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Relive childhood memories of Great Blizzard of ’78

LynnKHansen/iStock/Thinkstock snow-covered trees
SNOW DAYS: You don’t experience too many true blizzards with tons of snow living in Indiana.
Joy’s Reflections: Will this winter bring more snowy memories?

It’s been 40 years since that January when the principal’s voice came over the intercom at 2:30 in the afternoon stating that there would be an early release because of blizzard warnings. Every kid’s winter dream had just come true. Snow days!

I don’t remember the bus ride home, but I can recall how the wind almost knocked me down and the pelting snow stung my face as I walked from the barn to the house. I noted in my journal that “the sky to the west was light but everything else was dark with fierce snow that blew straight across.” It was exciting and wonderful to my middle school self to say we were having a bona fide blizzard.

For two days the wind howled. You couldn’t see out the windows because of white swirls that stuck like decals against the glass. The temps with the wind chill dipped to 50 below. Dad melted snow in a huge old kettle over a fire for the cattle to drink. We didn’t have water because of frozen pipes for days.

Leftover Christmas candy and board games made their way out onto the card table. The icy wind raged outside and the cozy fire kept us warm inside. It was wild and adventurous waiting out that storm. When the sun finally came out, that’s when the term “snow day” took on a whole new meaning.

Winter wonderland
It was a winter wonderland with vast snow banks that made you feel like you were trapped in a giant bowl of Cool Whip. My older brother and I built tunnels and forts the size of our living room. I’d play until I couldn’t stand the pins and needles in my toes.

Once the heat hit you inside, you couldn’t get everything off fast enough and laid out next to the wood-burning stove. In no time, hats, gloves and boots would be dry. It gave you a chance to pop a few more pieces of Christmas candy into your mouth and slide down a cup of hot chocolate. When newspaper delivery was finally bringing the funnies again, it was printed on pink paper so it could be found in the snow. Tractors and snowmobiles were the only way anyone got around for days.

I’m grateful I was still young enough to play, yet old enough to remember. My old journal certainly helps with details I’d forgotten. But the experience and how I felt is still vivid. To a girl who loved to read about adventure and pioneers, that blizzard was about as close as I could get to what characters I read about endured.

That blizzard took up more space in my little book than anything else. But it’s worth noting that the only page solely dedicated to the coming of spring and the joy I had in the fading of winter happens to be the spring of 1978. I suppose even a kid with bountiful snow days can get winter-weary.

I don’t know if I will ever experience anything like that again, but I honestly can tell tales to my grandkids about the incredible snow mountains piled up on either side of the road, buried cars, snow banks as high as houses, everything, everywhere shut down, how I couldn’t go to school for over a week, went without running water, played outside until my toes ached and had the winter adventure of a lifetime. 

McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

TAGS: Weather
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