(This is me and big sis D., who's holding Marcus Aurelius the Cat. We had a big box of snow attire in the basement, and I had to wear two of everything [hats, mittens, pants]. Before putting on my gloves and boots, Mom would slip old Wonder Bread bags onto each arm and leg to keep me dry.)
There is something soothing about AM radio.
I woke up this morning with WNRK, 1260 AM, out of Newark, Del., on my mind.
Before I was school age, and then during the summer, the radio in the kitchen was tuned to WNRK from the time Mom got up in the morning until she served dinner.
It's how I followed the Patty Hearst saga, never realizing that one day I would work for her family. ("I don't understand," I'd say to my mother. "I thought she was kidnapped. Why are the police going after her?")
It's where I heard that John Lennon had been shot and killed, and that Elvis had died.
But WNRK offered more than just news.
In the winter, it was the divine emissary of God that informed me of when my school was closed for a Snow Day (a phrase that deserves to be presented with glowing gold angels and glittering snowflakes around it, but constricted by my medium, I had to settle for simply capitalizing it here). The hallowed Snow Day, sadly unknown to my friends who grew up on the West Coast, was a glorious thing.
Sometimes, when God was feeling especially whimsical and philanthropic, he would deliver the news to WNRK the night before, and instead of sitting at the dining room table the next morning, already dressed in my blue-and-gray plaid Catholic school jumper, waiting for the list of schools to be read, I would remain snugly under the covers in bed, savoring a whole day ahead of playing in the snow, eating chicken noodle soup for lunch, drinking hot cocoa and creating homemade snowcones. (Making these required a bit of forethought: You had to remember to put out a bowl when it started snowing to collect enough clean snow that later could be doused with vanilla extract. Yum.)
It was during these Snow Days that I would enjoy another feature of WNRK: The Mindbender. The host would present a riddle or historical question and announce which number caller with the right answer would win a prize (come to think of it, the prizes often consisted of Omaha steak delivered to your door, so maybe it was sponsored. I'm glad I wasn't this jaded then).
I would excitedly ponder the riddle, or if it was a historical question, zip downstairs to the den where our hulking encyclopedia and World Book collection lived. I called many times with the right answer, but was never the chosen caller.
My mom was more lucky.
There was another gimmick the radio station used to keep listeners tuned in all day: The Shop 'N Bag game (I wish I could remember its formal name), by which at regular intervals, the host would announce a dollar figure. Mom kept track of these figures in pencil, in her neat handwriting, on a slip of yellow legal paper folded in half lengthwise on the refrigerator.
Every once in a while, WNRK would call someone and ask them if they knew the amount. It was always something wonky, like $37.18, so you couldn't guess it. You either knew it or you didn't. If you did, you won a gift certificate in that amount to the Shop 'N Bag grocery store. If you didn't, the host increased the amount. My mom won that game several times.
Then there was the precursor to CraigsList and eBay: Swap Shop, from 2-3 p.m., during which my mom would lie down to take her nap while keeping her ear out for deals on bicycles, desks, cars, furniture and other items that neighbors wanted to buy, trade, give away or sell.
I like to remember my mom that way: Lying on Dad's bed (they had twin beds) with her hands beneath her butt (that keeps them warm, she said), dozing in and out of sleep as the callers and host of Swap Shop kept up a constant, low chatter, as I lay on my side in her bed, the radio in between on the night table, watching her, unaware of how fleeting and precious this companionship would be, just resting there waiting for the afternoon mindbender.