By the time this week’s column goes to press, the worst of the early 2018 weather apocalypse will be behind us. I hope. There is still a lot of winter ahead of us, so we may be seeing history in the making.
Seriously, I kept an eye out for an invasion of Frost Giants marching down Beautiful Lookout last week. I know, we don’t live in Scandinavia, but they might be migratory. I think they must have paid us a visit in the past.
Mom and I were talking about the harsh winters of the early 1960s yesterday, her 87th birthday.
(Hi, Mom. I thought that I would remind everyone in case they missed it last week.)
Anyway, I had the honor of helping break in a shiny new school building in 1961 and 1962, Hawthorn Elementary as it was then known. As luck would have it, rubbing off the “shiny” coincided with two of the coldest winters in memory.
When you are six or seven years old, cold is cold. The numbers don’t mean that much because you have nothing to compare them to. Still, -18 and -23 degrees tend to stick in your mind even during encroaching old age.
One morning, the -23 one, school was cancelled because the buses wouldn’t start. Otherwise, the tiny two-footed human machines would have shivered their way to their desks.
Another time, probably in 1962, the heating system in the Hawthorn building conked out and we were sent home early. It took a while to marshal the buses, so our teachers got us up and moving, marching in place and playing inside games requiring movement.
Nothing equaled those days until 1977, specifically the blizzard of January 28. I was home from college when that one hit, and my dad was waiting for a ride to work with Larry Kells. Dad’s gloves were in the garage and he decided to ride to work without them.
Now, I don’t allow anybody to do silly stuff that might hurt them, so I told Dad to wait while I retrieved them. I got two steps outside the door before being flattened by a blast of wind. That is the only time that has ever happened to me, but Dad went to work wearing his gloves, by gosh.
The winter of ‘77 is one that will live on in infamy. The mercury stayed in minus-zero territory for a week or so. When the thermometer finally read “0” one day, it felt like spring. There was a stretch of 20 days when the temperature never broke 32.
We all carry mental snapshots in our heads. One evening, when it was five below and howling up a storm, Mom and I were out shoveling snow, laughing our fool heads off for some reason.
The cat made infrequent forays outside that winter, doing his cat thing in the neighbor’s bushes by way of a tiny snow cave before streaking inside to have his dear little paws dried off and warmed, courtesy of his favorite human slaves.
Water main breaks were kind of normal. There was one down on Grant Street that became rather chronic that winter.
Spring brought some relief when it finally broke, but there was the inevitable ice flood. There were ice cakes in the road up near where M&S Meats is now. Once those were cleared away and the utility poles straightened, there was still a mountainous ice heap heaved up in the middle of the creek.
I don’t know what the winters of ‘93 and ‘94 were like in the L-V coverage area, but they must have been like the ones in State College. The people on our street ran out of places to pile snow, so we began heaping it in wheelbarrows and trash cans to dump on the athletic field across the street.
I was on the road a lot at the time, the researcher for the business journal in central Pennsylvania. The harsh winter strained the power grid for a time, and brown-outs were common. During one trip to the Lycoming County courthouse, I huddled with a few other wretches in scattered pools of light, squinting at deed books for a couple of hours while the wind howled outside.
Two hours and 75 miles later, I slalomed my car into the driveway. I had an evening job, too, and I had to change clothes for my six o’clock starting time. While trying to get my car unstuck, again, I slipped and fell face down in a slush puddle, shrinking the lining of my pretty suit.
This was the winter in which an ambulance got stuck in front of our apartment. The borough budget was creaking, and our street was seldom plowed. As usual, there was a gang of people out shoveling snow at the time, six of whom piled into the back of the ambulance for extra weight.
Our weight did the trick and the ambulance broke free. A guy from a nearby street, steam coming out of his ears, used my phone to heat up the State College borough office several degrees. A plow truck showed up a few minutes later, and got stuck.
Prospect Avenue was never snowbound again.
Make fun of me. Call me Bunker Barbie the Doomsday Woman in the wintertime. I have my reasons.