Missing the Storm
Weather-related incidents can mark the mental timeline we use to navigate our past. As one ages, and milestones become fewer and further between, the catastrophes of Mother Nature can help anchor us the way, say, an important national calamity can (do you remember the year of the Challenger explosion or the year the Iran Hostage Crisis began? I bet you do. 1986 and 1979, respectively, for those of you playing along at home). I still fondly remember the snow storm of ’79, less fondly the heat wave of ’95, and in Elmhurst where I currently live, people still talk about the flood of ’87. Unfortunately, they’ll probably also be talking about the flood of 2010 for years to come, the Storm of the Century apparently occurring now every twenty-five years or so.
Floods are particularly harsh disasters to look back on with any kind of nostalgia, but other storms can foster warm memories or inspire animated yarns. We may not be able to change the weather, and we may lean on the weather for small talk far too often, but living through a natural disaster makes for some good storytelling. My grandfather used to regale me with stories about the weather, including the blizzard of 1947 in Milwaukee, when he had to abandon the city bus he drove for a living and head for a stranger’s home for shelter. My son and I like to talk about the storm of August 2007, when we had to flee the highway in favor of Fry’s Electronics, and how it took us an hour to drive the five miles home due to fallen trees at every turn.
Storms can also bring us together, igniting a sense of community that’s so often absent from our lives, especially during the fleeting daylight of winter, when days seem to last no longer than an episode of The Office. When my wife and I were living in New York in 1995, we knew no one in our apartment complex until the day it snowed. Suddenly, every abled body was outside with a shovel, unearthing their cars like ancient artifacts. The forty plus inches of snow in Chicago during December of 2000 helped acclimate my family to our new home as we met neighbors almost daily while we hoisted shovels of snow from our driveways and sidewalks.
As for 2011, I’ll never recall the great snow of two weeks ago when we were hit with twenty-plus inches the way I do past blizzards, because my wife and I happened to be in Las Vegas that week, the first time we’d been away from home without the kids for more than two nights since 1998. And wouldn’t you know it? We missed the biggest snow fall since 1967. Vegas was great, but while we watched the Weather Channel for images of driving snow and the sounds of the very bizarre and, to me, heretofore unheard of “thundersnow,” I wished we could be experiencing it firsthand with the kids. They’ll forever remember 2011 as the year of the blizzard. I’ll remember it as the year my wife and I broke even.
At least, that’s what I thought until four days later. Now we’ll all remember 2011 as the year the Packers won Super Bowl 45. Fortunately, not all events that anchor our memories are weather-related.