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The snow finally arrived early this morning. It’s a measly three inches, but it’s better than nothing. I don’t know who is more relieved to see it – me or Bill, the nice weatherman on Channel 18.
As for myself, I was afraid we’d eat through our extra provisions before the storm arrived. When Bill first sang out his alarm three days ago, I dashed to one of the three mega-markets a half mile down the road to load up our larder. Since the sun was shining, I didn’t even take time to throw on a coat because I could tell from the sound of Bill’s voice that this was going to be a big one, maybe a monster. Almost running through the aisles, I grabbed the essentials to sustain life: potato chips, doughnuts, granola bars, cheetos, anything that doesn’t have to be cooked. Oh, and because I’m trying to lose weight, a lot of Diet Pepsi.
Back home, I began my three-day, hour-to-hour, vigil along with Bill. He tried to stay cheerful, laughing and smiling every time he popped up on our HD screen, but I could tell he was rattled as the hours stretched into days and no flakes dropped from the heavens. To be honest, I began to lose faith, and fretted that I’d eaten my Weight Watchers points through the month of May in vain.
Bill, I think, has been worried about keeping his job. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if management has given him a warning: whip us up a fine winter storm, Bill, or get lost. “Who needs a TV weatherman if the weather is always fair?” I can hear those budget-cutting miscreants grousing.
And poor Bill. At the last moment, one approaching storm after another has jagged north to Ohio or south to Tennessee, or to Eastern or Western Kentucky, and skipped right over us folks in Lexington. As he apologized to viewers last night, he explained that he’s like a surgeon. He can get us prepped for surgery, get the operating room ready, the scalpel sterilized, the gauze at hand, but if the patient dies before the operation, there is nothing more he can do.
Bill loves a good storm more than anybody I ever saw. If it doesn’t kill people that is – Bill doesn’t have a mean bone in him. Actually, his enthusiasm for aberrant weather strikes an evangelistic chord. I truly believe he wants to save the world from the whims of nature.
He’s young enough to be my son, and that’s a shame, because I think he would have soared to stardom – maybe won a Nobel Peace Prize – if he had lived through the kind of winters we used to have before all this global warming got started, back when men were men, and the county couldn’t afford snowplows.
In the winter of 1976-77, we were living in Ashland in a cold house that sat about two miles from the Ohio River. I had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and was expecting our third child in March. Cynics may say that my personal circumstances have exaggerated my memory of that winter, but I beg to differ. According to the people who keep track of these things, the snowfall that December, January, and February was twice the annual average. The snow came to a crescendo near the end of January when the Ohio River Valley was hit with the tail end of a blizzard straight out of Buffalo.
But it wasn’t the snow that stopped us in ’76-’77 – it was the cold that wouldn’t let any of it melt. December’s first snowflake was still with us when the spring thaw came. The thermometer bottomed out in mid-January at minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Ohio River froze solid. The bold walked from one shore to the other. The timid stayed inside wrapped in quilts and coached their husbands on how to deliver a baby “just in case.”
We didn’t think the next winter could get any worse here, but it did. In January, 1978, nearby Cincinnati was hit with a jaw-dropping 46 inches of snow, and upriver in Ashland we had about the same amount. But every part of Kentucky got at least 23 inches of snow that month according to records kept by the state climatologist, Glenn Conner. Early February dumped 11 more inches on the region.
Hemmed in for weeks at a time with an infant and two small children, I decided one desperate day to bundle up the kids and walk to my next door neighbor’s house for coffee and human companionship. The Donner Pass would not have looked more treacherous to me as I ventured out into the high, narrow tunnel carved by shovels that connected our front door to what might be left of civilization.
We’d made it to what vaguely looked like the street, when one of the girls took a step off course and vanished from sight. Somehow, juggling an infant in one arm and frantically pulling and digging with the other, I rescued the child before frostbite set in. We hurried back into our cave and didn’t venture out again until the bears told us the flowers were blooming.
Bill would’ve gotten a kick out of those Kentucky winters in the ’70s. He’s a man born too late to fulfill his destiny.