hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 6, 2014

Mother Nature's fury hits home

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — I don’t know what it is about Mother Nature.

She always seems to find me in the most inconvenient situations.

It isn’t very often I get to win two front-row tickets to the Boston Bruins. Matter of fact, it’s the only prize I can recall worth taking. The prize handed out before mine in the Christmas parade raffle was a membership to the YMCA.

Redundant. I’m already a member and would feel mercenary if I didn’t shell out my annual fee, given the mission it portrays to my community.

The prize that followed mine was a season’s lift ticket to a ski resort. Nice, if you ski. I would let this prize “slide.”

Bruins tickets were truly the coup de grace. We would travel to Boston, take in the game, then enjoy a quiet dinner in the North End. Might as well make it a package deal and maybe throw in a couple trinkets for the grandkids.

Well, good intentions sometimes backfire. We happened to get hit with a monster snowstorm, causing a funeral to be postponed until the next day, thereby conflicting with the game.

“Can you use a couple Bruins tickets?” I lamented to a friend, looking to pass them off.

“You kidding? Would love them.”

It isn’t the first time Mother Nature has raised havoc with me. You may recall my first and only trip up Mount Katahdin in my quest to hike the tallest mountain in Maine. What started out as a relatively mild day turned into a nightmare on the summit.

We got hit with the whole bag — rain, wind, hail and finally snow. There was no escaping the severe elements. The trail turned to ice as we made our way downhill and finally maneuvered below the tree line, where we spent the night sitting on rocks — stranded on a mountain while the rangers had a fit below.

How my partner and I survived that ordeal was indeed a miracle.

The Blizzard of ‘78 found me driving home from Boston with my heart in my hands. The entire city of Haverhill was in an abyss. No power. No lights. Absolute chaos. We lit candles, listened to a battery-operated radio and played gin rummy. The gin we drank.

The following day, I walked two miles to work at The Gazette, determined to put out a newspaper. The paper had never missed an edition under any circumstances.

I hitched a ride with a DPW plow, putting my camera in overdrive. Back at the office, a couple others showed up, including a pressman, and we managed to publish a skeleton edition dedicated to the “storm of the century.”

Last February marked the 25th anniversary of that blizzard and today, I can talk about it with my grandchildren. It’s the stuff of which memories are made.

One time, I had accompanied the Boy Scouts to a freeze-out called “Operation Snowbound.” Hey, if my kid was tough enough to withstand winter’s elements, so was I. He needed the experience to earn a merit badge. I tagged along for support.

We slept in tents and sleeping bags out in the wilderness. A grizzly assault would have been easier. Torrential rain pelted our surroundings in frigid temperatures, turning the tent into an igloo.

The next morning when I awoke, I was literally encased in ice. Some Eagle Scout got a fire going and we mercifully thawed out. The comfort of a warm bed and stack of griddle cakes was like a mirage.

There were other extremes. Don’t ever ask me to tour the Mediterranean in August again, not unless you keep me in an air-conditioned cubicle.

We were at the Ruins of Pompeii when someone reported the temperature at 115 degrees. Where do you retreat in the midst of an outdoor carnage? In Vegas one summer, I encountered similar heat, only to escape inside one of many resorts in our path.

I lost a bundle of money that day, but kept a cool head about it.

Given the choice between extreme heat and frigid cold, I prefer the latter. I would rather dress in layers than nothing at all. The humidity usually makes me delirious.

I see the L Street Brownies and Polar Bears taking their New Year’s plunge in the ocean and having a grand old time. A buddy of mine does not own a long-sleeved shirt. He dresses for summer in the middle of winter.

My neighbor is usually found shoveling snow in shorts. He must be thick-skinned. The mere sight of him makes me shiver. When some people don’t like the weather, they blame their friends or the meteorologist.

In the long run, I suppose, you can usually predict what the weather will be by what plans you’ve made.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.