Snow pelted the living room window, sounding as if someone in the shrubs was trying to annoy my family by repeatedly throwing sand against the glass. My polyester gloves, knit hat and rubber boots still faced the radiator and were hot now, for sure. It had been nearly eight hours since my sister and I had walked home from elementary school — in a blizzard.
We didn’t hike miles through snow, as the popular refrain goes, but the quarter-mile walk home on this day, a Monday in February 1978, felt like a Biblical journey. The Blizzard of ’78 revealed itself to not be a pedestrian snowstorm — as most meteorologists had predicted — but as a furious beast right out of the Book of Revelation.
To two kids who typically hopped, skipped and ran home, the forward push against blinding, biting snow was exhausting and even painful. As the prime-time lineup of TV programs got underway that evening with the “Donny & Marie” variety show, we sat cross-legged on the carpeted living room floor and stared vacantly as the Osmonds went a little bit country…or was it a little bit rock and roll?
Soon, Marie had Donnie in a barber chair and was about to snip some of her brother’s shag hair. But then, in a moment of cosmic symmetry that would give any psychologist pause, just as Marie was about to make her first cut, the blizzard cut electrical power to our Brockton, MA., home. We would go without juice for a week.
Most of my childhood is a kaleidoscope of memories, with specific moments remembered clearly decades later only for their resolute simplicity — a cousin playing the Village People on her convertible’s eight-track cassette player — or for their inexplicable complications — a grandparent waving goodbye from a hospital window.
Because of the 1978 blizzard’s unique power and devastating consequences, I’ll always remember most of the 33 hours the storm hovered over New England and the days that followed: layers of snow blocking the entire front door; a seemingly endless routine of board games; worried telephone conversations between my mom and her sister who lived on the other side of the city, across from boxing legend Rocky Marciano’s childhood home; a teenage neighbor checking on us five days after storm’s end and acting as if he had the outdoorsy stuff of Jeremiah Johnson; and the excitement and eventual banality of no school for two whole weeks.
Without question, though, I’ll never forget my mother bundling me and my sister in more bulky clothing than what is permissible in some countries and pulling us on a wooden sled through streets patrolled by the National Guard so we could buy two bags of overpriced groceries from a White Hen Pantry.
As I write this, the opening winds of the Blizzard of ’15 are already finding the weak spots in my family’s Wellesley, MA., home and prompting me to constantly jump from the dining table to look out the window and struggle to see in the dark how snow is traveling. I only can hear wind. It sounds almost mechanical, and it’s creaking from all directions.
When day breaks, it will be easier to assess the storm, but window gazing can last only so long. No, the day will be spent forming new memories that hopefully, decades from now, will place alongside the experiences of 1978. I doubt I’ll forget an inquisitive 7-year-old stepson and just as curious 2-year-old daughter who await my attention, answers, resolve and strength.
Will the wind halt long enough so I can open the garage door and measure snowfall for them? Will the electricity stop just as Elsa struggles — yet again — to reconcile her powers in the movie “Frozen”? Where will I bring my daughter on her first post-blizzard sled ride?
Memories are made of these moments, stark times when families huddle and fight the worst that nature brings. Soon, the winds will die and life will restart on cue, leaving only thoughts of blizzards past, times when we walked through snow up to our belt buckles.
Published Jan. 27, 2015