Always With the Back and Forth

We wrap up the blog this year first with some personal, albeit fuzzy history — ’cause write what you know, they say, or at least what you can remember or make up — before sliding seamlessly (we hope) into a peek at the future. ‘Cause, as we run up against the end of another year, looking ahead seems pretty natural.

One of my younger brothers confirmed to me the other day that, back sometime in the late ’60s, when he may have been too young to actually remember this, a torrid winter storm hit our part of Delaware, leading to one of the more memorable incidents in family lore. This storm was, in technical terms, a big-ass storm. It was the kind of winter hell that, years later, would prompt me to apply to school in Arizona.

This particular storm was memorable, though, not for the feet of white stuff it dropped (another Google-inclined brother says some 42 inches fell that year) and the face-freezing temperatures it inflicted but because it trapped my dad — who worked miles from our rural home and was in possession of the only car in the family — in his office. Mom and us seven kids were at home with no way out.

Horror stories are made from this kind of set-up. Years later, Jack Nicholson (>) would go mad in such a place.

As the story goes — these tales are often a mixture of addled memory and years of re-telling various version of the actual events — good ol’ Dad divined the familial bloodbath in the offing and imposed on his friends at the Civil Air Patrol to get him home, pronto. The CAP officers undoubtedly talked to the National Guard, who went to the governor, who pulled a few strings here and submitted a bit of paperwork there, and somehow miraculously procured Dad a ride home, through the screaming blizzard and across countless flat acres of snowed-over soybean fields.

Dad came home in — Oh; I’ve buried the lede here — a tank. An honest-to-God freaking tank, with big-ass treads that tore up our front yard (left a mark for years that many of us still recall with startling clarity) and a big-ass gun poking out the front.

At the time, we had no idea how Dad was going to make it home, or when. The phone lines were down. Cellular service wasn’t a thing for decades to come. We were on our own and we knew it. We might as well have been camped out at The Overlook.

As some of us recall, we were sitting on the window seat, at the bay window that hung over never-trimmed bushes and the front lawn where we played football in the fall and baseball in the spring (with ghost runners, of course). We heard something. And out of the whiteness, this freaking tank (!) came lurching down the street, stopped just on the other side of the Mud Mill sign at the corner of our yard, and popped its hatch.

Russian invasion, GI Joe in the flesh, some drunk private on a joyride? Nothing could have been more surprising and unexpected. Nothing could have been that cool. And when Dad (!) clambered out of that hatch … man, it was pandemonium. Even more so than normal. I mean, we went from snowed in to bowled over to bonkers in a millisecond. It was a wintertime whiplash. It was awesome. And it lives, still, in sketchy memories more than 50 years later.


I was reminded of this a few days ago when I woke up on Christmas Eve Eve (that’s the day before Christmas Eve, or the 23rd if you have to go that route) in Cincinnati to this thick bit of weather monstrosity (<).

Really, -8 is bad enough. But “Feels like -30”?? That’s going waaaaay too far.

When I saw that, I immediately knew we weren’t going anywhere any time soon. Mary Jo’s folks’ house, where we’ve spent most Christmases for the past 25 years, is comfortable enough, to be fair. The heater works. We had blankets. Plenty of pasta. Wine. A good supply of Coke Zero. Cell phones and an internet connection. And there were only five of us there, too, all adults capable of handling a little close-quarters living for a few hours. It wasn’t as if seven kids and an overworked mom were trapped with no ride in the Middle of Nowhere, DE.

Still, the roads were icy and snow-covered. We were stuck. And I had a hankering for some Skyline (one of the Top 10 reasons to go to the Queen City). We didn’t drive close to eight hours, through the godforsaken metropolis of Knoxville, to be sequestered in a small house on the West Side of Cincinnati for a couple days without funky chili on wet spaghetti.

It all worked out, even without a ride in a Sherman. Luke and I braved the slippery surface streets of Price Hill to get some Skyline takeout the next day (that would be Christmas Eve). One of Mary Jo’s brothers and his family came over that night for a nice dinner. And even though we had to bolt early on Christmas (the 25th, if you’re being obtuse) to avoid some even worse weather that would have kept us stranded in Cincinnati for several more days, we made it through. We survived some occasional bursts of questionable traction on I-75 in Kentucky and cruised home, where Luke and I whipped up some cheese and onion enchiladas (^) for Christmas dinner.

With some green chiles and a little tomato-based salsa, it fit the occasion perfectly. It’ll be a long time until I forget that Christmas meal.


Every year after Christmas on the blog — JDBlogs, as sporadic as the posts are sometimes, is now close to eight years old — I take a glance forward with a few New Year’s resolutions. They’ve become, over the years, admittedly a tad repetitive. They always seem to go something like this:

*** Get a better handle on that Great American Novel I still aim to write.

*** Spend more quality time with Mary Jo and Luke.

*** See more of the world.

*** Think less about politics.

Sure, I’d love to eat healthier and get in better shape, too. Post more to the blog. Be a little more consistent with my jump shot. Floss more regularly. (Or floss.) Stop watching crap on TV. Maybe even pick up that guitar that sits next to my desk, glaring at me over my shoulder like some long-ago spurned lover. It’s starting to creep me out.

But I want, too, to use more of the time that I have now — and I have more free time these days than I did when I was 40, or 50, or … nevermind — on bigger things. Things that affect us all.

For example: Even if you’re a die-hard climate change denialist, a cleaner earth benefits everyone. Right? Right? I’d like to help clean things up, demand more of polluters, and convince more people to do the same. It’s kind of the least I can do to make up for the sins of my generation. But how do I do that? Where do I start?

Another one: Guns in this country are a huge problem, yet common-sense solutions are around. We just need to explain these fixes better and implement them. Even if you don’t think the proliferation of guns in this country is a problem, I think we can agree that we’d all be a lot safer if we made it so those guns are owned and operated by responsible citizens. How? How can I help?

There’s a basket-load of sticky issues that need people to chip in and solve them. Hunger. Homelessness. Mental health. Immigration. I’m game to take on some of those challenges. We all should be. But it’s got to be more than writing a check to Everytown or buying a T-shirt with Greta Thunberg‘s face on it. It has to be.

A little closer to home, I have family members who are fighting through cancer treatments, a friend whose wife was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a young guy I know who just works too damn much, many others suffering through daily struggles, seen and unseen, all of which make my day-to-day hassles seem stupidly trivial. I want to offer more than thoughts and sympathy. I want to do more than simply offer. I want to act. To be there. Whatever it takes.

How can I help?

It’s all a bit high-falutin’ sounding, I know. Pollyannish. Maybe a little woke. Shamefully naive. It’s embarrassing. I know. I know.

But you know what? That’s what new years are for. They’re an opportunity to make things right, or to start them in that direction. A chance to do something big, something surprising, something worthwhile, something meaningful. And if what we resolve to do in the new year actually believe-it-or-not happens … well, you just never know. It might even be truly memorable.


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