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The size of a storm doesn't matter; the memories will always loom large.

Byline: Dorcus Smucker For The Register-Guard

For some reason my children have never been as impressed as I think they ought to be that I survived Minnesota's "Blizzard of the Century" in January 1975. At least once per winter, when we get just enough snow to cover the sidewalk, I lapse into rambling memories of that adventure.

"Mom and Becky and Margaret and I were home alone for most of it," I say, "in that old house we were renting, you know, down the road from where Grandpa and Grandma live now. Dad and Marcus stayed over at the new house to take care of the animals. Nobody knew it was coming, and they sent us home from school an hour after we got there, and it was snowing like crazy already.

"The wind blew so hard that this gritty snow blew in around the storm windows and the plastic over the outside and everything, and when we got up in the morning there were little piles of snow on the windowsills. We all slept downstairs to stay warm. Margaret remembers that the cylinders in the oil stove glowed red-hot and Mom was worried about the house burning down.

"When the storm was finally over there were drifts outside 10 and 15 feet high, and we could walk right on top of them without sinking down. It was like this bizarre world out there. We walked up on a drift higher than the top of the chicken house, and out by the field you could see a row of fence posts sticking up three inches out of the snow."

At this point I am lost in vivid memories - seeing that strange landscape, feeling the cold wind - but their eyes are glazing over. "Yes, Mom and you and Aunt Becky got so bored in the middle of the storm you decided to bake something," they say, no doubt thinking to themselves, "and then, Grandma, you walked 5 miles to school, uphill both ways."

No matter how often I try or how many adjectives I use, I seem unable to convey to my Oregon-grown children the intensity of that storm, the dangers, the isolation, the cold, the family bonding around the stove, and the sense, afterwards, that we had survived something terrible together.

Online resources confirm my memories, thankfully, so I know it wasn't just an exaggerated perception in my 12-year-old mind. The wind gusts reached 70 to 90 mph and produced snowdrifts up to 20 feet high, Wikipedia tells me. "The combination of snowfall totals, wind velocities, and cold temperatures made this one of the worst blizzards the upper Midwest has experienced."

Why is it that, much as they enjoy stories from when I was young, the kids yawn through this one? Maybe snow is something that you can't explain: You simply have to experience it for yourself.

When an unusual snowstorm hit the Willamette Valley recently, it wasn't anything like that famous blizzard. However, as I compared the two, I discovered a few similarities. I came to the surprising conclusion that my children found the recent storm as impressive and full of adventure - and would probably remember it as vividly - as I do that long-ago event.

This storm, for example, was just as unexpected as that one, with no indication that Saturday night's rain would turn to snow. We woke up expecting our normal Sunday-morning bustle to get ready for church, and were surprised to see a thick, steady snow falling, with everything but a few green circles under the pine trees already turned white.

How quickly a normal morning can be turned upside-down, the rain turned to snow, the green to white, and - impossible thought - would we stay home from church?

Sunday morning services for Mennonites are as dependable as the tides. They always are. And, barring sickness, we always attend.

The boys dressed in khaki pants and buttoned shirts. My husband, Paul, and I watched the snow accumulate. Finally, after a flurry of phone calls, the decision was made: Church was canceled, the only time in my kids' memory that this has ever happened.

Gleefully, they hauled winter supplies from the attic, traded dress clothes for snowsuits, and stomped outside to pound each other with snowballs and build large snowmen with stick arms and billed Trailblazer caps.

Canceling services because of the weather wasn't that unusual in Minnesota, but I remember that the difference during that blizzard was this: It was the only time in my life that church was canceled and no one phoned to say so. Everyone just knew.

A strange sort of boredom sets in when the weather confines you at home. Blizzard syndrome, I call it, remembering how antsy we got by the second day. Becky remembers that Mom tried to come up with activities, and we sat around the stove and played who-what-where, each of us writing down a noun, passing the paper on, and adding verbs and adverbs, and then laughing crazily at the resulting sentences.

The baking project, as I recall, was our idea. Becky and I flipped through Mom's collection of magazine recipes and chose Prune Loaf, which probably tells a lot about our food supply, but which turned out surprisingly good: the stewed prunes wrapped in sugary pieces of dough and baked in a loaf pan.

My husband staved off blizzard syndrome at our house by playing games with the kids whenever they came inside to warm up. They played a Monopoly game from start to finish, and I joined them for a three-hour Phase-10 marathon, whirring fruit smoothies in the blender for everyone between turns.

"Just think of all the memories we're making!" 17-year-old Emily gushed. "Dad's home all day. How often does that happen? And making smoothies, and playing games, and those huge snowmen. And all our good arguments - we'll always remember this!"

Who but a Smucker would consider our silly arguments good memories? Emily insisted, for instance, that rain was better than snow, and more romantic besides. "Wouldn't it be romantic to be proposed to in the rain?"

"With water dripping off your nose?" I snapped. "No. Romantic would be to be proposed to in the twilight, in the gently falling snow."

"Oh, Mom!"

A large machine rumbled by outside. "Hey, the snowplow just went!" Ben said.

"Snowplow?" Paul said. "That was the road grader. Snowplows are trucks with blades on the front and a load of sand in the back."

"What?" I said. "Snowplows are big yellow machines. How on Earth would a truck have made it through those big drifts after our blizzard? Even the snowplow had to back off and then rev up to get through those drifts, and the snow at the side was piled as high as the top of the school bus when we finally went back to school," I went on, as usual adding more details than anyone wanted to hear.

Our children missed only one day of school and then went back on Tuesday, after most of the snow had melted off the roads.

What will Oregon be like by the time my children have children? I wonder. I imagine Emily, at a sunny mid-February picnic, reminiscing: "Did I ever tell you about the big snow of 2008? We all stayed home from church, and Ben and Steven made these big snowmen, and?..."

"Yes, Mom, we know," her kids will say, rolling their eyes. "You all played Phase 10 at the kitchen table and argued about snowplows."

Or maybe, in the middle of the Willamette Valley's Blizzard of the 21st Century, Ben's children will say: "Remember how Dad always thought it was so cool that he survived that 5-inch snow back in 2008?"

And gathered around the stove, they will all giggle, warm and safe inside as the cold wind howls and the drifts pile thickly against the house.

Dorcas Smucker is a homemaker and mother of six. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Oregon Life
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 10, 2008
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