Laughing into memory: Sharing a Buffalo blizzard with my teenager & mother

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.

Blizzard of 1977. Buffalo Area. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Blizzard of 1977. Buffalo Area. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

“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.

January 30-, 1977 Tonawanda, NY. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

January 30, 1977 Tonawanda, NY. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

“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?

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15 thoughts on “Laughing into memory: Sharing a Buffalo blizzard with my teenager & mother

  1. Thanks for this lovely story about blizzards and memory, Renee. That is exactly the way of memory. I’ve been doing this since i started working on my book, and by now I’ve heard many comments such as “man, you really remember a lot” and that is usually followed by “I don’t remember much from my childhood.” But I believe that memory is a muscle and that the more you exercise it, the more you get out of it. Beautiful post xo.

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  2. Every once in a while some little memory surfaces, triggered by an insignificant stimulus, and it’s always a little “wonder” as we travel back in time even briefly, and say, “I haven’t thought of that in years.” Thanks for sharing those beautiful vignettes of your memories, Renee.

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  3. We’ve lived in the South for seven years, and my littlest children no longer recall the climate that they were born into. As we head back to the Midwest next month, I find I am tremendously excited to reacquaint them with four full seasons.

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  4. You’ve stirred some memories for sure! I “grew up” in the SW, moving to the Boston area at 17. I’ve never liked the cold, so when I got here in March of 1976, my So Cali wardrobe left me unprepared for the dry, cold air. Spring came early that year with a vengeance- we had a heat wave that caused the asparagus to come up in time for Easter dinner- which we had outside in the screened porch to escape the heat. The entire world was green, lush and steamy. About 2 weeks later (May 8 maybe?) we had a monster snowstorm. It took down all those heavy tree limbs and our power as well. For several days I reverted back to my “new” wardrobe, which was mainly wearing my So Cali sundresses over a layer of those old waffley long underwear. I think my winter coat was mostly cotton.
    Winter is a lot easier to take now that I’ve learned to dress for the weather. I suppose I must be menopausal as well, as I now look forward to sleeping in a chilly room.
    As always Renee, your posts send my mind on a journey!.

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    • What a brilliant place your reflection took you! I can comiserate with the weather realated wardrobe issues. I never dress warm enough when i leave the Southwest anymore. Snd the images you conjure of heat and snow waves and the early asperagus and east coast swelter say so much! So glad you dropped by!

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    • It is a bit oppressive for me to think of as an adult! Since i was 26 i have no longer lived where my routine might be altered by snow…. Other than the awe of it falling someplace — in the desert– where it normally does not!

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  5. Oh, the winters in Akron, Ohio were tough for my southern Cal thin blood. There are two memories that stick solidly in my memory: when it gets REALLY cold, the hairs in my nose would freeze and then melt on the exhale. Gross and super cool at the same time. Second: When I bundled up for the snow and then walked outside into a gorgeous day and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s warm out! What’s the temp, 70 degrees?” and the answer came back as 40 degrees F, I knew it was time to leave Ohio….that is NOT warm weather! We now reside in Phoenix…warm and dry, thank you very much!

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