Photo by Alisa Anton
It’s Not REALLY Winter unless …
Winter no longer regularly serves up blizzards for me. Winter reality in the Willamette Valley of the Pacific Northwest can be chilly, will certainly be wet, but snow is a rarity. So, rare that quite a light snowfall can close the schools and make the hilly streets of Portland undrivable. Inevitably, of course, that causes those of us who have migrated here from hearty climes to laugh at this city’s citizens who freeze up right along with the temperatures.
Snowstorms and blizzards created many of my best memories. One of the
most outstanding of these hit Chicago the third year Jay and I were married. The snow already fell steadily in large, lacey flakes as I trudged home from the Morse Ave “El” stop to our Roger Park apartment at the corner of Ridge and Pratt. Jay, who had driven our faithful Beetle to his job as an Assistant State’s Attorney on the southside of the city left work at six, but traffic was so bogged down, he didn’t push through our door, covered with snow, until 8 p.m. I was extremely relieved to see him. The TV reports were dire. (It’s when I remember such an anxious time that I am a little bit thankful for cell phones.)
Snowstorms were a known quantity in Chicago. We fully expected to awake the next morning to find the streets plowed, sidewalks shoveled, and people grudgingly trudging off to work, muttering “Thank God, It’s Friday.”
Twenty-three inches of snow fell that night and the blizzard only abated somewhat as the sun rose on a city transformed into an alien arctic world. Jay and I were fortunate to have made it home. According to Chicago Tribune stories about the storm, thousands of people were stranded in offices and schools. Approximately 50,000 vehicles and 800 CTA buses were abandoned on the streets – and then buried in the snow. All public transportation, including the elevated commuter train, was shut down. (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-blizzard-1967-20170125-story.html)
The event was reported to be a disaster for adults, but a holiday for children. By this standard, my husband and I, although 24 & 25 years old at the time, landed squarely in the kid category.
As soon as the snow stopped around ten in the morning, we triple-layered ourselves into the warmest clothes we had and headed out looking for adventure. And, wow, did we find it. Heading east toward Lake Michigan a little less than a mile from our home, we laughed as our feet sunk deep into tundra at every step. But burning high energy kept us warm and encouraged.
Our quest took us to a winter wonderland. Along the lakefront, mighty
storm waves had frozen and then mixed with snow to form caverns and natural forts in every possible shape. And all through and over this enchanted stark white city swarmed children of all ages. Their brightly colored snowsuits flashed red, orange, blue, green and violet as they careened down icy slides and jumped off the tops of hardened mounds into piles of softer snow. Their laughter rang loud and clear in the crisp, frigid air.
We longed to join them but were curious about the rest of the city. Leaving the lakefront, we headed south to Lake Shore Drive. It was almost impossible to discern where the beach ended and the road began. The only real clues were the dozens of vehicles stranded poking up at various angles through the drifts along the expressway. Across this kaleidoscope of jumbled cars, buses, and small trucks, the city skyline edged a sharp line against a pale blue sky.
As a phenomenon of the blowing winds, just beyond the drive, a path of
sorts was scooped through the mountains of snow on either side. With the foolhardiness of youth, we decided to head for the Loop. It was crazy, no doubt about it, but going back to the confines of our tiny apartment when this once in a lifetime experience had happened right outside our front door didn’t feel like even a remote option. We were not alone.
Hundreds of other Chicagoans also came out to explore the magic. Everyone spoke to everyone else. And although Chicago is a friendly city, ordinarily strangers pass one another by. But not that day. That day there were no strangers in Chicago. The blizzard formed us into one strong community sharing a common experience. Suddenly we had lots to say to one another.
Jay and I began our trek shortly after ten that morning. By three o’clock, we were just wandering into Old Town, which lay nine miles from our home. That’s when the angels, who were guarding the city that day, came to our rescue. Although the blizzard had closed most businesses, many Chicago taverns had remained open – all night. They were still buzzing the next afternoon. Neither the bartenders nor most of their patrons could get home. Thus, the taverns had become temporary shelters. One of these, Piper’s Alley on Wells Street made room for us.
Sometime later, my memory is hazy about that part for obvious reasons, we stood in the long line at the payphone to call Jay’s fellow Assistant State’s Attorney and good friend Danny Weil. Danny had an apartment above another Wells Street Tavern. His couch served as our bed for the night. By Saturday morning, the elevated train was working, if somewhat sporadically. Our adventure was over – but we learned another of Love’s Lessons well – sharing tough times with someone you love can transform hardship into splendor.
We’d love to hear of a time when what could have been disastrous turned into a grand adventure for you because you were together. Hope to hear from you.