Everyone remembers big blizzards the same way they remember where they were when John Lennon was shot or they heard OJ Simpson declared innocent. These events are markers in our lives, but absolutely nothing is the same as a really big snowstorm – at least to those of us who don’t live in Minnesota or Canada or other places where twenty inches of the white stuff is no big deal.
Here in New York City and the surrounding area, a few inches of snow cause the red flags to start flying. Traffic snarls, trains crawl, and people slip slide their way to work and school. If the snow is any deeper, everyone assumes catastrophe is only moments away and the city starts shutting down. People clear milk, bread, and eggs off the supermarket shelves, and the streets become deserted.
There are bonuses involved in this. If the snow comes during the Christmas season with the city covered in lights that twinkle through the snowflakes like so many millions of stars, well then it is an added bonus. There is absolutely nothing so romantic as walking along a New York City street with the lights blazing through the snowflakes holding the hand of the one you love.
Of course, with kids in the picture romance takes a back seat to fun and games. My kids watched the snow through the window all day yesterday, and as of this morning (it has abated to just flurries right now) there are about twenty inches deep of play land out there that is just waiting for sleds, snowball fights, and the most abominable snowman we can build. Of course, the shovel awaits dear old dad as the kids romp, but it is still great fun.
My grandfather liked to talk about the great blizzard of 1888, which still stands as one of the largest ones to hit the city. This came in March of that year, effectively shutting down a city that at the time did not have the means to battle such a huge storm. New Yorkers were trapped in their apartments (in the days before television and radio) without much to do, so it is not surprising that my grandfather was born at the end of that year with a slew of other blizzard babies.
My father recalls the great snowstorm of 1947 (falling on December 25-26) that stopped the city cold. He tried to get home from work, but his subway train got stuck in Jamaica, so he had to walk the rest of the way. That’s not something one forgets. He said he had to shovel “for days” and the city was closed down.
It is absolutely astonishing to see New York in the snow. The city slows down to an eventual halt, making it seem like a storybook New York from the old times. For a brief moment, before the plows start to rumble down the streets and the car fumes turn the snow black, there is a kind of hush only a snowfall can bring to the Big Apple, and it’s the kind of city quiet that lulls one into a dream state that is intoxicating.
I remember a few great snowstorms during my lifetime, but especially the one of February 1978. I recall the winds had completely covered both the back and front doors of our house. Being a game kid who wanted to go outside, I remember telling my father that I’d jump out the window and then shovel the door out. He considered the options and then tossed me out the window into the cushion of white below. I loved that exhilarating feeling of floating through the cold air and going down into that snow pile, but it took me three hours to dig out that front door, and I would have much rather been sledding down the hill with my friends.
So now we have the great blizzard of December 2010 with which we will make new memories. Unfortunately, the roads are going to take a while to get plowed because technology can just do so much with tons of snow. In the meantime, I can’t jump out the window like in the old days, but I will get out there with my kids and have as much fun as possible thanks to old man winter.