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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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The blizzard of ’69

December 1st, 2010

BY PATSY TOMPKINS

If I hadn’t been on probation and confined to campus, I never would have gone in to Boston that weekend. I was told that I had broken a rule:

I hadn’t signed out for Christmas break. I don’t remember ever signing out, or in, at college for anything, ever. My roommate and best friend Liz knew a guy in Boston who would let us crash at his place.

I don’t remember much about him or what we did, except for two major firsts: the incredible joy of eating a whole bag of chocolate malt balls when you have the stoned munchies, and hearing the sound track to 2001: A Space Odyssey through a stereo head set. Richard Strauss never tasted so good.


On Sunday we took an afternoon bus back to Bradford, usually a trip of an hour or so. It was snowing, but then it always snows that time of year. We were busy talking, and it took us a while to realize the bus had stopped. There was still a little daylight, and I recognized where we were on Rte. 1: Danvers, on a stretch with very few commercial businesses. The driver figured we would be stopped for quite a while, since there were many cars stuck in front of us at the foot of a small but now impassable hill. The snow on the road was already over a foot deep and mounting quickly. He said he would stay in the bus, and assured us that he had plenty of gas to keep the engine going so it wouldn’t freeze up.

Close to our bus was a bar/restaurant that had been there for years, Frank’s. I had never paid it much attention, until now. We all went inside and found the restaurant closed, and only one lone drinker at the bar with the bartender. We asked the bartender to open the kitchen, telling him that there would be many hungry, cold people coming in. After a little fuss, he called the owner, who agreed. So seven Bradford College women took over the kitchen. Some of us made sandwiches by raiding the walk-in refrigerator. Because it was Sunday night there wasn’t much bread left. But a Wonder Bread truck just happened to be stuck on the highway near the restaurant. The driver donated all the loaves he had.

I ran the huge coffee urn, and a few of us worked as waitresses in the dining room. The place filled up with other stranded people, and soon there was barely floor space to walk in the dining room. We were saving the milk for the babies and children, and I made a lame joke by offering the cold and weary travelers a choice of coffee: black or black. Most missed the joke and replied “regular,” so I had to tell them, “Sorry, no milk.”

After some many hours, we took turns retreating to the bus, bringing food and coffee to the driver and taking brief naps. Liz and I were on our break when we were woken by the gathering chill and the silence of the bus. The engine had been turned off and the driver was gone. Instead, at the head of the aisle was a man in his late twenties, wearing only a sports jacket and street shoes. He was in the middle of a rant, something about how we were now working for him, we had been replaced so our families wouldn’t know, we would be paid and get instructions at various post office boxes. One of our classmates was arguing with him, saying “What are you talking about! How do you think you can pull this off!”

At which point there was a slight noise from behind us. Liz and I both jumped and turned to see that he had an accomplice slouched in a seat toward the back. Another person on the bus told us that someone had gone to get the driver, who’d taken a bathroom break. The man at the head of the aisle suddenly got off, and we watched as he ran in widening circles through the knee-deep powdery snow in the vacant lot next to Frank’s. We took that opportunity to get off ourselves, and quickly went back into the restaurant. I pointed out to Liz that the Danvers loony bin was just up the hill from there.

I don’t remember all the later details. There was mention of trying to get the police, but in the end, the driver must have sorted things out. We went back to work making sandwiches and coffee. There wasn’t much left for sandwiches, just Wonder Bread and cheese. It was early the following morning that we heard on the radio in the kitchen that we had achieved minor fame:
“Bradford girls help out at restaurant,” or something like that.

They mentioned our names, too. Liz and I found out later that our classmates who had volunteered for waitress duty had raked in huge tips, none of which they shared with those of us in the kitchen. Frank’s also made a fortune charging double for everything. We got on the bus around eleven o’clock Monday morning, and the driver managed to make it up the hill. The going was still rough for cars, but our bus plowed on through.

We got back to campus almost twenty-four hours after we left Boston. We heard other storm stories. The blizzard had caught everyone by surprise, and highways were blocked all over the northeast. There was no way to pretend I hadn’t been off campus, so my probation was extended indefinitely. I don’t remember where we went the next weekend. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Tompkins, Tompkins Patsy | Link to this Entry

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