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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

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.

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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By the following day, ice had been replaced by what the Good Gray Lady called “muddy fog,” in a story noting that New York had received two-and-a-quarter inches of unseasonable rain in two days’ time.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.

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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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The winter storm that professional weather-promoters nicknamed Jonas dropped 26 inches of snow onto my back deck in a 24-hour period last month.

I know this for a fact because my grandfather helped me measure it.

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The storm was still going when I took this. I didn’t get a shot of the snow all the way up to 26 inches, but I like to think you will believe me.

I imagine many families have small “heirlooms” — items that are not formally handed down, but that make their way from house to house, find their small niche in life and drift comfortably along for years.

Things like potholders. Or those holder-things you put casserole dishes on when they’re fresh out of the oven, so they don’t scorch the table (their proper name escapes me.) Or modest two-level bookshelves. Or bottle openers. Or folding card tables topped with sticky vinyl.

Or, in this case, a yardstick.

I couldn’t tell you how it ended up in my hands. But pretty much since I moved out of dorms and into homes of my own, I’ve had the same yardstick.

It doesn’t get a lot of use for anything but snowstorms, so it stands a pretty good chance of getting passed on again … unlike my other grandpa’s novelty New York Football Giants bottle opener, whose NY logo has been worn to nothing over the course of thousands of beers.

But that’s a story for some other time.

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There is no Stamford Savings Bank any more. The institution still exists, but has been renamed First County Bank.

It doesn’t appear that the phone number on the yardstick was retained by any of First County’s 15 current branches, either, so don’t call it if you’re in the market for mortgage rates or certificates of deposit.

The actual piece of wood is not antique in any way, shape or form. I believe it dates to a specific window between May 1983 and April 1985.

The first date — if the Interwebs are correct — is when Stamford Savings Bank opened a new branch at 1110 Hope Street, in the Springdale neighborhood of Stamford, across the street from my grandparents’ house at 1107. (My cousin John, who is in the building trade in Stamford and who has shown up on this blog before, was apparently involved in the building’s construction.)

And the second date was when my grandparents, having sold the old home for demolition, moved out to start a new life in western New York.

The current Google Earth view of 1110 Hope Street.

The current Google Earth view of 1110 Hope Street. The former Springdale Methodist Church, which I’ve recently been told is closing, is to the right.

I have no concrete proof that my grandpa did his banking at Stamford Savings, as his financial records are long gone.

But I’m fairly certain the yardstick came from him. The bank was across the street, after all. And in my dad’s words:

My folks strongly felt a part of Springdale, and if there was a branch in Springdale, would likely have put their money there.  Although that being said, I think both of your grandfathers were of the type that started a new checking account at the bank du jour to get the free toaster.

(D’oh! I could have been handed down a toaster. Wouldn’t’a helped me measure the snow last month, though.)

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Seems like I’ve written a lot about hot weather on this blog — the blisterbitchers, and the lack of air conditioning, and the end-of-summer bursts of heat, and slow sizzling afternoons at the beach.

Not sure why that is. Maybe it reflects some deep-seated personal preference for summer over winter.

Or maybe southern Connecticut just tends to get hotter than colder, so I’ve had more calendar entries to choose from on the warm end of the scale.

Now that it’s winter enough for everyone, it seems like we’re due for an entry with some really savage cold, lest my readers get to thinking Fairfield County is some sort of tropical paradise.

Set the controls to … well, not the heart of the sun, exactly. Set ’em for January 1968.

Lyndon Johnson is president. The Beatles, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, and Jay and the Techniques (of Allentown, Pennsylvania) are on the radio.

And most of the United States is as cold as a whore’s goodbye.

January 8-11, 1968.

January 8-11, 1968.

We’ll choose the morning of January 9, and let the Associated Press tell the story (as reproduced on Page One of the Plattsburgh, N.Y., Press-Republican):

– Temperatures below freezing are clocked in 47 of the 48 contiguous states.

– Freezing rain, drizzle and sleet tie up roads from New Mexico to Oklahoma. Some parts of New Mexico — New Mexico! — receive six fresh inches of snow atop five already on the ground.

– A record low of 13 degrees is reported in Dallas.

– “Numerous deaths” are attributed to the weather; one assumes they were still being counted. (By Thursday afternoon, authorities would quantify the cold-related deaths at 82, with at least another 18 to 20 still under investigation.)

– Up to 10 inches of fresh snow fall in parts of the Northeast.

– A hotel fire in Philadelphia forces 350 elderly men and women, some naked, into the streets in 10-degree weather. Remarkably, none are killed in the fire, though 39 people are hospitalized.

(That’s just Page One. On Page Two we read about firefighters in Schenectady, N.Y., fighting two major downtown blazes in seven-below-zero cold, and a nationwide outbreak of Asian flu that’s killed 192 people in the Northeast alone.)

And that wasn’t the end of the cold. It kept going and going, all week long.

On Friday, Jan. 12, the New York Times reported that New Yorkers had endured seven straight days of below-freezing temperatures, with three of the days setting record lows.

The Automobile Club of New York reported receiving 23,000 phone calls since Monday the 8th from drivers unable to start their cars. Con Ed reported record demand for electricity, steam and natural gas. Commuter railways suffered major weather-related delays. And a ship just in from the North Atlantic turned around and left New York for Baltimore, hoping its winches and other equipment would thaw out enough there to allow for the unloading of cargo.

Speaking of Lyndon Johnson, as we were a while ago, the cold of January 1968 forced itself into his routine as well.

Cut to about 4:05 into the monthly film of Johnson’s activities produced by the U.S. government, and you’ll see footage of kids in fake fur-trimmed winter jackets, bopping up and down in the cold. You’ll also see adults wearing that sure-is-cold rictus grin that grown-ups get when they have to stand outside at official events in the wintertime.

The scene could pass for Albany, or at least Philadelphia.

And then you hear the voiceover: “On the 7th of January, some very chilly citizens of San Antonio gathered at Randolph Air Force Base.”

LBJ missed the very worst of the weather because he spent the first half of the month at his “Texas White House,” hosting Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and working on his State of the Union speech.

My grandparents, stuck in Connecticut not far outside New York City, didn’t have that good fortune.

I would like to say they kept moving and muddled through. But I see the canceled doctor’s appointment on the calendar, and I conclude that this cold snap was bad enough to force even the most stoic to the sidelines.

(I’m not sure I can blame cold-related befuddlement for my grandpa recording his doctor’s appointment at 12:30 a.m., rather than 12:30 p.m. He did that on other calendar entries. It seems to have been a repeated quirk of his, like buying lottery tickets.)

I also notice that my grandfather didn’t embellish extreme cold like he did extreme heat. There are no creative expressions for cold days — no “blisterbitchers” or “dingdongers.” Just extra-thick, extra-emphatic numbers with what look like long, trailing fingers of ice.

Maybe, for all his protestations about uncomfortably hot weather, he preferred that extreme to the other.

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It’s been a challenging winter for a lot of people, including me.

As I write this, the Lehigh Valley is about nine inches shy of setting a new record for its snowiest winter ever.

Temperatures this winter have threatened or surpassed records for cold, as well, and the local electric company reported a new one-day record for power demand. (A fair amount of the heating in central and eastern Pennsylvania runs on electricity.)

I used to eat these winters for breakfast when I was a kid in upstate New York. They were just standard operating procedure. I had no more idea than a penguin has that other climates existed.

And I still profess, as an adult, to like this weather. I watch hockey; I wear layers; I eschew a snowblower and hump the snow myself. I’m not near moving to Florida yet. I declare I never will, me, stomping my boot in the ice and setting my jaw firmly against the cold wind.

But … these real severe winters are not as much fun as they used to be. I can only close my eyes and pretend I’m in Quebec (or Rochester) so many times. I can only go back outside to clean up the snowplow’s wet, heavy leavings so many times.

And mentally evoking the hardy ancestors on the New England and French-Canadian branches of my family tree doesn’t work any more.

Tabarnac! they say. You look back too much. Stop invoking your ancestry as though it meant something. We lived our lives; this one is yours. Go live it as if someone 200 years later was looking back at you. And stop whining.

It was nice this past weekend — close to 50 degrees on Saturday, with an invigorating breeze. It felt like the dawn of spring.

But, as my grandpa’s calendar reminds me, we’re not out of the woods. Winter can stick around for weeks yet.

March 29, 1970.

March 29, 1970.

I seriously don’t know what I’ll do if we get nine inches of snow on Easter, in one of those snowstorms that begins with the work day and ends close to bedtime.

Well, yeah, I know what I’ll do. I’ll put on a flannel shirt and my trashy jeans, and go out to the driveway again, and spit defiantly into the snowbank, and start shoveling. That’s what my grandpa did in 1970, give or take a few details.

It will seem like a cold eternity … but I will once again shovel until the driveway and sidewalks and mailbox are cleared.

And when the snow finally melts, I will treasure the first crocuses of the permanent spring as though they were the Stanley Cup.

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As I type this at the start of March, weather forecasters are tossing around phrases like “omega block,” “atmospheric bomb” and “monster” to describe a developing blizzard that has the potential to devastate a good chunk of the East Coast in five days or so.

By the time this post runs, we’ll know how accurate the predictions were.

(Edit: That storm, a few weeks ago, didn’t hit eastern Pennsylvania. But another one is bringing us two to four inches of snow today.)

It’s been a cold, gray, rainy, windy winter … and a long one, even by the standards of someone who considers himself alternately a Rust Belter or a New Englander at heart.

And I wish it would end now, if not sooner.

I do not know how to jump-start spring (or summer). Absent a candle, I open another can of beer and curse the darkness.

My grandfather seems to have had something that brought warm weather a little closer. And this was around the time of year he turned to it.

March 18, 1975.

March 18, 1975.

I’ve written before that tomatoes were a staple crop in my grandparents’ yard throughout my childhood. (If you missed that post last year, go read it now. It’s better than this one.)

I don’t remember my grandpa having growth lights in his basement. I’m guessing he coaxed his tomato seedlings out of the soil simply by putting them next to the sunniest window in the house and dosing them with Miracle-Gro.

But clearly, he wasn’t waiting for consistently warm weather to get his crop started.

Maybe he started his tomatoes the day after St. Patrick’s from some sense of tradition, or some old-timer’s knowledge of just the right time to do such things.

Or maybe, like me, he was fed up with winter and looking for any outlet he could find that would bring warmer weather closer.

If you can put seeds into soil and start getting them to sprout, you can feel reasonably confident that you’ll pluck ripe, warm fruit from them sometime, if not necessarily immediately.

(His calendar entries for April 3 and 4, 1975, show temps down to 30 degrees, 50-mph wind gusts, and a note about “winter’s last blast.” So he knew when he planted his tomatoes — presumably inside — that Stamford wasn’t immune to one last wintry spanking.)

April 3 and 4, 1975.

April 3 and 4, 1975. Gotta love the barometer reading. Now, that’s attention to detail.

I could stand a seedling or two right now to bring the promise of warmer weather. I should cut the top off this empty can of Genny Bock, fill it with soil and seeds, and park it by the window.

‘Tis better to light a candle, and all that business.

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