I have decided to end Blizzard Week with the President’s Day Blizzard of 2003, which was the storm which had the biggest impact on our family. It was senior year, and Kelly was waiting to hear back from all the colleges she had applied to—from Miami up the east coast to Boston. Not one application had gone to a New Jersey college. We all remember the moment when Rowan was eliminated from the mix. It happened even before we arrived on campus when one of you mentioned all the cows they could see from the car windows. Kelly wanted to attend a school in a city—New York, Washington, Boston, Miami. She really had a thing for the University of Miami, but had not heard back from them by the time she headed to Boston with the forensics team for the annual tournament.
So she boarded the bus for a weekend of speech-making and fun on the campus of Harvard. On Sunday night, back in New Jersey, the first flakes began to fall and did not cease until Monday evening, dumping almost two feet of snow in town. Boston’s snow did not began until Monday and ended Tuesday, dumping 27.5 inches of snow—the most snowfall in a 24 hour period on record.
Kelly tells me they had to stay in Boston an extra day, which they all enjoyed. They did not, however, enjoy getting stuck on the Massachusetts Turnpike on their return trip, necessitating a wait a rest stop for another bus.
When she got home, I announced that we would be making a return visit to South Carolina the next month. “What about the trip to Miami?” she asked. I went on to inform her that while she was away frolicking in the snow, she had received a letter from USC informing her they she was awarded a scholarship and was invited to attend scholars weekend. Since she still had not heard from Miami, and it was now over a month after when the acceptance/rejection letters were supposed to be sent, the Florida trip was on hold.
We all know how the story ended. The blizzard cemented her decision to eliminate all schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and she loved what she saw at Carolina. She met Mark that year in her dorm, and later learned that he and his mom were standing in line behind us at breakfast one morning during Scholar’s Weekend. It was fate.
Stories always surface on the news about the increase in births after a storm or a power outage. In this family, a snowstorm in the Northeast resulted in the births of two babies, but ten and thirteen years later, not nine months.
February 3, 1985 was the date of Kelly’s christening. We were living “all the way up” in Westchester County, New York. At that time, 287 had not been completed to the New York border, so the ride to our house was not quite seventy miles, which is about the same distance as the ride to Aunt El’s. For some reason, most of our guests usually spent the night when they visited us.
We invited more relatives from New Jersey than we could provide overnight accommodations, so they would all be doing the trip in one day. Unfortunately, we had a snowstorm the night before, so we were quite concerned that the christening would have to be postponed. We did not want to do this because we had the food prepared and cake ordered, and I was worried about having it too late. After all, I was just seventeen days old at my christening, so six weeks seemed like I was pushing the christening envelope. If something happened to her, where would she go–heaven or limbo? The show had to go on, so Dad was assigned shoveling duty, and I was assigned prayer.
Maybe we had less snow than predicted, or maybe we were worried about everyone coming, but not leaving. I was a very nervous and inexperienced host in those days. Looking at the photos and the video, I think we were just wimps.
It was very cold that day, but the ceremony was in the afternoon so everyone had plenty of time to make the journey. Kelly did not have a pretty christening gown but rather a white sweater set. Everyone made it, including Aunt Marian and Uncle Tony, and the priest did not have a nasty attitude toward Dad like the priest at Casey’s christening in New Jersey. I would have been hunting for a new religion if that had happened the first time around.
As part of “Blizzard Week”, I thought I would share a few more snow anecdotes with you. Jamie reminded me about the February 1978 blizzard, when Dad walked from his apartment in Lake Hiawatha to our home in Boonton.
Grandma, Aunt Ar and I were vacationing in Florida, unaware when we left New Jersey the size of the storm we would be missing. We were gone before the first flakes hit—that I am certain because this storm, which began late Sunday afternoon, shut down the state for three days. All schools, businesses and airports were all closed. The mail was not delivered for two days, and it was only the second time in its 212-year history that Rutgers canceled classes.
Similar to what happened during the blizzard this past weekend, people were stranded in their cars and at the airport, and the Jersey shore suffered much damage as well. So when Dad realized he would be stuck alone in his apartment for a few days, he decided to hike to my house, where he could hang out with my brothers, Aunt El, and Grandpa. He was working at the same company as Grandpa, so he figured he could always hitch a ride to work with him if necessary.
Meanwhile, the three of us were down in sunny Florida. Aunt Ar was looking forward to catching some rays somewhere, but that never happened. While we had no snow, it was very cold at the beginning of the trip—30’s and 40’s cold. There was no sunbathing or swimming, so Grandma and I decided a trip to Cape Canaveral would be fun. Aunt Ar was not pleased, and I remember a lot of complaining on her part. I believe she has been harboring feelings of bitterness towards me since then. In retrospect, we should have left her behind at the hotel while we were getting educated about the wonders of space travel.
We then headed to Disney World where Aunt Ar and I made Grandma ride on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride by herself, while we were in another car together in front of her. It was funny to see the expression on her face at the end of the ride!
Sometime during that trip, we visited my Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe and I admit I don’t remember a single detail of that visit. If Aunt Ar finds out, she will laugh and blame it on my age. Was it that bad so I am blocking it out, or is my brain really beginning to deteriorate? It’s probably a bit of both.
All I know is that as cold as it was (and I do remember that the temperature warmed up by the conclusion of the trip), it was still far better than being trapped at home by the blizzard. I must say that I was very impressed with Dad for making the 3 ½ mile trip—up two hills in frigid temperatures between 3 and 15 degrees. He really did not enjoy being alone!
Continuing with my discussions of snowstorms for Blizzard Week 2016, I would like to tell you about the Blizzard of 1888 and a little boy named Leonard Blue, who was my grandmother’s uncle.
The day before the storm was warm and sunny. It was only one week before the start of spring. Daffodils had begun to bloom and the weather prediction was for “fresh to brisk winds, with rain, will prevail, followed by colder brisk westerly winds and fair weather throughout the Atlantic states.”
When people went to sleep Sunday night, it was raining. Everyone was caught off guard by what greeted them Monday morning—the “White Hurricane.” While the amount which fell in the city was recorded as “only 21 inches,” there were snowdrifts as high as the second floor of some buildings. Some areas of New York and Connecticut saw over four feet of snow, wind reached speeds near 100 mph, and the temperature hovered around zero.
When fourteen year old Leonard set out to work as a messenger that Monday morning, there were already huge drifts of snow. He was kept so busy he was unable to stop for lunch. At 2 pm he was sent to deliver a message to a man three miles away. He waited ninety minutes outside for a train, all while the wind and snow hurled around him. When he got to the address his employer gave him, he discovered that no one lived there.
No trains were running by then, so he began to walk—a mile and a half—before he fell down in the snow, exhausted and frozen, 3 ½ hours after he began his journey. He was found lying in the snow, unable to speak, by a stranger who brought him to his home where the man and his wife discovered that Leonard’s pants were frozen to his legs. He was badly frostbitten and in great pain, made worse by the fact that his left leg had been broken eight years previously after being run over by a farmer’s wagon. He spent the night with the stranger and his wife, and his parents (your three times great grandparents) were notified by a reporter from the New York Sun.
Moral of this story is that no matter how bad you think your job may be, it’s not as bad as that of poor little Leonard. None of you would ever be required by your employers to go out in a blizzard. They would have had to deal with me if they did.
The Blizzard of 2016. Dad and I watch the news reports and talk on the phone to Jamie and Casey. You had the food, the wine, the beer, the chocolate, candles, flashlights and batteries. You were all prepared. Your girl scout training and wonderful parents and grandmother taught you well.
The storm arrived much earlier in DC, but Casey left early and takes trains, so I was not worried. Chris was the only concern. Fortunately the brunt of this storm named Jonas was happening on a weekend. The stories compared this to the Blizzard of ’96. I remember it well.
That storm began very early on Sunday, so I took the three of you to church and sent Dad out with a grocery list. Everyone who was not at church was at Shop-Rite. Dad, undaunted by the large lines, tried to complete his mission before we returned from Mass. With lines snaking around the store from the cashiers back to frozen food, he made an executive decision to abandon his cart and go elsewhere. Bye-bye Shop Rite and hello Quick Chek. It was a risk he was willing to take.
It took ingenuity to complete his assignment, but Dad was up for the challenge. While he could not find bread on the shelves, he was able to find a substitute—hamburger rolls. No oatmeal, but they had oatmeal cookies. You get the idea. I think I was impressed by his resourcefulness.
As he looked around him, he saw familiar faces. They were not friends or neighbors, but rather, other ingenious folks like him who had also left Shop-Rite for the aisles of Quick Chek.
When the storm was over, we had more than two feet of snow. School was closed for a week, and thank goodness Margaret and George were living next to us by then. You had playmates, and I remember thinking, “I have another woman to help me maintain my sanity during that very, very long week.”
I learned to be more prepared in the future. The following year, my 1997 kitchen pantry closet was brimming with canned soup, mac and cheese, and Parmalat, which was milk in a carton with a shelf life of six months. I know it’s kind of creepy but the rationale for me was that it would only be used in a natural disaster, like a hurricane or a blizzard. When 1997 turned into a bust of a winter blizzard-wise, I opened the container and decided I would rather have the powdered milk of my childhood than super-heated long shelf-life milk.
So what this storm has confirmed to me is that I just can’t do that snow anymore. I just can’t! But with most of my family choosing to live there, I can’t put the worry behind me. It’s a mother and a family thing.
Today is Grandma’s birthday. She was the fourth child born to my grandparents, entering the world in an apartment on Main Street where Boonton Avenue meets Main. We all know she was named Helen because Jean was not a saint’s name (supposedly a Catholic requirement at the time), so she had to either be named Eugenia or something else. Grandma claimed the choice of the name Helen was a random decision, which has continued to haunt her during her entire life. Add the sadness at losing her easy-to pronounce five-letter Irish name when she got married, along with her denial of aging even at a young age, and you will understand why she embraced being referred to as “Aunt Jean” by more than just her nieces and nephews.
But back to my story….When she was born, my grandfather was working at a grocery store in town. Times were tough for her parents even before the stock market crash nine months later. But like my childhood memories, my grandparents did a wonderful job surviving those lean years and hiding their financial problems from their children.
She was five when her twin brothers were born, which was apparently a surprise to my grandparents. Ultrasound technology did not exist back then, so they were prepared for only one baby. But my grandmother was thirty-nine, and there was a history of twins in the family, so the odds of a multiple birth was increased. As I mentioned in Twins my grandmother almost died.
By that time, my grandfather had taken on a second job, working for a store that installed linoleum floors. When the twins were just eight months old, my grandfather lost his jobs, so he supported the family by doing odd jobs around town—laying linoleum occasionally and making signs for various companies around town who were familiar with his beautiful handwriting.
My grandmother was an expert seamstress, so she altered the children’s hand-me-downs so they always looked nice. She became adept at doing her own hair, so it always looked like she had been to the hairdresser. No one knew they were so poor.
Grandma was from a musical family. Her mother took piano lessons, and when Grandma was about seven or eight, she also took piano lessons at a cost of fifty cents for each lesson. I don’t know how my grandparents even afforded to pay that much, but somehow they managed. She was taking tap lessons from her cousin Gertrude as well, and after a year, my grandmother gave her an ultimatum: dance or piano. Tap won hands down! Although Gertrude was her primary teacher, she preferred Gertrude’s father, Uncle Jim, because he was a no-nonsense teacher and they learned even more.
She and Aunt Marian loved putting on shows together. They danced at different events, and the two of them were always last and brought down the house. She said to me, “We would look at each other and grin as people clapped at the parts that looked complicated. We just loved that!”
Grandma told me about dancing for the war veterans at a local hospital. She didn’t enjoy performing for them, because when the music began, the vets would looked up like they were hearing rockets. It made her sad, and she would always go home and cry.
When she got to high school, there would be music and dancing in the gym during lunch hour. Grandma usually skipped lunch so she would be able to spend the entire lunch break doing what she loved best. I think her love for dancing ignited the flame for Grandpa, who also was a great dancer.
You know about Grandma’s early jobs, beginning at the age of fourteen when she worked for the “obnoxious lawyer” who didn’t like her make-up, and how she later contributed her paycheck to her family after her father lost his job (Working 9 to 5 and More). So it was just a matter-of-course that she would be a working woman despite being a mother of five.
She always said she would not work for a second car or other “luxuries” like that, but only to help with the necessary family expenses. Working at a medical group was brilliant, because she often got our medical bills reduced or free as a perk of her employment. I know she enjoyed her employers and coworkers, but it could not have been easy for her to go to work every day at 4:00 until closing at around 9:00, or sometimes later. She did it for us. The house was always clean, the laundry done, and dinner was prepared. We all pitched in, but the weight was on her shoulders, and I don’t recall her complaining.
There are a lot of lessons I learned from Grandma—words of wisdom you might say—some of which I have passed on to the three of you. You all know the most important one which was taught to us at the dinner table: “It’s okay to spill the milk, but never, ever spill the wine.” I am sure Jesus probably spoke those words to the apostles at the Last Supper.
Grandma was self-sacrificing as a mother, but has always been stubborn as a woman. With the exception of canned tuna, she never lifted the embargo of fish imports into our home. Likewise is her permanent refusal of all yogurt products despite accidentally liking the frozen variety one time until she realize what she was eating. She won’t deny I am right.
Her sense of humor has grown more outrageous during the past few years, which is probably what makes her so well-liked by the nurses and aides. She is lovable to her friends, nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren. Even when she is not feeling well, she tries to hide it, not realizing that her adult children are still tattle tales and will spill the beans. It’s too hard to cover it all up. We share because we care.
I loved the basket the three of you sent to me for my birthday filled with my favorite things such as wine, plain M&M’s, York peppermint patties, the Amazon gift card and the wine glass with the South Carolina palmetto tree/crescent moon logo. It was so very thoughtful. The glass was my favorite, and I used it every day. Thus it is with a very heavy heart that I am admitting to the recent demise of that glass by nothing but sheer carelessness brought on by winter allergies. (I was reaching for a cough drop which was on the counter under the hanging glasses.)
I incorrectly thought I could avoid confronting you all with this admission of my guilt. The plan was to either secretly replace it or to claim to love it so much (I really did love it!) that I needed to know where you bought it so I could purchase a companion, and then purchase two.
So today I set out on my mission to replace it, and now there are ten people, exclusive of Dad, who are aware of my attempted deception. (I had already visited Palmetto Moon last week.) After a telephone call to the State Museum gift shop and describing the glass in detail, I was assured they had precisely what I needed to complete my mission. But alas, they did not. The glass they had was part of a set of four which they would not break up, and what they had was not quite as delicate as the glass you purchased.
Next, I headed to Adams Bookstore, where I found the exact, fragile, tall wineglass, but it had the Gamecock logo, not the palmetto-moon design. The very nice young cashier suggested I try Miss Cocky, but I dismissed that idea believing that the purchase would not have been made there.
I decided to try the gift shop at the Convention Center/Visitor Center gift shop, and may I mention that no one should go there expecting to find any gifts. It’s now a small snack bar with only a few plastic trinkets. When I explained my dilemma to the very nice man behind the counter, he answered first by saying, “Well now the tables are turned,” and then pointed me in the direction of Jewelry Warehouse. I could see you going to there. So over the river to Cayce I headed where I learned that my glass was not purchased at that store either.
The three women behind the counter put their heads together, one suggesting I should approach the problem by telling one of you that a “friend” wanted the glass. Another thought Hobby Lobby would have it, but the third woman, who had previously worked there believed it would not be at Hobby Lobby (Casey is probably happy about that!), and she proposed that I find a plain glass and bring it somewhere to be engraved. The other two women argued that my children never would have done that. “How about Carolina Pottery?” one offered.
So off I went to West Columbia, and after describing the glass to the woman at customer service who doubted they had it, she pointed me to the corner of the store where similar merchandise was displayed. No such luck.
I was tired, discouraged, and hungry by now, so I headed home, debating whether to go with the alternate plan of telling you all that I wanted a second, or tell the truth. But the lie made me uneasy, so I asked Dad, and he agreed that I should just be honest.
So now you all know what I did, and the question of the day is, “where in the world did you get that glass??”