Walking in a Willful Wonderland
Last weekend, my dad's weekly email was recollections about the Blizzard of '78. My friend Amy also wrote about it on her blog. Not living in Cleveland anymore, the anniversary would have passed me by, had Dad and Amy not reminded me of it.
Some of my earliest, most complete memories are from the winter of '78, when I was five and a half years old and in kindegarten. I have earlier memories, but they are more like snapshots. My film-reel memories start around the time that my youngest brother was born, in January 1978.
YB was only two weeks old and our lives and routines had already been disrupted by this red, squalling, little lump that my mother assured me was a boy even though I had desperately wanted a sister. The blizzard provided further excitement and disruption. The winds were so severe and the temperatures so cold that my parents devised a sort of fox's den for us to shelter in. My dad hung blankets up to trap the heat in the back of our apartment and we filled an interior hallway with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals.
My mom plied us with snacks and drinks and we whiled away the time. I remember wearing layers upon layers of clothes and, at one point the electricity and heat must have gone out because I remember sitting in the kitchen in my snowsuit.
After dinner one night, I decided it was time to get outside and play in the snow. We'd been trapped in the house for months (or so it seemed to my little young brain) and it was time to finally get to build snowmen and make snow forts. My mom was at work (I know - two weeks after having a baby - madness) and my dad was left to deny my repeated requests. But I was a stubborn and persistent child and would not take no for an answer.
In desperation, my dad called my mom at work, in the hopes that she could talk some sense into me. Even today, that's a fool's errand. Imagine how much more difficult it was to talk sense to five-year-old me. Finally, my mother sighed and told my father "If she wants to go outside, let her go outside. Just don't lose her." The idea was that once I got outside and realised how inhospitable the conditions were, I would turn tail and run back to the warmth of the fox den.
I got bundled up in every piece of winter gear I owned and MB followed suit. (He wasn't going to be left out of the fun.) My dad tied a rope around each of our waists and told us that we weren't going to get to stay out very long. MB got to the end of the house, which was about 20 feet, before deciding he'd had enough. The wind was so strong you could barely walk and the snow was both falling and blowing. When it hit the half-inch of exposed flesh near my eyes, it was like getting blasted by frozen sand.
But I was a girl on a mission. It was dark and quiet but for the wind. I felt like the last person on earth and I found that I liked that feeling. I made it all the way back to the garage, where a giant snowdrift was waiting. I was thrilled and started tunneling out my snow fort. I ignored the tugs on the rope and went about with my excavation. It was pretty comfy in the snow.
My dad, realising after a few minutes that I wasn't going to come to my senses, hauled me back into the house. All told, I was outside for probably less than five minutes. Left to my own devices, I would have stayed out way too long. My dad was right to pull me back in. I think he was right, too, to send me out in controlled circumstances. After all, had I been a normal, sane child, I would have turned back when MB did. But I've always been willful and more driven by what I want to do than by what I should rationally do.