Blanket Rule


A native of Texas, BETTY DUNN was a newspaper reporter there before marrying a New Englander and migrating East.

Where I come from, the summers are very long and hot and the economic standing of a member of the community can often be judged by how far he will go on his vacation just to cool off.

This measure of wealth is, loosely, a blanket rule. It covers just about everyone with enough means to escape south Texas in June, July, August, and September. For example, the salaried employee will frequently go off to the Colorado mountains and post-card back with understandable pride that he “slept under a blanket last night.”

The level of his achievement is recognized immediately by his perspiring neighbors at home, who also, by the way, peg him as a probable two-weeker. Obviously, he can only afford to penetrate those fairly accessible regions which will cool him down one blanket’s worth. With a better job and the time off that goes with it, h could travel farther and get colder. However, if he is just beginning his vacation career, he is off to an acceptable start and he is headed in the right direction.

The blanket trail from south Texas leads west by northwest, very rarely east or due north, and never, never south. The employee’s superior, for instance, who will be a two-blanket man, can be found huddled predictably in a cabin beside the gelid waters of a Wyoming highland lake. He won’t be going east of the Rockies or south of the Rio Grande, although rumors persist from Mexico City that the nights there, because of the altitude, will positively raise goose pimples on the bare arm — they’re that nippy — and everyone sleeps under a blanket as a matter of course. This kind of good-neighbor report cuts no ice at home because the tourist’s motives are suspect. People figure a vacationer goes to Mexico City to look at the place, not as evidence that he is spending a bundle just to be cool.

Altitude is important, of course, literally and figuratively — that, plus distance and bone-chilling weather. We have distance where I come from but relatively little high ground, and the only authentic pneumonia zone is inside the house by your air conditioner. That doesn’t count. You have to get out and up and far away.

Usually the post card will place the traveler at an approximate distance of one, two, or three thousand miles — multiply, very roughly, by three for altitude—depending on whether he reports shivering under one, two, or three blankets. Little need to look at the picture on the front, except to make sure it isn’t of some place like Milwaukee. It is a good sign that the sender is truly an important man if the message is a barely legible scrawl, apparently scratched with mittens on.

“Card from H. J. this morning,” someone will remark at the office, puzzling over handwriting that looks like a doctor’s prescription. “Says he ‘has to slip under . . . brown . . . jumpeter . . . here B. C.’ ”

The best post card in the world couldn’t say it better. By the end of the day everybody realizes that it is a down comforter he is sleeping under, and the B.C. is British Columbia, probably high in the Canadian Rockies. That’s better than three blankets. The man who will conscientiously haul himself that far, and get that miserable, should and does enjoy the esteem of the entire sweltering community.

There is no need, incidentally, to do much of anything on one of these trips. Nobody expects or wants an account of knees knocking together in a glacial trout stream or descriptions of the pinched faces of little children as they hike up mountain trails. Prestige is not built or maintained on activity but just on woolly blankets, featherbeds, and the like. Besides, the average vacationing family, having got away from the heat, will normally engage in briskly stimulating outdoor doings only the first day or so, preferring to spend most of the time inside by a roaring fire. Except, of course, for periodic dashes to a drafty backwoods post office to write and mail cards.

Not everybody plays fair by the blanket rule. You hear of people post-carding home vaguely that they “could use blankets here at night all right,” but not mentioning that they actually do use them, or how many. A card like that could be written in a movie theater right downtown.

Where I live now in northern New England the summers are short and cool, but our tourists come from places like New Hampshire, where the climate is every bit as bracing as it is here, or from other New England stales, and even from northern outposts like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, where it is probably darned cold. Whatever do these people write home on post cards?

I suppose there can be a prestige differential between fresh water and salt water, for example, if anyone cares to look into it. Or between sailboats and motorboats. There is the matter of horsepower, too, that can be taken up. But can any one of these factors become a norm comparable to the blanket rule?

From where I sit before the fire, wrapped in my afghan, composing a few post cards, I can’t see that people who never get really hot in summer have any aim or governing principle. They really have no business traveling at all.