Saloma Miller Furlong
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Blindsided by a Blizzard

Today I've been battening down the hatches for the epic winter storm that is predicted to hit us, starting tonight and lasting until Wednesday morning. Like everyone else, I bought groceries that will sustain us if our power goes out. I've boiled eggs, made tapioca pudding, and filled containers with drinking water. We will likely not lose our water, given we are on town water. Though one never knows about water pipes freezing and breaking, so this is just in case. We've got a flashlight recharging and candles and matches handy. If our power goes out, we lose our heat. Oh well, then. We might just need to wrap ourselves in blankets and sit next to one another on the couch to stay warm.

I was telling David over dinner tonight that even though I don't look forward to this storm, I would much rather be stuck here in this house with him than the house I grew up in. We were used to no electricity, so one would think we would have been more prepared than we are now. But who I get cooped up with in a storm is more important to me than whether I can cook on my stove or have my house stay a comfortable temperature. I have not doubt we'll manage. And we'll get plenty of exercise when it's time to dig ourselves out.

As we head into this storm, I am remembering the blizzard we had when I was in eighth grade. Unlike the storm that is predicted for tonight, the one I remember from my school days seemed to take everyone by surprise. Our teacher, who I call Eugene, had debilitating arthritis that would often result in subsitute teachers. However, on this particular day, he was in school.

My first indication that not all was well came with a look of concern on Eugene's face as he looked out the window. I turned around in my seat and looked out into the schoolyard. I could see the barn in an eerie darkness, twenty yards from the schoolhouse. Then the wind hit the side of the schoolhouse with a loud thud. I looked out and saw snow whirling out of the darkness. Eugene said we needed to leave school immediately. He had one of the older boys open the heavy green canvas curtain that separated the four older grades from the four younger ones. The schoolroom was quieter than I had ever heard it.

Eugene talked to everyone in a serious tone of voice, saying we should all dress as warmly and as quickly as we could. He instructed us on how to form a chain with everyone holding hands. He said we should alternate between the older and the younger pupils. He looked sternly at the older boys and said, “This is not a time to worry about whose hand you are holding." He told us all that under no circumstances is anyone to let go of the hands they are holding. He explained that we were going to walk down to the end of the school driveway to meet Yoxall, the man who transported us to and from school. The children waiting for the second and third loads would stay at Ervin Bylers, who lived out by the road.

When I looked out into the schoolyard, I saw a sheet of white. The wall of the barn was no longer visible.

We all wrapped ourselves up and formed a line, holding hands. Eugene was in the front of the line and Ruth Byler, the lower grade teacher, was at the end of the line, with us 72 pupils in between. Then Eugene opened the door and the blizzard came in to meet us. I had never experienced such a biting wind. We all waited while Ruth closed the door, then we walked. The wind came from all directions at once. It filled up my throat and took my breath away. It blew underneath my dress, stinging my legs like needles and pushed, pulled, grabbed at me. Most of the time I couldn't see the person ahead of me whose hand I was holding. I wondered how Eugene knew where to go.

I remembered reading in the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories about how people lost in a blizzard would walk in circles. I wondered how Eugene knew where to go. That quarter mile walk had never seemed so long. I was just beginning to wonder if we were lost when someone bumped into Ervin Byler’s barn. Yoxall was waiting for us. I wondered how he had managed to get there.

We were on the first load with the Weavers and the Troyers. We tried to be really quiet so Yoxall could concentrate. I wondered how he knew where to go because most of the time he was driving into a white wall with a few short moments of seeing the road in front of us. He made it to the Weavers, and then got stuck. Dan came with the tractor to pull him out. We were waiting for Dan to pull us out of the snow bank, when Datt emerged out of the storm. He had come to walk us home. I didn’t want to walk because I was already so cold, but there was no choice. It was a half-mile walk, but it seemed like five. Datt and my siblings and I were all nearly frozen when we walked in the lane. That's when I noticed Datt’s ear, as white as a dead man's ear. I'd never seen frostbite before.

We were coming to the door when we remembered we had to enter the house through the cellar. Our regular door wouldn’t stay closed, so we kept it propped shut with a broomstick. As we were going past the door, we heard a loud crashing noise, then Mem screaming and crying out in pain. We hurried through the cellar and found her in a heap on the cement floor below the stairs. She had seen us coming, and hurried down to open the door for us. A fine snow had sifted through the crack in the door onto the painted floor of the landing, making it slippery. Mem had stepped on that and fallen on her back, down the five steps to the cellar. So there we all were, cold as ice blocks. My legs and face were stinging, Datt’s ear was frozen, and Mem couldn’t get up. Datt helped her stand up, then the rest of us walked cautiously up the stairs. I got a rag and wiped up the landing. Then Datt helped Mem up the stairs, one at a time. Mem sat down and cried on the couch for a while. She had a nice fire going in the stove and we crowded around it. Datt’s ear was stinging when it was thawing out and he groaned a few times. We would find out later that Mem's whole back was bruised to a bright purple.

I made supper. I knew Datt loved mashed potatoes, so I made some. Lizzie did the dishes, Sarah and Susie filled the wood box, and Simon helped Joe with the chores. Joe had gotten home from work early because the driver of the carpenter crew had heard the predictions of the blizzard on the radio and had come to them home.

Later I heard that Yoxall got everyone home without any mishaps. Our road was closed for three days. The road crew brought in a snow blower to open our road. It was the biggest machine I ever saw. It looked like the pictures of the big combines I'd had seen in my geography book. When the road crew was done, the snow banks were so tall, they were halfway up the telephone poles on both sides of the road. Even when the sun was shining on the rest of the world, the snow banks shaded the road. It looked like a snow tunnel. Below is an image of the 1970 Ohio blizzard I am remembering. Our snow banks were at least this tall.

What memories do you have of winter storms? Do you look forward to them, or do you dread them? What words of advice do you have for us as we anticipate the one coming at us?


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