by John Carter
The sun has yet to put a yellow glow in the eastern sky. Soon it will but I am unlikely to notice as I continue to walk nearly due west. And with this storm and the accompanying cloud cover, the sun would have a hard time making much light appear, until, maybe, it was nearly overhead and could bore straight down. By the time that happens, I will have long ago arrived at my destination and completed my task at hand, and departed.
The snow, mixed with freezing rain, is causing a stinging sensation across my face as a westerly wind blows at my exposed skin. The temperature may be above zero or below zero, but regardless, cold is the word of the day. The blowing wind just adds to heighten the effect of already being cold. Who ever invented the phrase wind-chill must have lived somewhere a little warmer – this could best be described as wind-freeze. My eyes are squinted half closed partially out of a desire to keep the snow/drizzle mix out and partially the result of being half asleep on my feet. Sleep is not an option. Sleep hell, stopping my walk is not an option. The only option is full ahead regardless of what the weather is throwing at me.
My feet prod heavily on the frozen ground. The 2 to 3 inches of wet, sticky snow provide no cushion from the relentless pounding of my feet on the ground with each step. Snow may look soft and fluffy in Norman Rockwell paintings, and it may be when deep enough and dry enough. But, having grown up in central Indiana, I know full well that wet snow is not fluffy, and even less soft. When only a few inches deep, no snow is really a soft blanket. The snow is starting to build a small packing on the under side and sides of my boots. As bits and pieces are kicked up by my feet, they attached to my pant’s legs, proceeded to first melt, then refreeze around my chins. This adds to the already chilling affect of the snow and wind through which I am traversing.
As time wears on, my feet seemed to gain 20 pounds in additional weight. Physically ready to give up and mentally already on the brink, I push on, stopping will not happen. And I tell myself, your feet are not really heavier, it just feels that way from the long walk, the cold weather, the need for food, the sheer exhaustion. Forward I push, onward down the roadway in search of my destination.
Scattered street lighting prevents a total darkness. However, the spacing was enough that my eyes could not completely get use to being in near total darkness nor could they adjust to the brightness contained in the white, inverted cones shining downward from the pole tops. The snow, by reflecting the light, highlighted the street lights locations, making them clearly obvious. However, the snow also absorbs light leaking from the ghostlike fixtures making the areas between the lights seem even darker. But, just like the snow being throw in my face, I have to ignore the light areas, the dark areas and all the areas between, pushing forward my only requirement. Arriving on time at my destination is not optional, it was a requirement, nearly a life or death situation. Or at a minimum, life with less pain and suffering or life with more pain and suffering.
A sudden slightly stronger gust of wind drives the snow harder against my exposed face, burning cheeks, nose and forehead just a bit more then before. Hark, the wind brought something else – the ever so faint yet clearly noticeable smell of bacon cooking. The aroma of the boiling grease as it seared the tender meat awakened senses that until now had been lulled by the lack of sleep and numbing affects of the weather. It was if my body had suddenly been turbo-charged, boosted from with in, pushed from behind forward down my path. My feet, with each step seemed to feel less like 20 pounds heavier – now maybe only 10 pounds more then actual.
A brightly lit area appears in the distance – with numerous strong lights burning away the darkness, creating a miniature, artificial daylight area. The smell of the bacon more apparent and mixed with it the sweet sticky smell of hot syrup. Both smells ticking the olfactory senses more with each step I make westward.
Abruptly I stop as the entire group that I have been traveling with stopped, just short of the lighted area, just on the edge of darkness. I have no doubt that we were close enough into the circle of light that anyone peering from inside the building could have spotted us without effort. I also have no doubt that the smell of bacon and warm syrup were now mixing with other noticeable, yet less pungent odors including eggs being cooked and coffee being brewed.
Standing still suddenly seemed harder to maintain then continuing to walk forward. Just minutes earlier my body had screamed for a break, now that it was upon me, I desired to move forward. Just standing was turned in to more exhausting then plowing forward in motion. In addition, the tantalizing smells of hot food and refreshing drinks – all out of reach – tore at the fibers holding me together. Mentally I am tossed, which hurt more: walking and prodding through the weather or merely standing, 100% motionless being forced to smell desired recharging nourishment I could so clearly sense yet access was being denied.
A verbal command from a member of my group brings me back to reality. In single file the group lines up and enters the building from which the smells of breakfast emitted. 2nd Platoon, D Company, 5th Battalion, Basic Training Command, Fort Dix, New Jersey, had arrived for breakfast this early December morning in 1977. As good as it was to finally arrive and enter the heated building and start down the line toward the waiting food, it was also a reminder that shortly – 30 minutes or less – I would again be out in the weather headed toward another training mission on the road to becoming a soldier. But at least when I re-entered the harsh world outside, I would be refreshed and recharged with a hearty breakfast.
No matter how many jokes may be told about Army food in the future, everyone in the group truly appreciated the quality and quantity being provided to us at the time. Was it as good as Mom made was not in question – it was warm, it was flavorable and it was available. And it was time to eat.
Postscript: From November, 1977 through January, 1978, I was assigned by the US Army to Fox Dix, New Jersey, about one hour east of Philadelphia, for Basic Training. During that time, numerous Atlantic storms blanketed the upper eastern coast and the New England states with extreme cold and lots of snow. I was transferred from Dix to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for technical training the last week of January 1978. The following week a blizzard descended on the Commonwealth that resulted in so much snow that the Governor of Massachusetts declared a 3-day state of emergency and ordered everyone off the roads. The Army graciously offered the post’s snow removal equipment and plows to the Governor to assist in clearing roads. The Army then graciously had the soldiers hand clear parking lots, sidewalks and other areas from snow that in places drifted easily greater then 8 feet.