Saturday, November 19, 2016

The First Snowfall

It does something to the heart—deflates it, I think, and sends it scurrying for shelter. But it isn't an altogether bad feeling. There's an element of relief involved, and also one of surrender. At the same time, one feels a secret and almost conspiratorial joy. Now we can start thinking about "inner" things, sit in front of the fire at 5 p.m. while the cauliflower for the spaghetti sauce  roasts in the oven.

With whom are we conspiring? With the night, of course. And with that inner flame that begins to reassert itself as the abundant heat of summer dwindles.

When the snow started to fall, I was sitting in a cafe with my father-in-law, Gene, who's ninety-two. He said, "When the Armistice Day Blizzard hit, I was in the bar of the Lemington Hotel with two friends. We were trapped there for three days."

I had never heard that story before.

Gene and I had just attended a morning concert together. Three of the four composers involved—Smit, Schulhoff, and Karel—died in concentration camps. The lobby of the church where the performance took place contained an exhibit of brightly color photographs taken recently of men and women, all residents of the Twin Cities, who had survived those camps and are presumably still alive.

The music being performed was full of festive French carnival colors in the manner of Poulenc, 
Milhaud, and Auric, and sprightly Czech folk dance tunes, somewhat rearranged and homogenized for the concert stage—though they kept the 5/4 time. I liked them all.

At the end of World War II, Gene was among the GIs who came upon and liberated the concentration camps. No one told them what to expect. No one told them the camps were there.

I have heard that story before. Gene didn't feel the need to bring it up again. 

No, we talked about the son-in-law of a family friend, a seasoned chef who had catered the Ryder's Cup and was then invited to do the same for Prince's funeral. We talked about the historian Joseph Ellis and the travel writer Norman Lewis. We talked about nieces and nephews, jazz singers and retirement homes.

The concert hall had been filled with elderly women and men who sometimes had trouble making their way across the lobby, but who were nevertheless continuing to find ways to enjoy life. And here we were, as the snow flashed by the window in violent streaks and began to obscure the still-green grass, chowing down as if there were no tomorrow.

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