Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I have a confession to make. Winter driving terrifies me. If I am out on the road and even one snowflake hits my windshield, I head back home faster than you can say “accumulation.”

Considering my past experiences on snow and ice-covered roads, however, I feel that my phobia is justified.  Take, for example, an incident that occurred when I was only about 10.

Freezing rain was falling that December day, and most of the roads looked like Olympic bobsled courses.  My mother and I were on our way to a grocery store that just recently had opened in the area and was located halfway down a very steep hill.

The minute we started down that hill, which was on a dead-end street, we knew we were in big trouble.  The car began to slide, picking up speed as it slid right past the grocery store’s entrance.  My mother, not daring to take her eyes off the road as she struggled in vain to control the now-spinning car, shouted, “Quick! Tell me what’s at the bottom of the hill!”

I uncovered my eyes long enough to peer over the dashboard and read the sign on the building that loomed directly ahead.  “It’s a plate-glass company,” I answered. "With a big plate-glass window facing us!"

My mother groaned, then muttered, “Just my luck. Why couldn’t it have been a mattress factory?”

When it became obvious that nothing was going to stop the car from sliding, my mother finally surrendered, closed her eyes and started to pray. Even though I was only 10, I was pretty sure that closing her eyes while driving probably wasn't such a hot idea.

I can remember wondering how loud the crash was going to be when we smashed through the window of the plate-glass company.  Then, very suddenly, the car stopped dead.  My mother and I sat there, afraid to move, collectively holding our breaths.

“Are we dead?” I managed to squeak.

My mother, whose foot was still glued to the brake pedal, cautiously peered out of the car window. “We hit a big bare spot of pavement!” she gasped. “I can’t believe it!”

After that, we always referred to the incident as the “plate-glass miracle.”

When I finally was old enough to get my driver’s license, not a winter passed when the “plate-glass miracle” didn’t come to mind and make me uneasy at the mere thought of driving in sleet or freezing rain.  But after a couple years of safe, uneventful winter driving, I began to feel more and more at ease whenever the roads were less than terrific. 

One night, back in the early ‘70s, when I was working the night shift as a switchboard operator, I emerged from work at midnight to find myself in the midst of a raging blizzard.  The snow hadn’t been predicted (which was no big surprise), so it caught everyone completely off guard and unprepared.  Gathering my courage, I took a deep breath, and with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, headed (well, crawled, actually) toward home, 21 miles away.

I did fine until I got to Hooksett and attempted to climb the small, curved incline at the intersection of Route 3 and Main Street.  I’m not certain what happened as I rounded that curve, because the snow was falling so hard, I could barely see a foot in front of me, but the front wheels of my car somehow ended up hanging over the edge of a big snow bank.  I shifted the car into reverse and revved up the engine, but there was no way it was going to budge.

Unfortunately, at one o’clock in the morning, especially during a blizzard, the roads weren’t exactly teeming with cars. And this was before the era of cell phones, so I couldn't call anyone for help. The only phones available when people left their houses back in those days were public pay-phones.

I sat there for over 20 minutes and didn’t see a single sign of life, not even a snow plow.  As the needle on my gas gauge crept precariously close to “E,” I decided I had better kill the engine. The car immediately grew so cold inside, I resigned myself to the fact that my lifeless, blue-lipped body was going to be found as stiff as a board in the morning.

Finally, after what seemed like years, a van came crawling up the road and passed by me, then stopped and backed up.  By then, I was too cold to care who or what was inside.

When I caught my first glimpse of the person who emerged from the van, I was convinced that hypothermia already had frozen my brain and I was hallucinating.  The man was young, about 20, very slim and tanned, with long blonde hair.  He was wearing (and I am totally serious here) a short-sleeved shirt with a Hawaiian print on it, shorts and sneakers.  He looked as if he should be standing on a surfboard, not in a foot of snow.

“Need some help?” he asked. 

Before I could answer, he leaned closer to my now-open car window and commented, “This sure is some freaky weather!  I’m from California, and I’ve never seen anything like this before!”

Despite his obvious lack of winter attire, he determinedly waded right into the thigh-high snow bank in front of my car and began to push.  Within less than a minute, he was wheezing and clutching his chest.

“Dear Lord,” I thought frantically. “He’s going to drop dead underneath my front wheels and the police will think I ran over him!

“Asthma,” the young man explained, reaching into his shirt pocket for his inhaler.  He took a few puffs, then went right back to pushing and rocking my car until all four wheels finally were back on the road again.

With a satisfied smile and a wave of his hand, he hopped back into his van and disappeared just as abruptly as he’d appeared.

Was the thin, wheezing guy wearing beach attire in a blizzard, I wondered, another miracle like the “plate-glass miracle” of years ago?  Was he perhaps the “surfer-dude miracle?”   It really didn't matter.  After that incident, nothing, not even a miracle, could convince me to drive in bad winter weather again.  Even if some young, muscular, movie-star hunk, clad only in bikini briefs, were waiting for me to meet him somewhere and it started to snow, I still wouldn’t drive so much as an inch.

No, I would call a cab.

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Monday, December 11, 2017


My neighborhood’s big bash, the annual Christmas party, was held last Saturday night, and everyone who planned to attend was asked to bring a potluck dish or dessert for the buffet table. So I decided I was going to make my famous peanut-butter fudge.

In my younger days, I made the fudge for just about every special occasion and it always came out looking picture-perfect, as if it had just leapt right off the pages of an award-winning cookbook. And it tasted heavenly – so much so, that whenever I asked someone what to bring to a party or gathering, the answer always was the same: “Bring your delicious peanut-butter fudge!”

So I was ready to wow everyone at the neighborhood Christmas party and treat them to a big batch of my to-die-for fudge. Little did I know that the word “die” might have been just slightly prophetic.

The morning of the party, I assembled all of my ingredients and then started to prepare the fudge. The problem was, it had been a few years since I’d last made it. Almost immediately, I began to realize I might have forgotten how to do a few things – like tell when the mixture was cooked to the “just right” stage before adding the peanut butter and the marshmallow creme. I was pretty certain, however, that cooking the fudge would be like riding a bike. Once I started making it, all of the steps automatically would fall into place and the fudge would turn out just great, as always.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

I ended up removing the fudge from the stove much too soon, which resulted in a final product that was the consistency of frosting. And when I tasted it, my teeth instantly stuck together, making me fear I would have to learn ventriloquism just so I would be able to communicate with people again.

Determined, I made a second batch of fudge and cooked it a few minutes longer. Unfortunately, I cooked it a little TOO long and the sugar crystallized into something that closely resembled a peanut-butter geode.

“Give up!” the sane part of my brain told myself. “It’s obvious you’ve lost your touch and can’t make fudge any more. Raise the white flag, surrender, and bring something else to the party – something simple and foolproof, like a bag of Oreo cookies or a box of Ritz crackers.”

By then, I’d run out of two major ingredients to make more fudge anyway – peanut butter and evaporated milk.  I did briefly consider running down to the supermarket, but a big snowstorm was predicted to start within a half-hour and the last place I wanted to be when it hit was miles from home. There was only one other alternative – a little convenience store only a short distance away. I was pretty sure I could get there and back before the storm started. So I threw on my coat and ran out to my car.

When I arrived at the convenience store, I raced through the short aisles and grabbed a jar of peanut butter and a can of evaporated milk, then brought them up to the register.  The price of the peanut butter at my favorite supermarket always was $2.39, and the evaporated milk, 99 cents, so I took a $5 bill out of my purse and then waited for my items to be rung up.

“That will be $8.35,” the clerk said.

I laughed. “You’re joking! How much is it really?”

She didn’t smile. “It’s $8.35.”

I couldn’t believe it. For that price, I figured the food should be delivered to my house…by limousine.  Even more difficult to believe was I actually paid the $8.35. Desperation and the approaching storm obviously had rendered me incapable of thinking any rational thoughts at that moment.

I rushed home with my precious bag of ingredients and headed straight to the kitchen, where I once again set to work preparing another batch of fudge. Seeing that my first batch had been too soft and the second batch, too hard, I was positive I finally knew how to time this batch just right to produce the perfect fudge.

The fudge’s consistency turned out much better, to my relief.  I spread it out in the pan and let it set, pleased at how nice it looked.  But a weird thing happened as it cooled, something I’d never before experienced in all my years of fudge making. An oil slick, big enough to rival the one caused by the Exxon Valdez, began to form on top of the fudge.

I grabbed a paper towel and frantically began to dab the oil with it. The more I dabbed, the more oil seemed to form, until the paper towel was so saturated, I could have wrapped it around a stick, lit it and used it for a torch.

That did it. I threw in the towel (the oil-slicked one) and admitted defeat. I was convinced my fudge-making days were over. And to make matters worse, I also was going to have to suffer the added humiliation of arriving empty-handed at the party.

The snow arrived on schedule and with a vengeance as the hour of the party drew closer. If the gathering hadn’t been only a few houses up from mine, I wouldn’t even have bothered to go out that night. Even so, I toyed with the idea of not showing up, not only because I had nothing to bring, but also because I was feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt – for having wasted enough peanut butter in a single day to make sandwiches to feed about 5000 starving people.

As I was getting ready to leave for the party, I happened to glance at the pan of fudge still sitting on the counter. The oil slick was gone!  I grabbed a knife and cut a piece of the fudge and tasted it. It was delicious, and the consistency was perfect!

I didn’t know if the fudge fairies secretly had visited my kitchen while I was in the shower, or if the oil had reabsorbed back into the fudge. All I knew was it looked appealing and tasted fine. I guess you could call it the Great Fudge Christmas Miracle of 2017.

I quickly cut the fudge into squares and then carefully placed them into a festive container.  Still, when I arrived at the party and handed it to the hostess, I prayed she wouldn’t open the container and find a blob of peanut-butter putty sitting on the bottom of it.

But the fudge turned out to be a hit, and one woman even asked me for the recipe.

“Peanut-butter fudge is my family’s favorite!” she gushed.

The truth was, I had no idea how I finally ended up making that darned fudge. And even if I had known, how was I supposed to discreetly warn the woman about the potential risk of an oil slick? Add a roll of paper towels to the recipe?

“The ingredients are a well-kept family secret,” I said, smiling mysteriously. “I’d be disowned if I ever divulged them to anyone.”

Next year, I’m bringing a bag of potato chips to the party.

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