Tuesday, February 16, 2021

I didn't think I'd experience 8" of snow and below freezing temperatures in Arkansas, but,...

 S - N - O - W!

The heavy snow, biting temperatures, and predictions of more of the same this year, is really nothing new to me. Truth be known, I get a little sad when Arkansas winters come and go without snow. Last year, there were only a few flakes, and I admit, it was a tad disappointing. Snow certainly is beautiful, especially in the woods. As the sun shines, the newly-fallen snow glistens, causing it to look as sparkly as diamonds.

As a Chicago-born transplant to the Natural State, I'm no stranger to cold winters or plenty of snow.

Looking back, I guess snow has always played a part in my life. I was born during a December blizzard. My mother tells me that while we were bonding the hospital, my father couldn't even get to the hospital to meet me for days after my birth.

And I remember being pregnant with my first child during a blizzard. On the day that morning sickness had subsided, so had the snow. My husband and I took a ride around town and marveled at the canyons formed by the snow plows on the country roads near where we lived. Snow was piled as high as the street lights. I'd never seen anything like it.

I remember how much fun it was when I was a kid.

My family lived on the south side of the city, next to a set of railroad tracks. Because the tracks were elevated, there was a huge hill, practically right in our own backyard. We lived there when I was about 5. Over and over again, my brother and I would scurry up that hill dragging our sled so we could ride back down. The challenge was to see how far we could glide each time. It kept us busy for hours.

I also remember the big snow of '67, the epic snow storm that shut down the city. I was in high school at the time. It was the only time our school ever had a "snow day." We were tough kids back then. As the story goes, we walked five miles in the snow, uphill every day to go to school. Actually not true. We took a bus because school really was at least five miles away. That day though, there were no buses because the roads were packed with cars strewn in every which way as they slid around in chaos, stopping where they were. Cars were stuck in ditches and slid into one another, making it impossible to plow the streets. Even heavily-traveled expressways were shut down. And, it was cold!

But, for me, the snow wasn't always a pleasant experience. I know the other side of winter too--the one currently being experienced in all parts of the south. I am hearing reports of road closures, hideously long travel times, blizzard-like conditions, plummeting temperatures, and dangerous power outages. The pictures are terrible and remind me not of my childhood play, but of my more haunting adult wintery experiences.

I worked in downtown Chicago for a time. I can still remember my feet being so cold I could barely feel my toes. I recall more than once, stepping off a curb onto the ice only to have it give way beneath me, plunging my feet into an icy abyss. The freezing cold slush may have only been a couple inches deep, but it was as shocking to my system as being completely submerged into a frozen sea. Just as bad was the feeling when my skin began to thaw. It was accompanied by that annoying intense itching, second only to an infestation of chigger bites.

I remember trying to breathe what little warmth my body possessed into a scarf just to keep my nose from freezing. I remember getting off the train at Union Station only to have to walk to my office across the bridge over the Chicago River, hoping the bitterly cold wind in the aptly-named windy city didn't carry me away or freeze me in place.

But my worst winter experience occurred on a beautiful spring day and freak snow storm that left me stranded in my car. For nine hours I waited to be rescued, all the while, having very full bladder, which was the worst part of the entire ordeal.

It was April 2, 1975. The day began in the 60's. There were eight days in a row that made it feel like spring would be early that year. I dressed accordingly for work that day.

I lived in Aurora, IL and worked in Downers Grove, IL, western suburb of Chicago. It was about a 20-mile drive home. It was a crazy day. Seemingly out of the blue, the temperature fell like a rock in the afternoon. It also began to snow, with that wet, heavy, quickly-accumulating snow. It was also very windy. Blowing and drifting snow caused white-out conditions as the inches kept piling up.

At the time I had worked at a check-printing plant. I was not alone in thinking we should close early, but the management would have none of that. So, we stayed until 5 p.m. I lived the farthest away.

The snow began to pile up in what would result in the "biggest snow of the 1974-75 snow season that recorded 52.2 inches," according to Chicago Weatherman Tom Skilling.

It wasn't too bad driving, at least for me. I had a Toyota Celica with studded snow tires. It was the last year before those were banned. If I'm not mistaken, I should have already taken them off my car, but just hadn't gotten around to it. I think April 1 was the cut-off date.

Thankfully, I was able to maneuver through the heavy snow, and had relatively little trouble stopping at intersections. I loved those tires.

Then at one point, the traffic just stopped moving. I was in a long line of cars that suddenly were stationary. Fortunately I had gas in the car, and a jacket in the back seat. Most importantly, I had my favorite eight-track tapes with me. There were no cell phones back then. There was no way to get in touch with anyone. So I just listened to my music, wrapped the jacket around my legs, and told myself this wouldn't last very long.

It was starting to get really dark. It was really cold too, even though the car was running and the heater was on full blast. Finally, some guy appeared on a snowmobile. He stopped at each of the cars, one at a time. When he got to me, he asked if I was alright, if I had any medical conditions. I told him I was fine. He advised me to keep my windows ajar and to turn off the car now and then, so as not to become asphyxiated from carbon monoxide. I asked what was the hold up and how long would we be stuck here. He said two trucks had jack-knifed, one in each direction, unable to climb the incline of a bridge just up ahead. Once they were moved, we could get on our way.

I felt a little better, except that ever since the time I left work, I had to go to the bathroom. It was starting to get serious now. I wondered how much a bladder could hold before bursting.

The wind continued howling and blowing the ever-increasing piles of snow. It was drifting up against my car. I kept opening the door periodically and removing the snow from around it. I realized if I wasn't able to move soon, I'd be really stuck. I observed the people around me. There were two guys in front of me in a pickup; two guys behind me in a car. One by one, guys were getting out of their car and walking toward a billboard just ahead of us. It dawned on me, they were relieving themselves. I wasn't the only one that had to go potty. I thought about traipsing up there myself, but the thought of wading through what was now more than a foot of snow in a short skirt, heels and panty hose was not my idea of a good time. I looked in the back seat for some kind of container. There wasn't any. I was probably more worried about a bathroom than a warming station at this point.

Finally, nine hours into my ordeal, another snowmobiler came by. It was a fireman who said he was going to help me make my way to the fire station, about a quarter of a mile from where we were parked. Our location was also just outside a new shopping center that was in various stages of being built--Fox Valley Center. It was way too far to get to on foot in these conditions. For that matter, so was the fire station, but we were going to try. So we left my car in what I was beginning to think of as its snowy grave. The fireman held me up as I attempted to walk in snow way above my knees. I'm short--it was very difficult. Without him I couldn't have done it. I clung to him with each step. There were drifts up to my thighs in some places. He helped me navigate them. Finally, we got to the station where there was a bathroom, thank goodness. There was also a phone. I was able to call my roommate and my mother to tell them I was alright. A fire squad ferried several of us to the Sears store. They were already out of food, but had a little coffee left. The store was new and hadn't opened yet, so they didn't have provisions for wayward travelers.

I ended up spending the night at one of the tables in the snack bar at Sears talking with a couple of guys who worked at Fermi-Lab. I think I put my head down on the snack table and fell asleep for a few hours only to be awakened at dawn by one of the guys who said they were taking us to our cars. When I got there, I noticed I had a flat tire. There was also a local farmer with a front end loader that offered to pull my car out of the snow for a fee. I gave him a few bucks and off I went, flat tire and all. I couldn't wait to go home to my bed. When I got there, I called in to work, telling them I wouldn't be in because I had just gotten home. No sympathy. In fact, they seemed suspicious, as if I was lying. I think they were a little miffed that I wanted to take the day off. I was annoyed, but too tired to think about it. I got regular tires put on the next day and went to work.
This wasn't my only experience being stranded in the snow.

West Lafayette, Indiana
West Lafayette, Indiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two years later, when my husband John and I were returning from our honeymoon in Florida, we hit a freak snow storm. It started snowing in Kentucky and by the time we got to Lafayette, Indiana, the traffic was no longer moving. Since we couldn't go any further, and I had been in this play before, I convinced him to turn around like many others were doing. We drove the wrong way on the interstate to get to the last exit where we maneuvered our way into town.

We passed trucks stopped along the way, cars in the ditches, and huge snow drifts that we almost got stuck in ourselves. Finally, we learned that the interstate, I-65, was shut down at West Lafayette. Had we not turned around, we would likely have been stuck in our car. We found a motel with a vacancy and checked in for the night.

The weather was as bad as it could get. It was snowing, blowing, and the temperature hovered around zero. This was way too similar to what I had been through just two years earlier.

Sleeping was out of the question. I don't think either of us had ever been that cold. The wind howled through the night and drove the snow in through the cracks in the walls and windows. There was actually snow inside our room. The heater wasn't great either. We huddled and shivered for hours. Finally, with the light of day, we decided we would do anything to get home. Home was north, but the road was still closed, so we took a different route south, then west, and north again on I-57. We were finally able to make it home after going way out of our way.

The bottom line for me, is, I paid my dues to live in Arkansas. It would be easy to say that I never want to see snow again, but that isn't quite the case. I love the snow, as long as I can stay home and enjoy its beauty. That is what it is all about for me, living in Arkansas. I am drawn to the beauty of this place. I love living in a place that only gets a couple inches of snow at a time, it melts quickly, and doesn't happen too often.

While friends and neighbors complain about the snow, I am just happy to be stranded in the comfort of home, rather than on the road in a strange place. So even if it snows, I love it here.

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