Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Winter's Journey

Some twenty-seven years, two months, and a couple of weeks ago, my family unit had traveled from Nebraska to Vermont. It was December 1991 and we were preparing to head to Germany for what was to be my final assignment in the Air Force. Prior to proceeding to Germany (in the parlance of Air Force official orders "on or about 04 January 1992") we (read I) decided that a week and a half in New Hampshire with my parents would be just the thing. After all it would be nice to spend Christmas with the family before heading off to Europe for a three year assignment (which turned into a six-plus year assignment).

I had wanted to spend the entire month of December "back home" but The Missus Herself, being much wiser than Your Humble Scribe in these matters, convinced me that ten days was plenty. May even have been stretching things a bit. After all, Mom and Dad Sarge lived in a two bedroom place, not a very large two-bedroom place. With them, their two cats, The Missus HerselfYour Humble Scribe, and the three progeny in tow (The Naviguesser in junior high, The Nuke and The WSO still in grade school) it might be a bit crowded for a month long stay.

"Fair enough, ten days it is." I  said without much hesitation, you know what they say, "happy wife, happy life." While I am not completely convinced of the veracity of this aphorism, I do like to maintain peace in my household, 'tis a diplomat I am. (With apologies to real diplomats everywhere.)

While the stay was rather fun (and thankfully rather uneventful) my Christmas vacation of 1991 ain't really the point of this tale. Nope, there is more. (One would hope so...)

Anyhoo. We had traveled eastwards in my 1990 Volkswagen Jetta, all five of us and all the kit we would need for a couple of weeks in Germany). The plan was for me, at some point during the vacation, to take the Sargemobile down to Bayonne, New Jersey so that the family ride could be shipped to Germany for our use while there.

Now some folks would have sold that car, then bought another in Germany. As the Jetta was fairly new, and as I didn't wish to shell out coin for somebody else's beater* upon arrival "in country," I opted to ship my vehicle (which will eventually lead to another story of what came to pass when I went to Bremerhaven to pick up the Sargemobile once it arrived in Germany, POCIR).

My brother, The Olde Vermonter, had an idea, a rather great idea. There had been some discussion of how I was to return to New Hampshire once delivering the Sargemobile to Bayonne. I had kind of figured that I would rent a car and drive back. Bear in mind that this was before Algore had invented the Internet and Global Warming, so the logistics for such a plan were a bit sketchy, to say the least. For in those days one had to use a phone book and call people on the telephone (land lines, oh, the horror) and in those days, in the winter, it tended to snow, quite a bit at times. I mean it's the Northeast, in winter, whoda thunk it?

Anyhoo, The Olde Vermonter's idea was to book a flight from New York City (JFK in fact) to Bradley Field in Connecticut. Bradley being about two hours from the parental estate in New Hampshire. The Olde Vermonter would follow me to Bradley in his car, which we would park at the airport, then he would ride with me to Bayonne. Upon arrival at the port and doing the requisite paperwork to ship the Sargemobile, we would hire a cab to take us to JFK. There we would catch a flight to Bradley, jump in The Olde Vermonter's car and proceed back to New Hampshire.

A brotherly adventure, so to speak. It became rather an epic journey as things turned out. The morning we were to proceed south we awoke to lots of white stuff falling from the sky and adding a fresh layer of frozen precipitation to that which already lay thickly upon the ground. While The Olde Vermonter didn't live all that far from my parents, he did not have a reputation for promptness, so I was a touch concerned that we would be late getting on the road, not to mention the slowness of travel induced by all of that snow. Which showed no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Lo and behold, he drove in just when he said he would, in fact about a half hour early. He had looked upon the weather upon arising and determined that leaving a bit earlier than planned was a capital idea. So he did. Soon after his arrival we set off with comments to "be careful" and "it's probably slippery on the highway" ringing in our ears. Both of us, being old time Vermonters born before the curse of Bernie fell upon the land, knew how to drive in snow and slippery conditions and those were days when the faint of heart would stay home on such a day.

We made fairly good time to Bradley, where my brother parked his car and joined me in mine. The going had been rather touch and go, and not in an aircraft kind of way, more of a "Holy crap, I'm starting to slide - okay, cool, I've got this" and "Why is this guy driving at ten miles per hour on the interstate straddling both lanes" kind of thing. But as we traveled further south down I-91 to the Connecticut coast, the weather began to lighten up. Less snow until finally when we spotted the mighty Atlantic, the snow had stopped and the sky was becoming "clear-ish," meaning that it was transitioning from a heavy, glowering gray to a light, almost pleasant gray. A "not snowing" cloudy day which for New England in those days was almost spring-like for December.

When we arrived at Bayonne (after somehow navigating across NYC without benefit of GPS, using only a paper map) I saw a long line of flatbed rail cars, loaded with what appeared to be military vehicles. There were tanks, armored personnel carriers, and self-propelled artillery pieces, enough (so I thought) to fill an average sized armored division. All had (remember this was late 1991) Iraqi markings.

I wonder where those came from, I said to my brother. At first he looked puzzled, then he too realized the provenance of all these vehicles. Seems the army had been busy collecting stuff from the desert and shipping it home, to Bayonne where it was all loaded up on flatbed cars for sending somewhere. Hopefully we used it well, perhaps out at the National Training Center in the Mojave, who knows? I never did follow up on that.

At any rate, dropping off the car was relatively painless, getting a cab to JFK was as well. To be honest, I think the taxi was one of those off the books types. One of the guys at the port made a phone call, said we were covered and our ride to JFK should be along shortly. And it was.

A rather beat up station wagon, through which one could actually see the road through the back! But the guy had a meter, knew all the short cuts and got us to JFK in plenty of time to catch our flight to Bradley. He turned the meter off when we got to the airport and actually went into a couple of terminals to find out where our flight was departing from. A really cool guy, truth be told.

The Olde Vermonter and I chilled at JFK until it was time to board the flight. Bear in mind this was before the TSA and before security checks at the airport were as onerous as they are now. Yeah, yeah, "reasons," but those were the good old days.

Our flight was a regional puddle-jumper twin-engined turboprop. When we took off it was night time and the view over the city was spectacular. My brother was bouncing up and down in his seat like he was a ten-year-old boy all over again. Seems he hadn't been up in a plane since we were kids. Back when Mom and Dad would take us to the local air show (small town Vermont got to see the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds when I was a lad) and Dad would dispense some of his hard earned pay so his boys could go flying for a half hour or so. Loved those times.

We made it to Bradley, we piled in my brother's car and headed home where we arrived after most folks were already in bed. We had a great time that day, just my brother and I. It's been a long time since we had a day to ourselves, no wives, no progeny, just the two of us like when we were kids.

A very fond memory. A short time later (couple of days) we were all at Bradley again, to fly to JFK, thence to Brussels, thence (by car) to Deutschland. Man, that was a long, long time ago!

What sparked this memory? Well, as winter seemed to be winding down, we had a bunch of wet and heavy white stuff dumped on us on Monday. Then the Great White Up began to leak Arctic air down upon us and we've been in the deep freeze for a couple of days. Pretty scenery, pretty frigid, but hey, it's still winter in New England. God help me, I love it so.

I'm sure your mileage might vary...

* An old car which might be in less than optimal condition, Usually having five or six earlier GI owners.


  1. Ya......however did we live before instantaneous communications and the spraining of thumbs? The white stuff looks nice but it's the MOVING of it that's tiresome. Heard yesterday that come Saturday into Sunday we'll get two to four, three to five, six to eight or twelve to fifteen inches, take your pick from TV and radio.....?!!? It snowed eighteen out of twenty eight days last month.

    1. We haven't had nearly the amount of snow you folks up there have had.

      When does it stop snowing up there, June?

      Thanks Nylon12.

  2. Great memory, and that picture!! I miss the cold clear days up in the panhandle... I didn't mind the snow all that much, since it didn't hit us every year. I do miss the water from the well in the dead of winter... That water was so cold...

    1. Oh yeah, well water in the dead of winter. Nice!

      Thanks STxAR.

  3. Indeed mileage does vary. I recall well the words of my first Department Head in San Diego, himself a fellow West Michiganian: "You can pick your job locations, so there's no reason to be cold!"

    He spent over a decade at the War College in Newport before retiring to Florida, and I'm still in -Northern- Virginia where its started the day at all of 27 degrees for the past several.


    1. I need that cold blast from time to time.

      Northern Virginia does get it's share of cold doesn't it?

  4. "Why is this guy driving at ten miles per hour on the interstate straddling both lanes" kind of thing.

    Didn't realize Arizona drivers got to that part of the country.

  5. Wow, cool story. Reminds me of the time I got the mighty Datsun up to 62mph on the way to West Palm Beach... Well, you had to be there...

    Cold last night. Down to 34. First time I went out I only had two t-shirts on. Second time I went out I put the jacket on, too. Which was good as it covered up the two holes in both shirts that the nips left when they fired off the first time. Yay Duct-Tape! For to hold the nips on of course, not to patch the shirt, whaddya thing I am, some sort of Bubba?

    Can't wait to hear the POCIR story. Sounds like it might be a really good one, POCIR...

    1. Re: "the time I got the mighty Datsun up to 62mph on the way to West Palm Beach"

      Reminds me of my Dad's old pickup truck, you could get it up to 60 if you drove off a cliff.

  6. Just a trip to a hardware store, the nursery, or a pizza joint with my brother is an adventure.

  7. I woke up this morning with the white stuff coming down, looked as though a couple of inches worth. Just as I started to write this, snow was falling, now it has become rain or sleet, with the occasional snow flake. As the temperature is above freezing, I think this stuff will melt before too long. Kind of pretty, if one doesn't have to drive anywhere.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. It's always pretty when one doesn't have to drive in it. While I like to drive in it, it's the others on the road that scare me.

      Winter isn't going without a fight!

  8. Good story, although I kept waiting for the "And then....." with some mater of all hell breaking loose, and only through clever action and/or blind luck were you able to write this many years later.

    1. I still look back on that day and marvel how nothing went wrong. So many opportunities for Fate to screw up my day and she did nothing.

      I'm not complaining. (Though perhaps I could re-spin that for the grandkids!)

    2. What type of 'maters would survive snow and ice? Killer furry maters?

      The type of mater matters....

    3. All maters matter...

      Paul Quandt to the white courtesy phone, Paul Quandt...

    4. #%&**@#!$%&! I was drafting a reply to your request and while coming back here after checking the spelling of a name, hit the ' x ' which takes you out of the site. Lost another comment ( naturally one of my most witty ones ever ) and now I am so upset with myself, I can't see straight.


    5. Oh dear, I can't tell you how many times I have done just that, or hit "Sign out" instead of "Publish."

      I feel your pain, PLQ.

  9. Didn't have much snow growing up in Dallas, but had a fair bit of ice. Texans think you can get traction by flooring the gas which will burn through the ice and grant you traction! Learned how to drive in the snow in Indiana parking lots in an old Ford Econoline van that was my POV back then, certainly a good place to practice getting into and out of skids. My first venture up north to see my future in-laws in the Granite State was over Christmas break in 1975. Was doing fine until I got to eastern PA near Stroudsburg, when the hills became ice covered at a fairly acute demarcation between rain and sleet/ice/holy sh*t! crawled up one hill by keeping one tire on the rough shoulder that had some gravel sticking up through the ice, and as I topped the crest of the hill, noted that there was a tangled jumble of tractor-trailers and cars at the bottom of said hill, about 300 yds away. When I applied the brakes, I learned the cause of said tangle - no traction whatsoever, hence no braking ability, even going about 10 mph as I was. There was a tiny gap between two jackknifed trucks, so I aimed for that gap using tiny steering inputs to keep from swapping ends. Not sure how, but I made it through that gap with about two inches on either side between me and the trucks. That convinced me to limp into the truck stop a couple of miles down the road and sleep in the van the rest of the night ... The rest of the trip was great, I remember the serenely quiet, deep cold woods in NH, just beautiful. Mot sure I want a steady diet of that kind of climate, but was sure nice to visit.

    1. Sounds to me like you were pretty good on snow and ice, not many can say that!

    2. In all honesty, I think I was just very lucky in that case - I got better later, but someone was looking out for me there in PA. I'll also be looking forward to your POCIR story - Jettas were/are nice cars

  10. That reminds me. I have to go knock the ice off the hose bib. again, befoe it im busy now, gotta go.

  11. Ok so my folks (native New Englanders) moved out to Johnson Rd when I was 3 1/2 years old. Specifically to a run down former farm at the top of the hill. We used to tell folks "go 3 miles uphill, and when you feel the car tip down, look to your right, that white house is us." That was up the South side of the hill, in the winter time you didn't want to try the North side of the hill until the plow had come over the hill. Yes, if you got stuck, it was a shorter distance to walk (only 2 miles) but it was all uphill with very DEEP ditches. And lots of tight curves. Several times we had a County plow guy knock on the door at 3AM and ask to use the phone (before cell phones, and even their radios didn't work out there til a repeater was put in) so they could send out another plow to pull the first one out.

    So, yes, I like to see snow. I am not a fan of large bugs, and cold temperatures keep the bugs under control. My best friend wanted me to move to Florida, but I turned her down (no offense Beans) cause big bugs, and hurricanes...not my cuppa tea!!!

    I especially like to sit inside and watch it snow when I don't have to go drive in it. Mostly because of all the other yahoos on the road who have short term memory loss and can't remember how to drive in snow from March to November. I make sure that if I do have to go out, I stay off any major highway (Thruway, Pike, expressway, etc) as that seems to be where all the crashes/pile-ups seem to happen. April to November I do have a very heavy right foot. November to April I drive like a little old gray haired lady and take my time. No, I go faster than 10 miles an hour, and I usually don't tear along the center line, but 35-45 is not uncommon. In my defense, I get to where I am going, which is the overall point. If the visibility is lousy, I also see no reason to have to go any place. Patients usually wont let us come if the roads are bad, which also helps too.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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