is right, California winters leave much to be desired other than being always easier to drive around in. Sunshine and dry air can become boring all the time, as snow probably would be as well.
    Too bad we can’t all enjoy a little snowing- in once in a while.
    I would happily shovel my way to your scones and tea!

    • It strikes me that I’ve probably had my fair share of being snowed-in this winter and that it’s time to get suited, booted, and snowshoed and to venture out from my cozy den. Here’s to your boring sunshine and dry air! In Massachusetts’ winter gloom, thoughts of your garden with its Taj Mahal and the birds eating out of your hand sustain. Next time we meet, East or West, I will make scones to accompany our Darjeeling.

  3. Thank you for this memory. When I saw you say the blizzard of ’78 was nearly 33 years ago, I thought, “Surely not! She must mean 23 years.” And then I thought, 78-88-98-08 . . . good grief, she’s right! I was living in a cooperative house of 8 at that time, and my boyfriend was over, making a party of 9. We’d just done the weekly shopping, so the house was full of food, and we kept a fire going in the living room for days on end. We went through 4 dozen eggs in no time! And popcorn. The cars in the driveway were parked tightly together, so the snow completely covered them in a single big mound. On the first day that the emergency was lifted, we walked from Brighton to Harvard Square. People were skiing in the streets. With all the cars gone so the plows could work, we suddenly saw how very wide Mass. Ave. is. It was a fabulous time, I loved it.

    This winter’s snow has been pretty good, beautifully dry and fluffy, easy to shovel, still mostly clean. The dog loves it, makes snow-dog-angels wherever she can, burrows her nose straight into every snowbank. Hmmm, wish I’d thought to shovel my way to Amherst! Scones and blackberry jam is pretty tempting.

    • Yes, Sarah, I too loved the suspension of the workaday routine and especially of the car culture. The first time we managed to get into Cambridge after the blizzard, we too saw everyone cross-country skiing. I like the thought of Mass Ave before the advent of cars and how wide you realized it was. And I love “snow-dog-angels.” Keep on enjoying winter and I wish you only dry and fluffy snow. Do let’s try and make that snowshoeing date happen.

  4. This article and the offer both sound so delectable! 🙂
    I must make that trip to Amherst soon..
    Hope you are all doing good.
    Love,
    Mayuri

    • It’s a standing offer, Mayuri. Would love to see you whenever the driving conditions improve. Meanwhile, perhaps we should try to meet in Worcester. xo J

  5. Hello again Jojo,
    Put the kettle on…we always used to say in our family when phoning relatives, when cups of tea were going round in the background of the phone call at our house, that we would pour a cup down the phone for the other person.
    Love Barbara.

    • It’s on the boil, Barbara. (I like the image of cups of tea going round in the background.) Pouring a cup down the phone sounds doable–at least there is a receiver–but how do I pour it through the ether? There’s no help for it but to pack your bags and come visit. x Jo

  6. This is probably my favourite of the Blackberry Farm books: Mr Nibble’s smiling face is certainly my abiding image from it, and no doubt our grandkids’ too. It’s there on our shelves, and 750 feet up a Welsh mountain we’ve certainly experienced our share of such snowy winters — though never over the windows! You’re correct though — a sequence of mild winters in the second half of the 20th century has meant that the UK continues to be unable to cope with severe disruption from snow.

    My first ten years were largely spent in Hong Kong, and though I was born in England, my first snow was the end of 1952, when we were in the UK for eighteen months. When we flew back to Heathrow in November 1958 — even though there was no snow — I experienced my Proustian moment when the cabin door was opened: swirling fog mixed in with coal smoke and paraffin (kerosene) smells told me we were back.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I love the way these blog stories resonate for readers with shared and overlapping experiences and memories. I too was born in England before my family moved to India, but though we moved back and forth when I was young, I can’t seem to remember snow in those early years. Perhaps the pollution made the climate warmer. I love your description of the smell that enveloped you upon your return. There are certain smells and sights that will immediately transport me back, but I don’t miss the way London used to smell in heavy traffic. Not sure what has changed, but thank goodness they dealt with that and with the smog! Thanks again for your visit. I’m enjoying your blog, which I’m only just starting to delve into.

      • Traffic pollution in London is still bad, with lead-free petrol countered by diesel fumes. The Clean Air Act following the Great Smog of 1952 certainly improved air quality hugely, but it’s slowly worsening again.

        • Ugh. I think my dad was in that smog. He was trying to meet my Mum(-to-be) for a date, but although they groped around for a while, they couldn’t find each other!

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