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Posts Tagged ‘ice storm’

On Hope Street, the turbulent year of 1967 came in with fire and went out with ice.

(Granted, there were some pleasant moments in between.)

My earlier post about the Connecticut ice storm of December 1973 is one of the most-read installments in the history of this blog.

So when I learned from my grandpa’s calendar that there was another ice storm in Stamford six years earlier, I figured I’d write about that one too.

dec1967

December 11, 1967. Later in the week, just two towns over from Stamford, a child is born who will grow up to be a titanic figure of my college and early-twenties years in New England.

 

If you’ve never heard of the Ice Storm of 1967 … well, there’s a good reason; it turns out that it wasn’t that big a deal.

The New York Times dispensed with it in a 10-paragraph article on page 41 of the Dec. 12 issue, summarizing: “Icy rains pelted the suburbs, snapping power lines.” (The city proper was plagued by blowing, heavy mist and rain, but temperatures stayed above freezing.)

The article singled out classic Tri-State sprawl-spots like Mamaroneck, West Nyack, Ramsey and Nanuet for mention, but didn’t say anything about Connecticut. Presumably that meant there was no news fit to print there.

By the following day, ice had been replaced by what the Good Gray Lady called “muddy fog,” in a story noting that New York had received two-and-a-quarter inches of unseasonable rain in two days’ time. (The author of this shoe-leather mood piece? Future two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner J. Anthony Lukas.)

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, ran a one-paragraph brief on page 3 noting that “a sleet storm tore down power lines” in the New York suburbs. This item appeared beneath a similar one-graf news brief noting that the Maui Nukupuu — “a small bird with a large down-curving bill and a tubular tongue for extracting nectar from flowers” — had been spotted in Hawaii for the first time in 71 years.

The relative silence of my grandpa’s calendar suggests that the power stayed on and life went on more or less as usual. The calendar also makes no mention of a day off work, which my grandpa would usually note when heavy weather occasioned it. (Dec. 11 was a Monday.)

I guess, then, that the December 1967 ice storm was nothing epochal. It was just a bump in the road … something to be tolerated amidst the ongoing grind of holiday errands, like retrieving college-age kids, buying Christmas trees and putting up home decorations.

dec1667

December 16, 1967.

One hopes the people of Fairfield County tolerated it without too much grumbling. Just a few years later, they would see much worse.

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Last year at this time, I wrote a pretty freakin’ epic April Fool’s Day post. If you missed it the first time, you might want to check it out. This year for April Fool’s Day I will be 100 percent factual, and a whole lot less entertaining.

It’s funny how little decisions can make a big difference.

# # # # #

In the first week of March 1991, an ice storm of historic ferocity hit my hometown of Rochester, New York.

My family, and many others, went without power for a week as Rochester Gas and Electric pieced its shattered transmission and distribution systems back together. The schools in my suburb stayed closed that whole week.

The storm caused massive damage to trees all over Monroe County; the bright orange Asplundh tree-grinding trucks were as common as cockroaches for a week or two.

My maternal grandfather (not the guy who kept the calendars, but the grandpa from the other side of the family) was living in Rochester at that point, having moved up from Connecticut a few years before.

He’d had heart bypass surgery earlier in that still-young year. (Edit: I’ve been corrected in the comments. It was not bypass surgery, but what my father describes as “one of those roto-rooting of the arteries things.” It was still a heart procedure, anyway.)

But when he saw tree branches strewn all over his yard, his work ethic compelled him to go out and deal with them, as any homeowner would.

My grandmother, trying to watch out for him, would call our house to report with alarm: “He’s out in the yard again!”

And at least once in the weeks after the storm — maybe more than that — my mother and I drove over to his house and forcibly escorted him out of his yard, as he protested the entire time that he didn’t want to be babied.

I don’t know how much yard work he managed to sneak in while no one was looking. I never really got a chance to ask.

On March 28, 1991 — 22 years ago this past week — my maternal grandfather walked into the front room of his house, sat down in his recliner and had an instantaneous thunderclap of a heart attack. He was gone when the EMTs arrived, and they didn’t take long.

He’d smoked plenty of cigars and eaten plenty of red meat in his life. So March 28, 1991, might have been his time even without the ice storm.

Still, I’ve always thought the physical stress of clearing his yard — and, maybe, the mental stress of feeling like he had to tackle the job — contributed to the timing of his death.

I work for a power company now. But even after all these years, I never really think about the potential impact of an approaching ice storm in terms of poles and wires.

The stakes get much higher than that.

One of the last

One of the last pictures ever taken of my grandfather, possibly the last. Yup, that’s me on the left, and a glimpse of stacked-up tree limbs on the right. March 1991. Tough month, that one.

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An ice storm of similar legendary status hit southwestern Connecticut not long before Christmas 1973. (I’ve blogged about that one before.)

Like the Rochester ice storm of ’91, the Connecticut ice storm of ’73 knocked out power for days and left countless fallen tree branches in its wake.

And it caught my other grandpa, the keeper of the calendars, in a physically fragile state.

He’d had a heart attack in May 1971. Of course, he’d had some time to recuperate by the time the ice storm hit, two-and-a-half years later.

But he was still committed to a less stressful, lower-key lifestyle, which meant less yard work. (Family pictures from the mid-’70s show a couple of pre-teen girls — neighbors, presumably — raking his leaves for him.)

Once the ice melted, he might have nipped out into his yard here and there to move some branches around. I’m sure he didn’t just sit on his hands and look at them.

But this week’s calendar entry suggests he had the presence of mind to stay patient and let other people do the heavy lifting for him.

December 28, 1973.

December 28, 1973. “Joe” is my Uncle Steve — Aunt Elaine’s husband — who usually goes by his middle name, at least when my branch of the family’s around.

Looking back at it now, the work my dad and uncle put in on that unseasonably warm day might have made the difference between my knowing my grandpa and not knowing him. (I was five months old at the time.)

I try to avoid dramatizing the stuff I write about; I don’t care much for drama, and I try not to pump my narratives full of hot air. But the family record suggests that ice storms and heart problems don’t mix well.

I’m glad my paternal grandpa didn’t take the chance, and that my dad and uncle relieved him of post-storm hard work. If they hadn’t, a lot of things might have been missing from my life — and this blog is the very least of them.

If my dad and uncle are reading, you guys have my permission to have an extra beer tonight, or whatever your chosen treat is. You earned it, a long time ago.

And if you ever find yourselves with a yard full of icy tree limbs, you know how to reach me.

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We Americans love our suburban angst.

It’s become a cultural cliche that the suburbs (all suburbs) are so bland and intellectually vacant that the people who live there have only two choices — turn off their minds and conform, or give in to the temptations of booze, drugs, adultery and other whatever-gets-you-through-the-night fixes.

One of the classic documents of suburban angst is Rick Moody’s 1994 novel “The Ice Storm,” subsequently made into a major motion picture.

(Remember when paperback books used to carry the slogan, “Soon to be a major motion picture”? Americans love major motion pictures almost as much as they love suburban angst.)

Anyway: The novel and film, set on Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, tell the story of two families in affluent New Canaan, Connecticut, who are all heavy into booze, sexual experimentation, shoplifting and general dysfunction. Then a nasty ice storm rolls into town and blows the lid off the whole corrupt setup, more or less.

My grandparents were living in neighboring Stamford at the time. I genuinely doubt that they were dabbling in uppers, brandy or spouse-swapping.

And I don’t have any indication that they believed in suburban angst. I suspect they viewed the suburbs through the original, rose-tinted post-World War II perspective — as a new, better, less crowded place to raise morally and physically healthy kids.

But there was a nasty ice storm in the ‘burbs of Connecticut in 1973 — not on Thanksgiving weekend, but about a week before Christmas.

And that’s what this week’s blog post is about.

Dec. 16-18, 1973. Click to view larger.

According to the Hartford Courant, one-third of the state of Connecticut lost power as a result of what my grandfather — ironically, or maybe just incorrectly — called “The Great Electrofying Ice Storm.”

The storm is also commonly referred to as Ice Storm Felix, which makes me think of Felix the Cat, and seems like kind of a playful name for a sock-in-the-gut natural disaster that killed two people (not including “The Ice Storm”‘s fictional Mikey Carver.) But hey, I didn’t think of it.

For some in the Nutmeg State, power would take a week to restore, as crews struggled with lines burdened by 24 hours of ice-rain. It looks like my grandparents and 87-year-old great-grandmother made out OK: They at least had power during the overnight hours of Monday the 17th and Tuesday the 18th.

While it’s not my intent to exactly retrace my grandpa’s steps, I sometimes like to use his details to imagine him at a specific point in time. His documentation of the Dec. 17 power outage — 5:18 a.m. to 7:58 p.m. — provides one opportunity to do that.

While Joanne Woodward and Don McLean were appearing on “The Mike Douglas Show;” the U.S. Senate was voting to confirm William Saxbe as Attorney General;  Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” was hitting theaters; and Todd Rundgren was enjoying his first, last and only visit to the Top Ten, my grandparents were bundling up and eating out of cans.

All part of life’s rich pageant, I suppose.

Of course, a once-in-a-generation ice storm was the sort of event to bring my grandfather out of the house, camera in hand. (He appears to have limited himself to taking pictures around the yard, which suggests that his driveway must have been impassable.)

In lieu of more words, then, here are a couple of William Blumenau’s better shots of Ice Storm Felix. Click to see ’em bigger.

The back yard at 1107 Hope Street.

I can just about hear the cracking noise of tree limbs in the wind.

Crrrrrrrack.

A coating of ice.

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