Saturday, January 23, 2016

Blizzard of 78

With the threat of all this snow - I thought it a good time to re-post my memories of the Blizzard of 78 which remains the blizzard against which all other blizzards are measured in New England. 

At the time of the Blizzard of 78, I was almost 12. I remember the time as being a time of lots of snow, no school and of financial opportunity. 

I grew up in the inner city part of Worcester - near Clark University. Where I lived we had neighborhoods of immigrants (mostly Irish, Greek and French Canadian) and college students. We weren't rich (hardly) but there were plenty of kids in the neighborhood and we were never bored. 

The snow was a financial windfall for me and my friends because we would roam the neighborhoods shoveling out people for money. If I recall correctly, it was normally $5 for a car and $10 for a driveway and front walk. Many of us had regular customers and it was fairly easy to find college students who either didn't have a shovel of their own or who would just rather not do the work themselves. 

There wasn't any off-campus parking to speak of and most Clark students with cars would park on the street. When the plows cleared the streets - these cars were left under 3 feet of snow. Looking back, if I was a college student then - I would have paid a kid $5 to shovel my car too. 

Back then (and the custom still remains throughout New England today) once a spot on the street was cleared - a folding chair or some other placekeeper would be placed in the spot when the person drove off. Pity the fool who took someone else's spot. It was not uncommon to see people break the windows of trespassers, blockade them in or cover the car in twice as much snow as had been removed in the first place. 

The Blizzard of 78 was also a time of great fun. 

The most popular activities were "snagging", sledding and throwing snowballs at cars. Each of these activities deserve some comment because they can easily be misunderstood when placed into today's context. 

Snagging was my favorite and I plan a post again soon just on the art of snagging. In other parts of the country snagging was also known as "skitching" or bumper riding. Basically, you would sneak behind a car, crouch down and grab the bumper and then ski away as the car pulled off. It was great! Snagging is one of those activities that most of the people from my generation and geography did but that is no longer done by today's generation (lots of reasons that I'll probably address in a longer post). I'll suffice it to say that I loved snagging.

Sledding is pretty common but it should be noted that we didn't sled with any of the plastic type sleds or inner-tube types they use today. We had the wooden sleds with the red metal runners. Every year at least one kid from the neighborhood broke an arm or a leg sledding. It was less safe but somehow more fun. 

Throwing snowballs at cars is something I hesitate to mention in case my kids read this but it's what we did. Like snagging - this is another activity that has gone the way of the dinosaur now that kids have more entertainment options. 

I know that "throwing snowballs at cars" must sound awful to some people but to us it was like a sport. It had certain rules. No old ladies (you would get a "white wash" for hitting an old lady's car - even if on accident). If a person was driving alert to the possibility of getting hit - they were normally left alone. We looked for people who were driving oblivious to their surroundings. Jarring them back to reality was good fun. Buses were great because they were big targets and the drivers were prohibited from stopping the bus and giving chase to us pesky kids. Oblivious drivers with a window cracked open because they were smoking a cigarette were the best. A good throw would hit the top of the window and at least half of the snowball would get the driver. 

Probably the most memorable thing I did during the Blizzard of 78 was to jump from my friend's second floor balcony onto the snow drifts below. We would do this over and over until we got tired or bored. 

Like I said - I know to many people this stuff will sound awful but it was what my childhood was like and I offer no apologies. 

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