February 2020
SNOWED IN WITH PROUST

I awoke this morning to the quiet hush of gently falling snow. It’s been snowing since yesterday afternoon and shows no signs of letting up. I’m sitting here in the breakfast nook, which is normally flooded with sunlight, with my first cup of strong black coffee. Today the room is dark and the screens are so thick with blown snow that it’s difficult to see outside. If I stretch my neck just so, I can barely make out the towering martin house, sitting abandoned in the middle of the field, its roof an over-sized birthday cake with thick vanilla icing dripping down the sides. Just behind it, the apple tree’s branches bend low, heavy with drifts of snow. It’s going to be a lovely day, I think to myself, as a gust of wind lifts armfuls of the stuff and races towards the woods. I love snowstorms. They’re the perfect atmosphere for a mystery writer. In between the writing, I putter around the house doing little jobs and fun projects. I listen to old Mireille Mathieu records in French. And I remember when I got snowed in with Proust.

It was my senior year of college, up north along the shores of Lake Ontario. I was living in an all-girls boarding house in a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorian homes. My room was on the top floor in what was once the attic, a space I now shared with the treetops and birds. I was a French major and a romantic. I used to imagine that I lived in a small garret tucked under the mansard roof of an eighteenth century stone building on the Ile-St.-Louis in Paris. I loved the isolation of my room. I would sit for hours reading the works of Baudelaire, Balzac, and Rimbaud, writing essays, and dreaming of the future.

The blizzard began on a Tuesday and, at first, everyone was excited that classes would be cancelled for a couple of days. Then sometime during the night, we lost power and the temperatures plummeted below zero. I awoke in the morning with a cold nose and quickly rushed to my closet to add several thick warm layers of clothing. Outside everywhere I looked was a swirling, whirling world of white. I went downstairs to make a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast on the gas stove and ate it hunched over the kitchen table trying to absorb the heat of the cereal. I returned to my room with a steaming mug of sugared tea. That semester I was taking a course on Proust and our assignment was several hundred pages of Remembrance of Things Past. I read all day, curled up in the corner on my bed, covered in sweaters and blankets. In the quiet stillness of the darkening afternoon, I lit candles and continued reading long into the night.

I spent the next three snow-filled days and candle-lit nights with Proust and, like his characters, I thought about time−time and memories. I let my mind drift through snowstorm memories of my childhood. I smiled as I pictured my sister and me making snow angels in the backyard, lying in the deep snow, arms and legs determinedly pushing up and down in arcs. I remembered the igloos we built, lopsided domes that sheltered us from the whipping wind and seemed magical once we crawled inside. I thought of my father taking us ice fishing on Saturday mornings. We would drive onto the lake, weaving in and out of the many shacks, cars, and trucks scattered over the thick ice. The highlight of the day was always our winter picnic. My sister and I would sit in the open doorway of the car bundled up to our chins in snowsuits and scarves, savoring the hot chocolate and melted cheese sandwiches that my mother had lovingly prepared. Memory flowed into memory and my childhood came to life. Finally during the fourth day, the blizzard stopped.

It’s been years now since that storm; but every time snow begins to fall with great abandon, my mind travels back to those days in my aerie room and I remember how time folded back to reveal the past. I sit quietly and let the snow take me back to those glorious days of innocence and fun.

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