Tuesday opens. Just a light dusting of snow on the cars parked overnight out front. Is this a tease? Or is this the best that you can do!
Soon we will know. The third greatest snowstorm in Chicago history. All in my lifetime. I don’t even remember the Great Snow of 1999. Is that right? A dozen years ago and I don’t remember. Lost in the mud of my early middle age.
But 1967. Yes, that I remember. Right in the sweet spot of my memory function. Twelve years old. I can tell you the Sox starting rotation, the names of most of my classmates at Ascension, the Thursday night lineup on ABC.
And about the end of January snowstorm that kept on coming, kept piling up, unanticipated, unknowable in those days when TV weathermen drew cartoons on white paper to fill their 90 seconds. They knew it was snowing in that minute, that it was likely going to be snowing 10 minutes from now and that eventually it would stop. That’s your forecast.
But this snow didn’t stop for days. In our South Oak Park neighborhood, the only place I knew or cared about, it altered the physical landscape in indescribable ways. All the usual landmarks were smoothed over. Buried. Curbs were no longer relevant. The street was under two feet of snow. The last car had passed 18 hours ago. Snowplows had not been spotted in a day. This being Oak Park, the cars had been dutifully put away in garages before the snow came and now they were 3,000-pound, 17-foot-long, no-wheel-drive paperweights, fully irrelevant to our new reality.
The 700 block of South Taylor was silent in ways we had never experienced. The snow had stopped all movement. Yet there were dozens of kids on that block, mainly six to a house. It adds up. We were not to be contained. There was a new universe to be explored. And so we came out and we stayed out. The grownups followed.
Odd in looking back, and maybe my perception is right or maybe it was limited by being 12, but my memory is that the connections were between the kids and, then by extension, to the adults. The kids knew the kids, and the kids knew the parents of their friends, and the kids knew the adults with grown kids or no kids because we always played outside and always said hello when people passed.
But many of the grownups didn’t know the other grownups. They didn’t have a lot in common beyond living side by side in houses that almost touched. We had our cop and our ComEd worker, our housepainter and our lawyer, our doctor and our preacher. In Oak Park in 1967 most everyone was white, but we were champions of economic and career diversity.
So that storm was, in those pre-block party days, a great unifying force. The paperweights had to be dislodged somehow and the men were just the ones to do it. With their shovels and their muscles, they dug out the alley. In my mind’s eye they were shoulder-to-shoulder, moving north to south, heaving snow into the narrow crevices between garages. They had faith that if they dug out the alley, eventually their village would arrive to plow out the streets. And eventually it happened that way.
Gradually the snow stopped. And the snowplows found their way to our block. And the shoveled alley allowed the ’62 Chevy station wagon a path to the street. And the 700 block of Taylor was reconnected to the grid.
A blizzard of memories.