Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

February 17, 2014

Mention of the word ‘snow blower’ leads to momentarily lapse in thought

— — As I was clearing snow from my driveway Thursday morning, I started to wonder when the time would come that I wouldn’t need to dig a vehicle out of the snow to get to work. I’ve lived around snow all of my life, so I’m well versed with getting around in the snow. As a heart attack victim, I know that shoveling snow can be the worst thing you do — second only to not working at all. In times like these, I remember this old saying that I just made up: “Where there’s a bill, there’s a way to dig your vehicle out and get to work.”

When we lived out on the farm and attended school at East-West Finley Elementary School, the bus driver — Bill Carson — used to tell the kids to get in the back of the bus and jump up and down on the rear wheels so we could get up over Good Intent Hill. It wasn’t that the hill was so steep, but rather the left turn back on the road to McKissick’s Store was a tough turn to make even on a dry road.

Now, I wonder what kind of difference a dozen 90-pound kids would make to get up over that hill. I don’t think any modern school system would approve of such shenanigans in this day and age, but making do with what you had to work with was a way of life for us back then.

Still, in the 17-degree chill of that early morning chore, I couldn’t help but wonder when the day would come that I didn’t need to shovel my way out to the hard-top any more. I’ve already given up the thought of retiring to a shuffle board palace in the insect-ridden Florida swamp. I know I’ll have to punch the proverbial doggy until I bring the herd to market. Singing, “Blue shadows on the trail ...” Good-night Ned.

For some reason, this 12-inch snow seemed harder for me to move than the 24-inch snows I dug my way out of in 1993, ’96 and ’98. I’m sure that the aging process has something to do with it, but I was ready to surrender on Feb. 13 and say I couldn’t make it. Every shovel full of snow seemed to weigh 50 pounds, and 50 pounds to me any more feels more like 250 pounds. Anyway, I bit my stiff-upper lip and kept digging, but also resting after every 10 or 12 throws. Even with the resting and only digging a small swath for me to get out to the road, I was still about to give up.

During one of my mini-breaks, I walked out to the edge of the road to see how deep and/or loosely packed the snow was and to check if I could bust out into the road. As I turned to come back and contemplate the eternal question, “To shovel ... or not to shovel. That is the question,” I caught a glimpse of something blue out of the corner of my eye. Of course, I knew immediately that it was Thursday’s newspaper in a blue plastic bag.

I walked over, picked it up with my snow shovel, walked up as far as my sidewalk and pitched it on my porch so it slid to a stop within one inch of my storm door. I had done that job as a kid, delivering the Washington, Pa., Observer. I took pride in getting the newspaper where my customer wanted it delivered. It wasn’t easy to get up to deliver a newspaper seven days a week, but since I’ve always been an early riser, it wasn’t too hard for me. I was up anyhow, so I might as well do something productive.

The snow had mostly filled in the tracks Sue Stamper had made carrying my newspaper to my home that morning, and walking to other homes in my neighborhood. I thought about how difficult it must have been for her to get that one day’s paper to me. I know that I am just one of the customers on her route, but that morning I felt really special. The blue newspaper bag shined like a beacon of hope in the white snow-coated landscape of my home.

Suddenly, my energy level was recharged. I wasn’t just clearing the snow from my driveway any more. I was getting into work in order to make another unique product that people throughout the region will be just as eager as I am to receive. I didn’t shovel any faster or harder. I know I have to take it easy because of my heart. But I wasn’t about to give up. The challenge I faced that morning couldn’t have been as difficult as the challenge that Sue Stamper faced when she delivered my paper.

Obviously, I didn’t give up. I came to work that morning and after everything else was done for Friday’s newspaper, I wrote this column. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. I think about the men and women serving in the military on foreign shores, and I know the hardest days I have are nothing compared to the easiest days they have. I complain about the cost of groceries, but I know that it is nothing compared to the pain a parent feels at the loss of a child.

Shoveling a little snow isn’t such a bad thing to do. It can give a person time to wipe away some of life’s distractions and focus on the truly important things. When I made it to work, I bumped into my publisher Randy Mooney in the parking lot, and mentioned having to shovel my way out. He mentioned something about a snow blower, and I lost my train of thought.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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