Friday, January 23, 2015

The "S" Word

When our family moved to NJ from New England we were amused by the fear that the people in our new area had when it came to snow.  At the slightest chance of the "S" word, as we called it, it became major news.  New Jersey is currently being slammed by a blizzard tonight, so my thoughts turn to the big storms in my youth. In February of 1966 we had a big one, perhaps the biggest storm I have ever experienced. We school children were delighted at its timing; school was closed for a solid week, and then we had February vacation so we had two weeks off. In Massachusetts where I grew up, we had two winter vacations. One always occurred in February (to save a week of heating the schools) and one was in April when we could actually enjoy some nice weather.

But that year, it snowed. And snowed. Somewhere there is a photograph of my Dad standing in the driveway, having shoveled about a third of the way down towards the street. The wall of snow to be removed was deeper than he was tall, and my Dad was 6'1" tall. I remember we were unable to open the front door against all that snow, and had to go out a window to get out of the house.

That was the best year for snow forts! My sisters and I, along with our neighbors, were able to build a truly amazing snow fort that year, complete with tunnels for entry and tall walls to hide behind. It was magical. My Mom warned us, however, to stay out of the street if we heard the snowplow. It was rumored that a small child that year had been killed when a plow threw snow on him and he was unable to dig himself out.

Next door, our neighbors piled up enough snow to make a hill for sledding. And like every winter, we tried flooding our backyard to make a skating pond. Because of the incessant wind, however, we rarely had a nice smooth sheet of ice, so that never really worked well. That year the snow was too deep to try to make a place to skate, but it didn't stop us from trying!

In town was a river that would draw all of us like a magnet with our ice skates. It was a rare winter when a child or two wasn't drowned in that river, as the river was a fast moving one. We were warned never to go there without a parent.  But in 1966 Dad brought us to skate there, as it was cold enough for the ice to hold us. The fathers had shoveled off the ice and had made it as smooth as glass. What fun we had that day! It was a memory I will never forget.

Twelve years later, my first child, Kristen was three months old and New England was again socked with a killer snowstorm. We spent days in front of the TV, watching special news coverage on the storm until we couldn't take it any more. My parents a half hour away lost power for three days, but fortunately we never did in our town.  The roads, however, were impassible, so a State of Emergency was declared. People were stranded on highways for days in their cars until help finally came. Being the true Yankee that my parents had taught me to be, I had stocked up and had plenty of food in the pantry so we suffered little. I was breastfeeding my baby and we had plenty of cloth diapers, so staying in wasn't really a hardship. Apart from my husband losing a week's pay for lost work, we managed just fine. The Blizzard of 1978 was called "the Storm of the Century."

So tomorrow, when New Jersey is digging itself out from under their first major snowstorm of the season, I'll think of those days and smile. It's going to be 75 degrees here, and I don't miss that snow one bit.

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