Last week my fifteen-year-old laughed at seeing her breath one morning as she scraped frost off her the windshield of the car.
For the first time.
My pleasure came from the pure, uncensored delight of that laugh. She’s a teenager. It’s been a while since I heard such a sustained, twitter of engagement that wasn’t proceeded or followed by snark or cynicism.
“Mom! Look! Look at my breath! Look how far it goes,” she said, waving her hand through her swirling white breath-cloud.
“Cool isn’t it?” I asked, recalling the fun of growing up in the snowbelt: snow balls, sledding, snow-fights, skiing, snow days, the hard-cold metallic tang of licking icicles, days spent sledding on the hills of our farm.
I was baffled to think how my grown-up southwestern life had made such memories distant or non-existent for my kids. I found it hard to believe that my daughter could have already forgotten her first several Christmas’s in New York.
My father and husband detest winter. One grew up in the American South where they didn’t have much of a winter, and the other grew up under the grey, snow-shrouded Northern coast of Germany.
They have objections to cold, grey, winter and frost. To basically anything cold or dark.
I have no objections to cold, or dark or frost. I have objections to forgetting.
When I called my mom later over breakfast, she reminded me that the end of January this year marked some 35 years since the Blizzard of ’77 hit Western New York.
“Don’t you remember?” My mom asked. “I sent you and your sister outside to experience the driving snow—like needles on your faces. I wanted you to understand how strong that storm could be. How beautiful. How deadly.”
That’s my mom! (The focus was probably on deadly…) “You probably didn’t let us go very far… . Did you string a line out to the mailbox like they did in the Laura Ingall’s Wilder stories?” I was biding my time, waiting for the memories to surface, afraid of how much I’d forgotten.
“Yes. But I wanted you to feel how fast that wind and snow were.”
Sure enough another memory threaded its way to the surface.
“Yes, and daddy would heat with that kerosene heater,” I said, images of the inky, heat-distorted air rising in our living room danced across my mind. As I kid, in winter I delighted in watching TV through the wavering air.
How funny, Donnie and Marie looked, their swaying exaggerated by the heat rising from the heater or how it squished Hawkeye Pierce’s head one way or the other on M*A*S*H.
But the Blizzard of ’77 cut out a lot of electricity, leaving those images to memory, causing us to read by kerosene lamp and warm ourselves in a tight ring around this heater propped in the center of our living room.
I remember how tired we were from the seemingly endless whining winds, snowed-over windows, days without a view of my grandparents house next door, freezing bedrooms and skin-cracking heat of that portable heater.
“And, you hung blankets over the doorway to the front room because the winds sucked heat from the addition.”
My parents must have worried at the start of the storm if we’d be warm enough with the electrical and natural gas shortages. We lived in a large modified A-frame, which sported a wall of windows on one end.
How my mother had enough blankets, to cover those, and seal off my parents loft of a bedroom, I’ll never know. I think we even dragged out sleeping bags to cover the beds too.
Other thoughts came to mind: my mom’s worried look when she came home the day before the blizzard hit and described how the grocery store had been gutted of staples: no bread, no milk, no canned goods, down to almost bare shelves.
But we didn’t need to worry. My mother and grandmother’s basements were filled with canned goods and overstocked farm freezers, including one in the chicken house if you were brave enough to face the whipping winds, zero-visibility and hard-packed snow drifts.
The truth was if you didn’t mind a little freezer burn on the food or from the snow-driven chicken house run, we were prepared. But going outside into the blinding, driving storm really wasn’t an option.
And neither is forgetting.
Thank you daughter and mother. I never imagined your laughter and a little frost could transport me back to a blizzard.
Have you had a moment that’s unfrozen memory lately?