Responding to my blog about the blizzard of 69′ my cousin Irene commented on another storm with particular meaning to both of us, the blizzard of 78′.
It was just before that storm that Irene’s father, Charlie, died in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was living in Connecticut by then when I received the word of Charlie’s passing and immediately prepared to attend the wake and funeral. You see, Charlie was a special person in my life. He was my uncle, my Godfather, and my namesake. He was also one of the warmest, most loving people I have ever known. Each time we met, he would greet me with a smile, a kiss on the cheek, and the greeting “Bella,” meaning beautiful in Italian. And it wasn’t just me. Uncle Charlie was special to all children. When most adults attend a large affair, they glide past the children on the way to other adults. Not so with Uncle Charlie. If a child approached him, he would stand, listen, and comment until the child was finished. As a result, when he entered a large gathering, all of the children would flock to him like the Pied Piper. So when I received word of his passing, I knew I had to attend. Once again, however, the weather had other plans.
As I was packing my new four-cylinder Ford Pinto, the weather forecasts were becoming increasingly foreboding. There was no doubt that this was going to be a storm for the record books. But I would not be dissuaded. Uncle Charlie had been a cornerstone of my life and I was going to see him off no matter what. As the first flakes started falling, my brother Joe and I started off toward Pennsylvania. As crazy as it sounds, Irene reminded me that I had actually packed a pole in the car so that if the snow got over the top of the car, we could stick it up through the snow to alert the plows we were there.
By the time we crossed from Connecticut to New York, we were in a full-scale blizzard. We drove for hours before reaching the Pennsylvania border at Port Jervis. By that time, it was dark and we could see only a few feet in front of us in the driving snow. The smartest decision we made was to pull off I-84 and get a room for the night. While we had missed the wake, we could still make it for the funeral. The next morning we took off again in the early morning. The snow had tapered off and there were several feet everywhere with drifts higher than houses. As we made our way up the foothills, we passed fleets of tractor-trailers along the sides of the road. They had chosen to keep on driving through the storm and now, only the tops of their cabs were visible within the drifts. Two events are still clear from that day. The first was sitting for hours on a bridge somewhere in Pennsylvania. The road ahead had become impassible and there was no alternative but to wait for the plows, so we waited. They finally came and cleared the road and we moved on once again.
The other, was reaching a stretch of road where one plow had cleared up to a point and another had cleared from the other direction, but for some reason, had not broken through. Joe and I exited the Pinto and surveyed the scene. The snow was as high as the hood of my car and perhaps three feet thick. It was getting close to the time for the funeral and shoveling would take too long, so we got into the car, I backed it up as far as I could, and I gunned the tiny engine. The Pinto broke through the barrier and we moved on.
When we arrived at the funeral parlor, the undertaker greeted us with surprised confusion. The funeral, it seemed, had been canceled due to the snow. It was impossible for us to wait until the next day. Joe and I had families at home and we had left them for too long already. We paid our last respects to Uncle Charlie at his casket and then made our way to his house to give our condolences to our Aunt Olga. Then we started the return trip to Connecticut. On the way, we learned that the Governor of Connecticut, Ella Grasso, had closed the state for three days to allow plows to clear the snow clogged streets and highways. Only essential emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads. There was one exception, however, a small, four-cylinder Ford Pinto.
Looking back on these two blizzards, it seems little wonder that my first novel, “Amanda’s Room,” deals with violent weather and people’s struggle to overcome it. Thanks Irene for reminding me of that special trip to see a very special man.
Once again, I welcome your stories about your own experiences with violent weather events. If you are interested in my book, “Amanda’s Room,” you can now purchase the eBook version for the Kindle at Amazon.com. If you have another type of eBook reader, Smashwords.com has versions of the book for most others. Thanks, and good reading.