Forty years ago today, a single storm dumped over forty inches of snow on Snowstorm City. It’s one of our most famous blizzards. And even though that snowfall record has been topped since, that storm is still the one I remember the best. I was four years old. Well, four-going-on-five, which is practically a grown-up.
The wind piled the snow into big drifts that curled, like ocean waves that have chosen to stand still. The weather stayed cold, so none of the snow melted. The wind kept whipping all that beautiful whiteness around into new and beautiful shapes, gathering it especially along tree lines and snow fences. In the rural area outside Snowstorm City where we lived, the snow stayed clean and white, even on the roads, which did not get plowed for days.
We spent every spare moment outside in that wonderful snow, after grudgingly putting on all the heavy winter clothing our mother made us wear. We were a staircase of small children – my siblings, me, and the neighbor boy – three, four, five, six, and seven. Bossy Neighbor Boy, who at the grand age of seven considered himself an expert on many things, including snowfort building, was the type to always greedily claim the biggest snow drift for himself, but after this storm, there were more than enough spots in the snowdrift for everyone. My two older sisters worked together on one fort, and I shared a fort with my brother, who was only three, but a tireless worker when it came to scooping out snow.
Building a snow fort, when you've got a lot of snow to work with, is very much like building a sand castle, except the whole thing is much bigger.
The forts began as caves scooped out of snowdrifts, caves big enough to hold a crowd of small children when we gathered around the thermos of cocoa my mother would send out. (She used our camping stove to heat it up since our electricity was out, of course.) Soon we began digging tunnels between the caves, so that the drift became a maze that we could crawl through. Brother and I, being the smallest and lightest, were the first to discover that we could walk atop the drift in some spots, and soon our snow cave had an upstairs. Digging a tunnel down into the cave below was of course the next step. I worked from underneath, and my brother worked from the top, and soon I could see his boots kicking through. I jumped back, and he came slithering into the cave, covered in snow and laughing at our triumph.
Oh, it was a wonderful storm. When I talked to my parents on the phone today, wishing them a happy anniversary (they have been married 48 years), they too reminisced about the big storm of 1966. My father says he put his downhill skis on and went out to the highway because he thought it would be cool to say that he skied on the highway. Red-haired Sister is still angry at Bossy Neighbor Boy because he told her she should try taking her boots off, and she did, and of course, she ended up with frostbite. My mother remembers a nurse finding her way to our house, saying she had not been home in days. She walked down from another road where her car was stuck, and my mother fed her lunch.
We've had bigger storms since that one – we got 48 inches of snow in 24 hours on a March day in the early 90s, which was some kind of record – but since I am several feet taller, no new record will ever match the experience I had that winter. I remember waking up to a completely transformed world. Huge drifts of snow glittered in the side yard, the fields, and even on the roads. Familiar landmarks – the picnic table, the lilac bushes, the well, the wagon, the row of small pine trees – had disappeared completely, buried. And I had the freedom to spend hours exploring that incredible landscape, hills of shifting white ready to be made into anything my imagination could think of. I was a child. And figuring out where the next snow tunnel should go was the biggest responsibility I had.