Wednesday, November 26, 2014

TO SIR WITH LOVE: A TALE OF THE BLIZZARD OF THANKSGIVING 1950...



     It was November 1950. Thanksgiving was approaching in a small town in northeast Ohio, when a big family of little boys and girls stood back and looked approvingly at their special project. It was a temporary landmark they had sculpted for the holidays--a snowman of such quality they named him "Sir."
    Sir was taller than the children. In their judgment he was the finest snowman ever seen around the neighborhood. His shape was burly and imposing, and his snowy body had been buffed into an icy surface that made him look like he was made of gleaming crystal.
    Standing tall on borrowed milk crates, the children had used their ungloved hands to shape Sir's noble face. Coal from Papa's furnace room had given Sir his shining eyes and bright, broad smile. His substantial ears and nose had been carved by jackknife from soft wood.
    Sir wore a bright red, long-tasseled stocking hat. It didn't seem to suit his character, but there it was--a gift from Older Sister who had decided it was perfect for Sir Snowman--or for any person other than herself, for she had grown quite tired of the laughter it inspired when she wore it.
    Sir's broomstick arms, finished off with mismatched woolen mittens, were covered with sleeves cut from a cast-off shirt and stuffed with newspapers to give them shape and muscle. This snowman was a solid winter friend designed to last.
    He smiled at the children as they looked out at him each morning. He put the little sculptors into a merry mood that bounced around the table as the family ate their breakfast, lunch and dinner. 
    A day or so before the holiday, a touch of Spring stole into late November. Sir endured as he was meant to, and the children were quite sure that he could stand through any unexpected warm spell.
    On Thanksgiving in the early afternoon, as the family feasted unaware, a warm and steady rain began to fall. Later when the children went outside, they were dismayed to find a sloppy-sloshy Sir without his arms and ears. He was quickly losing shape and form, his belt was slipping from his waist and hips, and his coal-inspired smile had turned into a grimace.
    There was heartbreak all around. "What can we do?" the younger children of the family wailed to the Older Sister. She thought a moment, and then she ordered them to "Wish!... Wish and pray and believe with all your might for snow and cold!"  
    She gathered them together--brothers, sisters, and perhaps a neighbor child or two. (Who would notice in that crowd of children)? They knelt together in the longest hallway of the house, for a spacious spot was necessary to contain that splendid congregation. They closed their eyes and pressed their hands together and wished, believed and prayed for all the snow and cold that God could spare--"And bring it quickly for our Sir!"
    Older Sister's watchful eye was needed as the mildness continued into night. Near midnight it turned quickly colder and great soft flakes defined themselves against the city streetlights. With excitement, Older Sister tip-toed around from room to room to spread the word.
    Through the night the snow piled higher and then higher. The wind joined in and tossed the camouflaging snow around. It softened rooftops, streets, sidewalks, driveways and porches. It clung to every branch of every tree and shrub. It hid the family car... The world was white--at least when you could see it!
    It snowed through Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...It didn't seem to want to stop. It brought down tree branches. Blue lightning snaked along the streets through broken power lines. Schools and roads and businesses were closed. The mail couldn't be delivered, nor the papers or the milk. The parents and the kids, it seemed, were trapped inside the house.
    Sir, or what remained of him, was buried by the very stuff of which he had been made. He disappeared beneath the drifts, never to be seen again. If the Mom and Dad were worried by the raging storm, they didn't let their children see it. Through blizzard days and nights, they took turns napping so they could keep the big coal furnace fired against the frigid wind and cold. For the childrens' sake, they made it seem like play.
    Oil lamps were lit, and the children were allowed to stay up talking well into the night. The parents used the time not for complaint, but for sharing stories of their childhoods--the tall winters and hot summers, the things they did for fun, the excitement of catching sight or sound of a new-fangled horseless carriage or an aeroplane...
    The children were convinced that, with the help of God and Older Sister, they had brought the famous "Great Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1950" into Ohio. In later years as grownups, they would laugh about their heavy-duty weather mischief, led by Older Sister. 
    Had their earnest prayers really brought the record-breaking storm? Should they try it once again? Probably not. For failure might lead to disillusionment; and success might drop a ton of snow, adult responsibility and problems they weren't ready for.
    Like her siblings, Older Sister is more than half a century older now. But she can still recall the magic of that snow-swept holiday when she was ten years old.  And she still is saddled with the family nickname settled permanently upon her by her adoring younger siblings: 
    She is still the Weather Witch!


MORE ON THE STORM...
Unparalleled for snowfall and duration, the storm pounded the entire state. Winds blew down wires and trees; roads and rails were blocked; schools, stores, industries, banks and public buildings shut down; fuel supplies dwindled; nothing moved for 5 days. 
    Throughout the state, communities were isolated. Before the storm was over, Lake County had lost much of its nursery stock to the weight of the snow. The storm had not abated two days later when the Ohio State and Michigan football teams gathered in Columbus for what would thereafter be known as the Blizzard Bowl. More than 50,000 fervent fans watched from the bleachers (or tried to watch) as the teams fought raging winds, swirling snows and five-degree temperatures. Michigan won 9-3, with both teams gaining only 27 total yards, with no first downs, and 45 punts between the teams.
    The storm had begun on the 23rd, By the 28th, many major roads were open, but side-streets were still jammed, and schools remained closed. When temperatures soared to the 50's and 60's on December 2nd, clean-up was far from over; the world of Ohio was a sloppy mess.