Stuck in the Snow

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Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:

The other night, a friend had some of us over to a dinner party down her long long dirt road (yes, right after the blizzard). We are all middle-aged women, which I mention only because we have limited upper body strength. As we were leaving, one friend’s car (I’ll call her A) got seriously stuck in the snow halfway down the road, blocking the road, 100 yards from our hostess’s (or any other) house. I have a bad back, and A’s husband was willing to come help in about 45 minutes if the car remained stuck, so it’s not like there was any reason for me to stay. But when I made a move to head home, it was clear this would make me a social outcast. I stayed even though I could make no useful contribution to the situation, and missed my favorite TV show while standing in the cold at night doing nothing. Am I a terrible person for resenting their implication that I shouldn’t leave until the car got unstuck?

Sincerely,

Spinning on Ice

Dear Spinning:“Terrible person” is much too strong a term. But anyone who carries around resentment, especially toward their friends, and especially regarding something so minor, is probably not very happy. So if you’d like to rephrase your question as, “Am I an unhappy person for resenting them?” I would say yes, you are, and that’s unfortunate. Luckily, your friends don’t need to know that about you, because you did the right thing, and you stayed.

Unless you had dependents at home who required your physical presence by a certain time to prevent their endangerment, staying was the right thing to do. Your definition of “useful contribution” must be very narrow if you think that the only thing necessary when a car is stuck in the snow on a dirt road in the woods on a cold night is to physically get the car unstuck. There’s more to it than that. The reassuring, reliable interdependency of small-town rural life must be affirmed. The reality that misery loves company must be compassionately recognized. Morale must be maintained. You might not think sticking around while grumpy maintains morale, but trust me — leaving while grumpy? That would definitely undermine it.

Under the circumstances you describe, there are a variety of things you can do while “standing in the cold at night doing nothing.” If everyone had given up and were standing around in the cold and dark waiting for the friend’s husband to arrive, you could start a game of blind-man’s bluff to help keep people warm, or improvise a poetry slam to keep people distracted and entertained, or lead the charge back to your hostess’s house for cocoa and/or hot toddies — something the rest of them, in their monomania to accomplish a physical task, might have completely forgotten was an option.

But we’re talking about Vineyarders, who are can-do Yankee types (yes, even the middle-aged women), and so my guess is they kept working at getting the car out. If you can’t help with that because of your bad back, you could (a) be the person behind the wheel, freeing up another able body to push or shovel, (b) hold a flashlight so the able-bodied can see what they’re doing, or (c) start a call-and–response sea shanty to help them rock the car out of its icy ditch. There are all sorts of ways to be helpful.

And even if there isn’t, just think about this for a minute: If you were the one with the stuck car or the blocked driveway, how would you feel if one of your friends blithely drove away just because they could? It takes a village to get through winters in a rural setting. If you’re here, you’re part of the village. If you’re not part of the village, don’t show up for village dinner parties down long snowy roads.

That’s my take.

Nicole