Friday, January 22, 2016

Recollections in High Contrast


Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow makes the world around us resemble a high contrast black and white photograph, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. It's a look we don't see every year in Richmond, Virginia.

We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.

In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.

Maybe the best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema, which I managed in those days.

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off-hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not know it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; she pitched for the Biograph's women's softball team had a decent throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then my throw hit him square in the face ... ba-da-bing!

Cooper abruptly quit his stance and retired for the night.

The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill Park. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf in that park quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew thrill-riders to what was then called the Slide of Death.

We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the radically sloped park down to Main Street below, next to Poe's Pub. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the fast ride was quite exhilarating.

There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison Macdonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track as slick and quick as greased lightning.

Eventually, that night, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding, which wasn't a problem for those of us standing around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.

Chuck Wrenn still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death. After a snowfall a few years ago he and I laughing recalled that night. The sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a big shaggy dog down the chute was cited. For whatever reason, the dog happily went along with the gag each time Duck hoisted him up. Please note Duck didn't really ride the dog down the hill, but that pair of comics had us laughing so hard, it's still funny thirty-some years later.

Of course, to fully appreciate this story, you should be standing in snow up to mid-calf ... drinking Irish whiskey.

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-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

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