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Finding Something Positive in Boston’s Worst Winter

Sant'Antonio di Padova

Sant’Antonio di Padova

Most Italians know that when you lose something, you should pray to Sant’Antonio. This small act of asking for help usually works. As such, I have been sending him desperate pleas quite often these past few weeks; I hope by the time this story is published, he will have answered my prayers and the city of Boston will have found its lost sidewalks. Or at the very least, I hope we can back out of our driveways without performing the sign of the cross and whispering a silent prayer that we don’t get hit. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that that game of chicken is getting really old.

I am writing this story on February 20, 2015; smack dab in the middle of the most intense winter in Boston’s recorded history. I had planned to write another story about my perceptions of my family’s Italian work ethic, but I had to give that up for now. Like the MBTA on any day that ends in a ‘Y’, I was having problems leaving the station on that story. There is just something more pressing on my mind: the weather.

That’s right. I need to talk about the weather, and how it is holding us hostage in its white, cold embrace. And I am pretty sure, if you’re from Boston, you want to talk about the weather too. In fact, I am fairly certain that if we got together we could talk about the weather FOR HOURS and not get bored. I’d tell you about how my pipes froze last week and how I successfully fought back with my hairdryer. And you’ll tell me about the letter you are writing to the Olympics about instating a new winter game: Acrobatic Ice Damn Elimination. You and I both know that crushing Mother Nature’s nefarious frozen dams is truly an athletic and artistic feat.

If you’re not from Boston, and cannot understand what in the name of Winterfell I am talking about, let me summarize the situation for you.

In just three weeks, New England has faced off with four debilitating snow-storms that left behind seven feet of evil, frozen precipitation. The temperature rarely climbs above freezing, therefore none of the snow has melted. Essentially, it feels like we are prisoners in Elsa’s ice castle; most of us are suffering from a unique combination of PTSD and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

boston-snow

Like many Bostonian children of the ’80s, I had heard the tales of the infamous Blizzard of ’78, which brought with it 27 inches of snow and paralyzed the Commonwealth. Well, 2015 will see your 27 inches of snow, and raise you by a factor of three. Yea, I’m talking to you, 1978. Stop looking so smug. You have nothing on our snow totals. Oh, and sweet bell-bottoms, by the way.

Most of the snow has been light and fluffy, which I suppose is a blessing for our shoulders, but some kind of cruel joke for our faces. Seriously. You scoop up some snow, try to fling it over your shoulder up onto a 7-foot ice bank, and it just flies back, at twice the speed, directly into your face. You really need a ski-mask, but unfortunately, Marshalls is fresh out of winter wear.

But take heart–even if they weren’t sold out of all winter-weather paraphernalia, you wouldn’t be able to actually get yourselves to a Marshalls anyway. Getting around the State is a nightmare and we all deserve participation trophies for simply showing up places. At the very least, I think I am entitled to a certificate or a gold star for making it into work. The MBTA is not just crippled, it is decapitated. Buses are crowded, trains are canceled, and those of us trying to get around are packed into the few working cars like sad, snowy sardines.

Car travel isn’t a better alternative. The roads have transformed into the set of the Shining—a maze of snow-covered banks that lead you nowhere. You crawl along the narrow path, all the while hoping to make it home, knowing full well that disaster is most likely around the corner. You blindly inch out at intersections praying that the coast is clear. Oh hey! Was that Jack Nicholson there on the side of that snowy hedge with an ax? No. It is just your neighbor’s uncle’s cousin with a roof rake. No big deal.

During the last big storm, Neptune, I came in from shoveling and capped off the day by watching, “An Affair to Remember.” Maybe it was the hot toddy talking, or brain freeze, but I realized that maybe the tagline for the winter of 2015 shouldn’t be: Go Home Elsa! You’re drunk! But rather, it actually might be like they say in the movie, “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” It made me think about some of my favorite snow day recollections. And that maybe I need to stop spending so much time lamenting about the current climate, and think more about my warm memories and blessings.

When I was little, and there was a storm in the forecast, I would get into bed and whisper a prayer to the Snow Gods that I would wake up to the steady sound of my dad’s shovel searching for the pavement of our driveway. And what’s more, that I would see my favorite words running across the TV screen, Stoneham Public: CLOSED.

Back then, snow days were spent watching movies with my mom, making cookies, and waiting for my dad to come home from work with the official “snow report.” You see, it is a fact universally known that dads are connoisseurs of snow–and mine was no exception. He always knew if the snow was the right kind of snow for snowmen building. And if it was in fact man-making material, we’d bundle up and tear it up in the backyard.

Until recently, as adults, we rarely got the free pass of a snow day. This year, of course, changed that as many of us were encouraged to avoid the roads and work from home. Recently, I took advantage of a Sunday snowy day and chose to get trapped with my parents in Stoneham. After I did a bit of work, and a lot of shoveling, my mom and I decided to make biscotti. While the sweet smell of twice-baked cookies filled the house, I was transported to my childhood.

So if Italian Americans bake biscotti on snow days, what do Italians in Italy do? In 2003, I happened to be in Puglia when the skies opened up and spit out an inch of snow on the streets of Corato. That’s right, a whole inch. The city seized, shut down, and went into a metaphorical panic room. I wanted to walk to a nearby café for un cioccolato caldo, but my cousin told me it wasn’t safe; we had to stay inside. Everyone came home from work early and gathered in Zia Rosa’s kitchen to witness the end of days. We didn’t eat biscotti. In fact, I think we ate cured meats and day old focaccia. Because it wasn’t safe to go to the bakery to buy fresh focaccia; Armageddon was upon us, after all. While delicious, it didn’t exactly promote the cozy feels that I remembered from my childhood snow days in Boston.

In any case, whether it is biscotti or chocolate chip, I recommend indulging in something sugary during your next snow day. We must arm ourselves with something sweet to combat the last few weeks of this bitter winter. We need something warm and delicious to tamper the hostility we feel as each special snowflake falls from the heavens onto the beaten paths of Beantown. Hopefully, our warm memories, coupled with intense sugar highs, will tide us over until we can look back on this winter and say, I survived that. We will ditch our coats and ski masks and roofrakes, but keep the badge of honor that we so rightfully deserve. A badge earned with each scoop of snow, each strained muscle of our back, each icicle that formed on our eyelashes. Losing sight of that pride, what we Bostonians can endure, and the hope that comes with dawning of spring….now that is a real reason to pray to Sant’Antonio.

About Danielle Festino

Danielle was born and raised in Stoneham, now resides in Medford, and has roots in Puglia. In 2004, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in International Relations and Italian Studies. She is passionate about telling stories and hopes to provide a glimpse into what it means to grow up Italian-American.