It’s the anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78 (day 2 of the storm) and of the release of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. In 1978, I was 13 years old. My two brothers were (as they are now) younger. One was 10; the other was 6. We lived in Newton on a suburban street that was, as a result of the storm, all but closed for a week. Hard as it is to imagine, the storm happened before email, the internet, twitter and fax machines. When there was power we had television and a stereo that played 8-track tapes. All of which is to say that (at least to a 13 year-old) the amount of information available in advance of the storm did nothing to prepare me for the degree to which it would interrupt the pace of our lives. Whatever this next storm, called Nemo, brings us, it is unlikely to stop us for as long or as completely as the 1978 storm did.
I remember impossible amounts of snow. My brothers and I were able to tunnel under it, as if we were in (we told ourselves) Antarctica. There was something mystical about the plows not making it to our street for some number of days. Also, my father didn’t go to work — which was a remarkable turn of events. Instead, we sat in the house. I remember lots of Monopoly, Backgammon, and other board games. And I remember the Fleetwood Mac album playing again and again. All of this, with the time that has passed, seems wonderful. The forced togetherness somehow binding and lasting. We were “making the best of it,” but it didn’t seem like a hardship. The time the world stopped for the snow is among the most powerful of my memories of childhood.
Our experience of the storm was safe — sweaters, a fire, music, games. We walked to the town center pulling a sled. We did not get stuck in a car on Route 128. We didn’t face pounding surf. Our home wasn’t damaged. Images on television and elsewhere this week tell that story of the Blizzard. Looking at them now I still can’t understand the stranded cars on the highway. Part of it is the absence of the computers and communication systems we now have; part of it is our deep, human belief that we can somehow keep going no matter what nature throws at us. The latter part is as much a threat now as it was then. Those pictures, it seems to me, are a reminder to be smart tomorrow and in the days that follow.
Now, preparing for Nemo, we have so much information. I know from the internet (and the radio) that there are different models for this storm. In some, we get as much as 3 feet of snow and we face hurricane force winds for hours. In others, the storm tracks farther out to sea and it is a moderate event for the region. Computers and all notwithstanding, we won’t know which version we get until we get it. And so, the stores are packed, people are buying batteries and milk and getting ready to hunker down.
I am thinking that the next few days might be a good time to move away from the technology. Time maybe to teach our kids some board games. Time maybe to let nature make some distance between us and our work and our computers and our day -to-day busy-ness. Time to grab a book and sit in a chair for a while. We learn from what has come before and I know how much that span of days in February 1978 meant to me. Any time I hear Fleetwood Mac, a part of me is on the floor of my parents’ living room, in pajamas, trying very hard not to lose at an important game of Monopoly. Those memories tell me that the next few days are an opportunity as much as a challenge.
Now — I have a brother in California and another in Newton. We are lucky to share holidays and conversations together. It’s the order of things that we are never going to dig in the snow together again, but it is the wonder of time and memory that a forecast of a major storm in February can make that all feel as though it was just yesterday. Stay safe.