Smile Politely

What Snowpocalypse?

I swear, if I hear one more perky TV newscaster tell me to “Be careful out there” or “Be sure to dress warmly” I’m going to take off all my clothes, run screaming down my street and dive head-first into the nearest snowbank. It would be worth it, just for the chance to get on the news myself and tell all these earnest self-appointed Mega-Mommies to mind their own business and stop talking to us as if we were little children. I can just see the TV image: microphones thrust in my face as I stand shivering in a blanket provided by the police officer at my side. The inevitable interview with my neighbors: “I just can’t believe Larry did this, he was such a nice man, kinda quiet, but very friendly, always dressed warmly…”

First, a little personal background to justify my irritation. My paternal grandparents were pioneers in Northern Minnesota. In 1914 my father was born in a log cabin that his father built. The day he was born, blizzard winds blew the roof off. Next day, his mother was back to chopping wood. Somehow she survived into her 90s having learned at an early age to put on a coat when it’s cold outside. The day she arrived in Waskish, Minnesota, she had traversed a lake in a small boat with her two young children, along with some other ladies and their children. It rained hard, so they had to bail water out of the boat with their hands.

Fast forward to February 2011. The only suffering her grandson has to endure is listening to the incessant hysteria blaring from the TV about the “Blizzard of the Decade.” If only Grandma’s ghost could appear next to me on the couch as we watched reports of frantic shoppers buying ten gallons of milk at a time, home generators and preparing to “hunker down.” I know she would turn to me, tilting her head like a little puppy, straining to understand the hullabaloo. Through the shimmering glow of her phantom image, she would say “Larry, here’s a real warning for you: don’t let Diane Sawyer turn you into a sissy.”

Yes, it was Diane Sawyer who pushed me over the edge (or naked into the snowbank). I watched her peer into the TV camera with that well rehearsed look of grave concern, “So people should be careful.” Now a dramatic pause as her Mega-Mommy gaze morphed full-bloom. Then again… “Be careful.” Oh how she moved me. Diane, thank you so much for your deep concern. If you hadn’t told me to be careful (twice), I would have been careless. I would have gone outside without my coat, I would have driven too fast on the ice, I would be hunker deficient with my single jug of milk.

It was a perfect storm of events that pushed me to this place. Shortly after basking in Diane’s motherly embrace, I watched a documentary about an Arctic expedition in which people faced real danger, and acted heroically to save themselves and others in their party. Some froze to death, and others barely survived, with limbs missing because of frostbite. No battery-powered warm socks, no warm gaze from Diane Sawyer to mitigate their bravery.

The juxtaposition of the ratings-generated-TV-snow-hype with the gaunt images of the explorers drove me to wonder. Are we so starved for real life challenges that we need to feast on exaggerated media smorgasbords of weather-hysteria? It wasn’t too long ago that when we saw white flakes falling to the ground, we said, “It’s snowing.” Not that we needed to prepare for “Snowmageddon.”

There is a positive side. My friends who live and work among the poorest of the poor benefit from our bulimic survivalist purchasing orgies. We swarm like vultures on the shelves of Farm and Fleet to strip them to the bone of portable generators and kerosene heaters. Then we puke them onto eBay where people who actually need them buy them at bargain prices.

So, I will replace the image of Diane Sawyer’s maternal angst with one of my friend Maria in her cardboard shack in Zacatecas, Mexico. I will imagine her huddled comfortably near her new kerosene heater.

Maria reminds me of Grandma. An authentic survivor of genuine danger. She was a social activist who stirred up so much good trouble that political opponents intentionally ran her over with a truck. She survived, paralyzed from the waist down. Here’s a woman who knows what’s worth getting worried about and what’s foolishness. I met her when I was part of a team that traveled to her neighborhood to set up free medical clinics. Maria took up where my Grandma left off. With quiet dignity she told me stories of surviving harrowing ordeals. Her face was beautiful; wrinkled and weathered by years of life and death struggles. She admonished me to “Trust our heavenly Father.” I welcomed her mothering. Like Diane Sawyer, she would look in my eyes and lean toward me with concern. But unlike Diane, she was the real deal. No TV studio make-up. No fake scripted hype talk to attract viewers.

OK — I feel better now, and I promise to keep my clothes on, if for no other reason than to avoid dishonoring the memory of my father. He survived his wilderness childhood to raise me and my two sisters in a “no whining” zone.

The last time I saw him alive, we were sitting in the crowded lounge of a car dealership. He was loudly complaining about phoniness and cowardice. “These suburban fart-blossoms with their pick-up trucks and cowboy boots. If they ever actually walked in the woods and saw a squirrel, they would crap their pants.”

Sorry Pops, I wear cowboy boots sometimes when I go out in the snow. But rest in peace, knowing that I’ve learned to dress warmly and drive carefully on icy streets.

And I have survived the “Blizzard of the Decade.”

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