A Winter Musing

A Winter Musing

Ron Allen and Jeff Kupfer
Simmons University (Boston) and University of Colorado (Denver)

In keeping with the holiday spirit, we wanted to share a brief story with the ABAI community.

The authors (Ron and Jeff) are South Florida boys, raised in warm sunshine all year. Winters rarely dropped below 60-degrees. Even in Gainesville, six hours north of Miami, the winter temps never dipped below 40-degrees. Heavy jackets and warm boots were not necessary- it never snowed.

When we moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the late Fall of 1984 we beat the first snowstorms and delayed purchasing winter gear even after we learned of a monetary incentive— Clothing purchased in Massachusetts below $175 is tax free. We were too busy with projects at the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies which included building an air crib based on a manual written by Carl Cheney and restoring Skinner’s original rhythm teaching machine. The Cambridge Center is an advanced studies institute that was founded in 1981 that has served as a support for the science of behavior by providing four conferences each year, CEU video library, student support, and an outstanding Board of Directors.

Around December 20, the authors received a call from Dr. Robert Epstein, founder, and Executive Director at the Cambridge Center, asking us to join him and a group of other local behaviorists to drive out to the Skinner residence and sing Christmas carols to Fred and Eve. He assured us that the Skinners would be home and they expected us to arrive at 7:30pm. We agreed enthusiastically and volunteered to drive the carolers that included Epstein, Bea Barrett, and John Cerella.

What we did not expect was the snowstorm and our outer protection was evidence of poor planning on our part. We parked in front of the Skinner home in Cambridge and hiked into the backyard to an open area in front of a large window with curtains drawn. This would be our stage for our show. We had photocopies of the words of the songs and were all set waiting for our audience.

As we waited, it occurred to the authors our leather shoes and pants legs were caked with snow, our coats were not properly insulated, our gloves were soaked through, and hypothermia was not too far away. The curtains were opened finally by Fred who was in his robe. They had arranged two comfortable living room chairs in front of the window.

Through chattering teeth, we sang each song and received modest applause from Fred and Eve. The performance seemed like it lasted longer than it probably was. The authors were thinking about a heated car.

When the performance was over, Eve clapped as expected, but Fred did not applause. Instead, he reached into a paper bag that was beside the chair and produced and donned a Santa Claus cap. He reached back into the bag and pulled out a sign that read in big red letters:

Bah! Humbug!

We all laughed along with Fred and Eve. Finally, Fred reached down into his bag and retrieved another sign:

That was lovely! We enjoyed it very much Thank you for thinking of us.

A heart-warming reinforcer on a very cold evening. Parenthetically, the authors went out the next day and purchased the proper attire from the Ski Market.