Lessons from the Great Blizzard of '78

Written by LeMoyne Mercer. Posted in Taking Care of Your Life

Readers of a certain age will undoubtedly recall the Great Blizzard of 1978. (Where was Global Warming when we really needed it?) Actually, the Great Blizzard was a series of three separate storms that struck in January and February. The first storm bypassed Ohio but hit New England with nearly two feet of snow within 48 hours. We got our share during the second phase of the Blizzard.

The snow depth was bad enough even if it had been calm, but enormous drifts were created by winds of 50 to 70 miles per hour. Gusts were clocked at over 100 mph. With temperatures dropping to near zero, the wind-chill factor was 60 below. Thousands of people were stranded. The lucky ones were at home. The unlucky ones were in cars and trucks that couldn’t move. For the first and only time, the entire Ohio Turnpike was closed.

Very early on the first day of the storm, I went out to start my car to let it warm up before I left for work. Like a fool, I had left it in the driveway the night before instead of putting it in the garage. In those days, I was driving a 1977 Buick Estate Wagon. General Motors called it that because it was roughly the size of the Biltmore Estate. That was one fine car with a smooth, powerful 403-cubic-inch V-8 engine. Anyway, I put the key in the ignition and gave it a turn.

Rrrrrrr. No start.

Rrrrr. Still no start.


A click. Then nothing.

I went back in the house to call AAA for a jump start. The fellow who took my call just laughed.

“Take a number,” he said. “We have 962 calls ahead of you. We can probably be there by Easter.”

I was left with a rather ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, it looked like I was going to be late for work and I was working on an important project. On the other hand, I might miss work altogether and was starting to look forward to a “snow day” just like the kids.

Those of you who know Shirley—and there are lots of you—will recognize that I couldn’t get off that easy. This is a woman who absolutely thrills to a challenge. Tell her something can’t be done and she’s on it immediately with both feet.

Now, it happens that she had enough sense to park her little Toyota in the garage. Unfortunately, I had parked right behind her so she couldn’t get out even though her car started right up.

“Why don’t you jump your battery with my car?” she suggested.

“That’s a great idea,” I said, “except for one tiny, little detail. The jumper cables are six feet long and it is about 25 feet from the front of your car to the front of mine.” I was, by that time, beginning to like the prospect of a “snow day.”

“Maybe,” Shirley suggested, “we could jiggle my car around to shorten the distance.”

“We probably could change the angle a little bit,” I conceded, “but not enough so that a six-foot cable will reach all the way to my car.”

“Besides, that’s just plain dumb!” I thought to myself. Fortunately, it was one of those rare occasions when I was smart enough to keep my thoughts inside my head.

And then she uttered those words.

“You never know until you try!”

So, we tried.

Shirley volunteered to act as my guide while I moved her car forward a few inches and then back a few inches. Over and over and over. Each time I pulled ahead and backed up, the nose of her car came ever so slightly around to the right.

Until I had turned that little Toyota entirely around.

Inside the garage.

I pulled forward so the Buick and Toyota were nose to nose. Jumper cables connected, the Buick leapt to life.

And then I pulled forward into the garage. By the time we got the Buick started, there really was a “snow day” and we weren’t going anywhere for a week or so.

This experience has influenced the entire course of our marriage. There are two essential lesson we learned from the Great Blizzard of ’78. The first is, you really do never know until you try. The second is, ever since then, even when Shirley’s ideas seem to come straight from the mind of Lucy Ricardo, I am required to give them a shot.

LeMoyne Mercer is the travel editor for Healthy Living News.