As I write this, our front yard looks like a winter wonderland with green bushes decorated in white holiday lights ablaze beneath a perfect coating of snow. Unfortunately, the roads are covered in ice created by the arctic cold and howling wind. Once I made it home from work, there are no errands important enough to take me outdoors again tonight. As I relax by the fireplace, my mind wanders back to the two times that my family was snowed in during my childhood.
In January 1977, North Baltimore was on the receiving end of a massive winter storm. School was cancelled for nearly a week. At first, there was the usual excitement that accompanies school cancellations. But soon, I remember boredom taking hold. We weren’t blessed with hundreds of cable channels or internet to keep us busy.
We did have an exceptional stroke of luck that week: the premiere of a new mini-series. Roots originally aired on ABC for eight consecutive nights from January 23 to January 30, 1977, right during the middle of the Ohio snowstorm. I remember watching Roots with the Reynolds family each night. The days were boring but I was anxious to watch the next installment of the mini-series that evening.
The plotline of Roots followed a black family from Gambia in the 1700s through slavery to the current day. Roots received 37 Emmy nominations. The final episode is still the third-highest rated US television program according to Nielsen. Apparently, North Baltimore wasn’t the only part of America snowed in and glued to its television sets that week!
Finally, the spring of 1977 arrived and life proceeded like it always does. We thought we had survived the snowstorm to end all snowstorms until exactly one year later when the Great Blizzard of ’78 shut down North Baltimore again. After the snow and hurricane level winds subsided, fifty-one Ohioans had died as a result of that storm. Cars and homes were buried in snow. Over 5,000 members of the National Guard were dispatched to help northwest Ohio dig out after the storm.
In North Baltimore, we were stranded again. We missed nearly two weeks of school due to the Great Blizzard. We weren’t lucky enough to have another blockbuster mini-series to watch during the Blizzard, but my brother and I found endless hours of entertainment listening to a CB (citizen’s band) radio. After the snow ended, many Good Samaritans on snowmobiles were delivering food and other necessities to families stranded by the storm. The deliveries were coordinated over the CB radio. Usually, the requests involved a family needing a few basics such as milk, bread, and diapers. When the family in need added a case of beer and cigarettes to the urgent need list, we always wondered if the request for food was just a ruse to get the beer delivered.
Once we returned to school after the Blizzard, it seemed like NBHS Physics teacher, Vern Bame, spent most of the rest of the year teaching us about the sheer force of the Great Blizzard. He talked often of the barometer reaching the lowest recorded level in a non-tropical event in the US and it had dropped a remarkable 40 millibars in 24 hours. Many years later, I realized that Mr. Bame was describing the makings of a Perfect Storm that later became a best-selling novel and movie.
So far, it seems like this winter has been worse than usual. Let’s hope that we don’t face any big snowstorms like those in 1977 or 1978. But just in case, I’d make sure you have a few good books on hand and your Netflix account paid in full by late January. And maybe you should load up on food, diapers and other not-so-necessary necessities just in case.