The Winter Rule Book

A snowy road in Maine.
Snowy Road in Maine

In New England winter has rules. You break them, you pay. This seems incidental to the natives, but not to a girl who spent her young life in tropical and warmish climes. No one hands you a rule book when you move north.

I first encountered snow and ice in Washington DC around the age of 24. Washington is an anomaly. The city stops with an inch of snow. They have snow plows and other equipment, but rarely choose to use them. I clearly remember one frightening encounter with an icy patch on a road. My then boyfriend, now husband, Al, was trying to teach me how to drive off it. After he coaxed me off the ice he told me, “Don't worry, it's easier in New England.” I had my doubts.

Al was right. He grew up in Boston. Winter was nothing he was concerned about. As it is oft repeated, “There is no bad weather, just bad equipment.” He had been equipped for winter all his life.

House Covered in Snow
My apt: tiny building at the left rear.

I was headed to York Harbor, Maine for a new job at Theater by the Sea in neighboring Portsmouth NH. I loved York Harbor, all of it. I had a sweet little apartment, and the best landlords, Paulette and Brian. They were so helpful, and kind, but didn't know how stupid a girl from the Tropics and the South could be.

It was getting cold, and I knew nothing about proper winter “gear”, coats, boots, and such. What kind of idiot doesn't know what snow boots are? But the nice people at LL Bean had seen idiots before, and sorted me out. Winter was easy in Maine, at least for me. I didn't have to do much. The streets and my driveway were always plowed and salted. I only had to shovel a short path from my apartment door to my car.

Oh, my poor car! In Washington Al taught me about ice scrapers and snow brushes for your car. Seems silly, but have you ever seen someone from the South scraping their windshield with bare hands and a credit card? One morning my car was covered with several inches of snow so I had to dig it out. My landlord, Brian, always left a snow shovel at the edge of my deck. All snow shovels are plastic, right? Nope. I didn't notice this one was metal until I had deep scratches all over the hood and one side of my car, my relatively new car. I was soooo embarrassed, and never told anyone about it.

My cream 1983 Toyota Tercel.
My 1983 Toyota Tercel.

I knew enough to turn the heat down in my apartment when I went to work to save money. We did that in the South too. weekend in February I was going to visit Al in Boston. Boy, I was going to save money that weekend, and turned the heat WAY DOWN. Never thought about it again until I returned home Sunday night. Al was with me. The place was ice cold, and the water in the toilet bowl was frozen solid. I was confused. What happened? Al and Brian were yelling at me. How could I be so stupid? Why would I do such a thing? Well, I had never heard of pipes freezing. Stupid, yes, but completely true. I screamed back, “No one ever gave me the winter rule book!”

Al and I, New Years Eve, 1985.
Al and I, New Years Eve, 1985.

Remarkably, the pipes didn't freeze and the toilet bowl didn't crack or break. A greater power was granting favors that night. I don't know if Brian or Al remember that episode. There were still a few winter rules to break, but nothing as appalling.

That was in the 1980's, a long time ago. I'm not fond of winter anymore. Perhaps that comes with age, or living in the city. I hate shoveling snow, and chopping ice, spent way to many hours doing it. We have a snow blower, but I'm afraid of it. That's Al's job. But I do have all the right winter gear, even in my car. When I come across a hapless sole that hasn't read the rule book I'm more than happy to help.

Have you ever moved somewhere you felt like the village idiot? Did you adapt?

Take care, wear your mittens and hat,


February 1, 2021

P.S. Paulette and Brian are still our dear friends. Al and I were even married in their house. But that's a story for another time.

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