I grew up and still reside in the Buffalo, NY, area where winter brings the sound of early morning snow plows, and where you learn what time people go to work in the morning by the sound of ice being scraped off of car windows. As a kid, I experienced the excitement of waking up on blustery mornings and running to the TV to find my school’s name in the list of closings. My sisters and I devoted entire weeks to building giant fortifications off of our front porch, complete with ice slides and tunnels. My husband recalls jumping off of his garage roofs into 6 feet of snow with his buddies.
But nothing ever compares to the stories our parents told us. My generation never witnessed it personally, but the Blizzard of ’77 has been as much a part of our lives as if we had. For as long as I can remember, it has been the ultimate wintry legend, an infamous event that has been very formative in the history and culture of Buffalo, NY. This past January marked the 40th anniversary of the startling blizzard.
The winter had been particularly frigid that year and Lake Erie had frozen early, collecting massive amounts of loose, fluffy snow on it’s surface. This, coupled with a sudden onset of 69mph winds, brought about, with little warning, one of the most massive blizzards of all recorded history* (it made it to the top 10 here!)
I asked around to see where people were during the blizzard and got some interesting stories. There was tragedy: the storm took 29 lives in it’s unforgiving sweep across Western New York.* There was heroism: I heard about people going out on snowmobiles, delivering prescriptions to the elderly. There was resourcefulness: I heard of makeshift snowsuits from large industrial garbage bags. There was a LOT of frustration: stories of 10 minute drives taking 5 hours, businesses shutting down for the entire week, snow piles rising above door frames, huge “walls” of snow, making it impossible to leave one’s house or workplace for days.
My favorite story came from my aunt Lana who lived in the Niagara Falls area at the time. Hers is the ultimate narrative of neighbors working together to get through hardship. She told me about how it took 5 hours to dig out an entrance into a house to rescue a dog whose owners had picked the perfect time to take a vacation to Florida. The neighborhood congregated in my aunt’s living room with its huge fireplace. Two ladies from down the street left their kids at the gathering and went to the grocery store with a toboggan to bring food back to everyone. Unable to find bread and milk, they came back with items like dinner rolls and cream. For those that were stranded at work, everyone kept them company on the phone.
I love to imagine this scene: each of the neighbors on the street, of varying ages and personalities, their diverse lives on hold, eating dinner rolls and drinking heavily creamed coffee in front of a large fireplace, various tired and confused pets drying their fur as they try to catch a snooze on a little rug together, the rotary phone being passed around, perhaps the chord getting tangled in the crowd, people urging each other to say “hi” to their friend who is stuck at work, conversations with strangers burgeoning out of a shared sense of uncertainty and exhaustion.
There was nothing to go by — no sun, no sky, no direction. The winds blowing fiercely from all directions. There was nothing but the dizzy whirling and the cold.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
While this winter has been less than impressive in the area of snow, I am quite ready for this chilly Buffalo weather to give way to the Spring. But in the meantime, I will cozy up with some books and keep telling stories.
*Source: Buffalo News