This is the second part of a four-part essay. If you haven’t read Part One yet, it is here:
Go ahead and read it, the rest of us will wait patiently for you.
O.K. now that you are caught up we can roll forward, because that is how I like to roll.
For a kid in Michigan, not much beats a Snow-Day. For those not in the know, a Snow-Day (and yes, it must be capitalized because it IS that important) occurs when the winter weather conditions are such that it would not be safe for students and staff to travel in and out of school for the day.
On rare occasions, the weather is bad enough that they cancel school for the next day before you go to bed at night. That is truly the ultimate gift, because not only do you get the bonus value of the Snow-Day, but you also get to sleep in. But the “night before” is the exception. The rule is that you get up extra early if it looks possible that there might be a Snow-Day. You tune in to the local radio station, in our area that was WGHN, and pray for the morning guy to start reading the list of school closings.
Now, with Dad being a teacher in the same school system where we were enrolled, my brother John and I enjoyed a double dose of Snow-Day pleasure. Not only did we get the day off from school, Dad got to stay home and enjoy it with us.
As soon as Charlie Lenhart on WGHN read that Spring Lake Public Schools were closed, Dad would tell my mother to go back to bed. Then Dad would stop his morning ritual right then and there, even if he was half-shaved, and start making a huge breakfast. Dad was, and is, a tremendous cook. In those days, however, he seldom got the opportunity to play in the kitchen outside of the marvelous Snow-Day.
Breakfast would usually include pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage or corned beef hash (liberally doused with ketchup), and whatever else he could find in the kitchen. This was in contrast to our normally rushed breakfast of toast and orange juice. When our stomachs were fully distended with this delicious bounty, Dad would send us off to play outside.
John and I would begin the massive preparations for our artic adventures. Waffle weave long johns and flannel shirts would comprise the first layer, followed by sweaters, snow pants, boots, parkas, toques, scarves, and gloves – mittens were for babies after all. When we were as immobile as deep-sea divers we would adventure out into the pure white of our winter playground.
While we did this, Dad would clear away the breakfast dishes and wash everything up. When the kitchen was spotless, he would begin the most holy of holy undertakings – the ritual making of the bread. Dad had learned to make bread when we lived in DeTour Village in the Upper Peninsula. There, homemade bread was a necessity, not a luxury. In the winter in the tiny outposts of the U.P. the bread that was stocked in the little grocery stores came with green mold already attached. So everybody baked their own bread in the winter. In the summer, with the arrival of tourists and campers the stores experienced enough volume to stock the shelves fully and still turn the inventory quickly enough to make fresh bread available. But in the winter, you were on your own.
Dad made the most delicious bread in the world. Thick brown crust that required a serious serrated blade bread knife to puncture surrounded the most delicate fluffy white substance this side of heavenly clouds. And it didn’t stop at white bread. Dad would experiment each time with some new concoction – cinnamon swirl bread, wine & cheese bread, braided bread, onion bread, French bread, and many, many other experimental creations.
We were never privy to the secrets of the bread making, having been banished to the great white outside. We only knew that it involved a massive stone circle, heavy metal pans, and a mysterious chemical compound known to a secret select few as “yeast.” We also understood that bread required “raising” a process that was doomed to fail in the presence of children. We assumed, based on my seven summers of Bible School, that it was akin to the mysterious “raising” of Lazarus. We also knew that it would raise a significant sweat out of Dad, this being long before the modern marvel known as a bread maker.
As a side note, Dad has promised to teach me the secrets of the cult of bread makers this winter. At the tender age of 47 I am thrilled to be initiated into the inner circle.
While Dad tended to all of the mysteries, we would be outside with all of the neighborhood kids gathered in our driveway. We would draft teams with all the seriousness of the Viet Nam draft that filled part of Walter Cronkite’s time each evening on the news. One team would be sent to the East side of the driveway in Mrs. Whiting’s lawn. The other team would occupy our front yard on the West side of the drive.
The festivities started with a massive period of fortification building. Walls were of course a necessity, and tunnels to connect the watchtowers. Sally ports were often attempted, to no discernable effect. View port holes were constructed in the walls to provide maximum intelligence gathering capabilities. Whatever military construct we had witnessed in the pages of the comic books was hastily constructed out of the hardest packed snow that we could bring to bear. As soon as one side felt that their preparations were complete war was declared.
An hour’s worth of meaningless flinging of snowballs would constitute the first order of battle. Eventually one of the rocket scientists on one side or the other would figure out that throwing snowballs at snow walls only made the wall thicker. This would mean that a desperate charge was in order, so like Pickett’s men of yore up we would go. Soon the entirety of the fortifications on both sides of the driveway would lie in ruin. This was the signal for most kids that it was time to head inside for the ritual unbundling and comforting mugs of hot chocolate.
Not for us. We understood that it was imperative that we remain outside until Dad had completed the bread making process. Then and only then would we be welcomed in for hot chocolate and warm buttered heels of bread. So we had to find some other way to amuse ourselves until it was time for the unveiling of the bread.
Now, we were still to young to have read Jean Shepherd and the movie version of “A Christmas Story” was still far into the future in that winter of 1968. So I can be forgiven somewhat for the classical childhood error that I made on one of these wonderful Snow-Days. Unlike poor Flick, I didn’t require even a dare much less the dreaded triple-dog-dare. No, I simply spotted the frost on the door of the mailbox and decided that it looked like a good frosty treat and decided to stick my tongue out and taste it. And just like Flick – I was stuck!
Now, I remembered Dad’s summertime lesson of the pier so I did not panic. But, I had no idea what to do. I waved and gestured at my brother John until he managed to understand that there was a problem. Being younger than I and not privy to the lessons of real fishing and the problems of short piers, John panicked. He dashed madly inside the house, breaking the protocol of Snow-Day bread making.
In almost no time, John was back by my side breathlessly panting that Dad was on his way. It did seem like forever before I spotted Dad in his slippers slowly walking down the driveway, sipping a cup of coffee that steamed in the brilliance of the winter sunshine. I’m certain, in hindsight that Dad must have been moving quickly but at the time it seemed like extremely slow motion.
Dad said “Good job staying calm.” Then he gently tilted my head back and poured lukewarm coffee onto my extended tongue, melting the frost away and freeing my tongue – only slightly the worse for wear. There may have been more than a hint of sarcasm in my young voice as I said “Gee thanks for hurrying out here.”
Dad simply took a step back and said, “You’re welcome. I had a plan, it was the best plan that I could make, and for the plan to work the coffee had to cool enough that it wouldn’t burn your tongue. I’m glad that you appreciate my plan, I wasn’t 100% sure that it would work. Who wants to go in and have bread and hot chocolate?”
Now I had access to Dad’s complete philosophy of coping. The first thing is to remember not to panic. The second thing is to come up with a plan. The plan doesn’t have to be perfect or guarantee success. It just has to be the best plan you can come up with at the time. Then you simply execute the plan as well as you can.
This philosophy doesn’t guarantee success. It just assures that you will do the best you can under the circumstances. And by definition, that is the best you can do.
Come back tomorrow and I’ll share with you how Dad applied this philosophy to dealing with cancer.