Tuesday, February 01, 2011

My Blizzard of 78 Adventure

I was 18 years old when the biggest snowstorm in my memory thundered through this area. I've never written about this adventure but I guess it's time!

In June of 1977, I accepted a job at the now-defunct Ries' Furniture Co. It was there that I met the most gorgeous man in the world! Jim was a salesman and, while you may not believe in this, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, it was totally one sided. I fell for him like the proverbial ton of bricks and he barely knew I was alive.

Yet another impediment to my dreams of happy-ever-after with the gorgeous furniture salesman was my boyfriend, Dick. Yes, that was really his name. Dick was a minor celebrity in South Bend, a disc jockey for the teen radio station in the late 70s. Things had been cooling off in our relationship, at least on my part, and I was ready to end things with him and turn my future toward the man of my dreams. Dick had other ideas. When I tried to end things on the phone, which was the medium by which the majority of our relationship took place, he insisted that we go out to dinner. He needed to see me face to face. I agreed and so begins my blizzard adventure...

Now remember, this is 1978. It was before there was a Weather Channel, before the local news channel could afford a real meteorologist whose job it is to scare the crap out of the citizenry with dire predictions of doom and gloom falling from the sky so that every man, woman and child in the county was stocking up on milk, eggs and bread like it was the apocalypse and they better be able to make breakfast when it was over.

It was January in northern Indiana. Of course it was snowing. It never occurred to me that it might do something else in January.

By the time dinner was over I felt I'd been very clear about my intentions. It wasn't him, it was me. (Yes, we used that one back then too). I was sad that I'd hurt him but my decision was final. We got into his conversion van with Aladdin's Magic Carpet scene painted on the side and started driving. I say driving but mostly what we did was buck through snow drifts and do donuts on the mostly empty streets. I began to realize that this was more than just a little January storm. We made it as far as the parking lot across the street from his house in Mishawaka before he decided it would be suicide to try to drive me all the way home to South Bend. How convenient was that?

Once inside, Dick began the campaign to win back my heart. I was trapped in his house by the storm and I was under siege. I retreated, he advanced. Finally, I just had to get really mean. My knee came a fraction away from a very sensitive area before he realized I was not going to resume our previous relationship. Now he was angry but he wisely kept a safe distance.

He had two large dogs who lived primarily in the basement. They were down there whining, needing to go out to do their thing. To my relief, Dick stomped down the basement stairs to let them out into the back yard. This was my chance to escape. I opened the front door, intending to sneak out and make a run for it and met with a solid wall of snow. The snow had drifted up to the gutters of his one-story house. I pushed my arm in and pulled it back. Nothing. It might have been ten feet thick for all I knew. Then I heard Dick screaming and running up the basement stairs.

He reached the kitchen, still screaming. I couldn't see what the problem was till he turned from the sink and I could see that his arm was gashed open from his wrist to his elbow and blood was spurting everywhere! In his anger he'd gone downstairs to let the dogs out the door of his walkout basement and shoved hard on the glass of the storm door not realizing that the snow was piled up against it. His arm went straight through the glass.

I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. He was screaming at me to do something! I turned and looked at the wall of white outside his front door and just panicked. He was going to bleed to death right there in front of me and, to make matters worse, I'd just broken up with him! I was convinced I'd go to hell for this. Think, think think! What should I do?

Did I call 911? No 911 in use in Indiana. Did I call the operator to tell her to send an ambulance? No. Wouldn't have mattered anyway, the ambulances weren't able to move in the storm.

I called the radio station where he worked! Come on, I was only 18 and confronted with a never before seen snow anomaly and what appeared to be about a gallon of blood gushing out of my ex-boyfriend's arm. What would YOU do? Besides, it turned out to be the right thing. The disc jockey went on air with Dick's address saying anyone who could get there would be saving a life. In the meantime, I wrapped up his arm with a kitchen towel and waited for him to die or start trying to kiss me again, neither of which was appealing to me.

What seemed like moments later, a giant of a man wearing a ski mask over his face, crashed through the drift in front of Dick's door, strode into the house without a word, hiked Dick over his shoulder and ran out the door with him. No kidding. I grabbed our coats and followed him through the snow to a giant vehicle idling on the front lawn, or where the lawn would have been if it wasn't buried in three feet of snow. The Abominable, as I thought of him, never spoke a word. He drove us to the hospital emergency entrance, opened the door of the truck, hauled the now barely conscious Dick out and into the ER. He plopped him in a chair and went back out the door. To this day, I have no idea who he was or what he looked like. He may have rescued hundreds that night.

By the time the hospital physicians pumped a few pints of blood back into Dick and sewed up the gash in his arm and filled him full of drugs, the Civil Defense had gotten their act together. They took us back home where I led Dick to his bed, covered him with blankets and left him to sleep it off. I thought about cleaning up the blood in the kitchen but one look convinced me that my stomach was never going to stand still for that. It was nearly 6 a.m. and I wanted nothing more than to be at home. So, I put on my boots and my coat and my gloves and my hat and proceeded to do the stupidest thing in my life, oh alright, the second stupidest. I decided I was going to walk to my home, seven miles away. I know it was seven miles because I drove the route I took later that spring.

At first, it wasn't so bad. It was starting to get light out and the snow had stopped for awhile. The wind was still blowing hard but it was behind me. On the side street where he lived, no plow had been through but there were some vehicle tracks, maybe from the Abominable, so I was able to walk without too much effort. It didn't take long to realize I'd made a big mistake. I reached the corner and the wind hit me in the face like a train. I had to lean forward to keep from falling over backward. The wind had erased any tracks and I was walking through snow up to my hips. I was also frozen. The temperature was dropping and it was snowing hard again. There was no traffic moving anywhere. I was on Mishawaka Avenue, just crossing Logan Street, when I saw the first vehicle. I tried to flag it down but they just drove past like they didn't see me. Actually, they probably didn't see me. I'm sure I was completely snow covered.

I finally made it to Ironwood. A single path had been plowed and I walked it. The snow on either side of the road was well over my head and it was almost perfectly silent. I couldn't see the houses I knew were there. It was like being on another planet. I don't know how else to describe it. One good thing, the height of the snow blocked the wind and I was fairly certain I was actually going to make it home alive. I turned onto Pleasant Street, which had no path plowed through it but at least I knew I could make it one more block to home. What I wasn't prepared for was the drift that completely covered my car parked in front of the house. I climbed over it without even realizing it was there.

I made it inside where I collapsed on the floor, much to my mom's surprise. She didn't know I was walking home. It was one of the nicest things I ever did for her.
Oh yea, I got the guy. It took some serious effort on my part but Jim finally realized I was the girl of his dreams.