It’s Hell Out There: Beating the Blizzard of `78
by Dorothea Cassady
My husband (who died of cancer in 1985) left for work in Waltham, as usual, that Monday morning, at about 6 A.M. I was a stay-at-home Mom and Avon Representative in West Acton. Our two children, ages 9 and 2 months, were still sleeping. I had heard the reports about the impending storm on the radio when we were waking up, so I turned on the television to get more information.
As the reports continued to come in, I decided to keep my son home from school, even if they did not cancel classes. As was my early morning ritual, I stood with my cup of coffee looking out my patio door at the birds frantically gobbling up seeds from the feeders. Suddenly, all the hairs on my forearms stood straight up and I got a chill straight up my back to the nape of my neck that gave me a quick shudder.
This had not happened for quite a while, but was familiar to me. My husband called me the "human barometer" since, in the case of very severe weather, I usually knew "in advance" by this strange phenomenon. I had been "blessed" with this dubious gift ever since I lived through the Tornado of 1953 in Worcester.
As the children woke up, I got busy making breakfast and it was about 9 A.M. before I got a chance to focus on the storm again. The snow was really coming down now outside our apartment complex. I was still listening with "one ear" to the weather reports, so I went back to look out the patio door. Again, the hairs stood up straight on my forearms and I got the same chill up my back.
I called my husband at work and said, "Honey, you better come home."
He said, "Really, are you sure?"
I could hear the surprise in his voice, because I had not asked him to come home in January, a couple weeks before, when we also had a big snowstorm.
I told him, "I got that feeling again and I think if you don't come home now you won't be able to get here."
He did not argue (and he certainly might have at that point), but agreed to pack up his work and bring it home. Since he was the production manager, he told his staff while he was still on the phone with me, "My wife says this storm is going to be huge. Everybody had better plan on going home; now!"
Then he said to me, "I'll tell the boss to close the shop and be home as soon as I can get there!"
Now the worrying began for me. There were no cell phones back then. Once you were in your car, you were isolated, unless you happened to have a two-way CB-radio. We had just become isolated ourselves, as the power went out in town.
It was after 1 P.M. when he finally arrived home to an anxious and grateful family. It had taken him four hours to make the 17-mile trip that usually took about 25 minutes. I certainly felt like I had "prayed him in."
After he gave us a cold and wet group hug, I said to him, "So, how were the roads?"
The answer told volumes of what was to come, as he said, solemnly, "I was the last car off of Route128; I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't come home when you called."
I said, "What? They closed 128?"
"Nobody can move; there are trucks all over the place, cars over embankments and just lines of cars inching along trying to make it through a foot of unplowed snow on the highway! It's hell out there," he said, as he removed his snow-encased jacket, obviously rattled.
This man grew up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Storms there brought on ski-season at Burke Mountain as early as September and sometimes extended it well into April. A snowfall event would not easily intimidate him. By now, though, the snow "wall" was just beginning to develop and the howling wind was snapping all of our already frayed nerves. The storm heightened and raged throughout the night.
It helped that our family was together again and although we could not use the stove or open the refrigerator, due to the power outage, our heat supply was propane gas and it continued to keep us warm throughout the blizzard.
The next day we realized we were hostages in our own complex, since the snow was halfway up the doors outside the building, making it impossible to open them. When the maintenance people finally got our doorways dug out, our next task was the community extraction of our cars in the parking lot. However, we soon found it was a futile effort, as the storm was not finished with us yet. The wind blew back everything we tried to shovel away. With nothing to do but wait, we decided to have a Tenants Blizzard Party.
Each tenant agreed to supply something and we met in my Avon manager's home across the hall to make the best of this relentless storm. Candles lit the shadowed rooms as the kids all played amazingly well together and the adults enjoyed wine and snow-chilled beer. Juice, cheese, crackers, cookies, fruit, whatever anybody could find without leaving the refrigerator door open too long, added to the party atmosphere.
It was not until the following day that the maintenance people came back and shoveled out the doors, again. Now we could dig out our cars since they had plowed a straight path down the middle of each driveway parking area. Once dug out, we lined our cars up on the street and they cleared the rest of the parking lot. Afterward, the banked up snow at the end of each parking lot was high above the top of our two-story building, well over 25 feet!
We still had no electricity and the phones were out, too, but someone from another building came by and said the New London Style Pizza Shop, downtown, had gas ovens and was offering pizzas to anyone who could get there, until they ran out of ingredients. There was a ban on driving, as part of Governor Dukakis’ State of Emergency executive order, so I bundled my 2-month-old daughter into her infant sled and my son and I set off, with sled in tow, to find lunch!
It was incredulous to walk in the middle of usually busy streets with no regard as to whether a car might be approaching! We all feasted on pizza kept warm on the way home by the blankets surrounding my daughter and the pizzas kept her warm, too. My shovel-weary husband then settled in for a long winter's nap.
These are my memories from the Blizzard of `78 that changed our thinking forever about snowstorms in New England. It placed an increased importance and healthy respect for weather forecasting, whether from charts, computers, Doppler radar, satellite, High-Definition or just "hair-raising" intuitions!