Monday, January 26, 2015

When Blizzards were Blizzards

Earlier this winter, my brother Doug and his wife Nancy endured a Buffalo snowfall with accumulations recorded between five and seven feet----but enough about them.  Their storm can’t be compared to the one Donna and I survived when we lived there, the historic Western New York Blizzard of ‘77.  In those days, before the environmentalists got their hands on our atmosphere, America was cranking out pollutants to beat the band, and Buffalo was a major band beater.  The weather pattern then was as follows:  In Buffalo’s summer, which usually fell sometime between the first and fifteenth of August, industrial waste would block the sun’s rays and help to hasten the season we were famous for, winter.  In winter, moisture from Lake Erie would condense around the various toxins in the clouds, and the result would be the descent of huge, semi-metallic snowflakes, and lots of them. 

Yes, other cities received occasional snow pollution; my brother Kenny, who as a child in Baltimore would catch snowflakes on his tongue, still has tongue shrapnel, which along with his suspicious-sounding last name, makes it tough for him to get through airport security.  But Buffalo snow was renowned for its high metallic content.  When the mountains of snow eventually melted, almost always before the Fourth of July, our kids would earn spending money raking up the metal fragments in the yard and selling them back to one of the local steel plants.  The air pollution wasn’t especially good for our lungs, but in those days, you must remember, lungs were toughened by the second-hand smoke everyone inhaled in public places.

Let the record show that the recent snow in Buffalo was comprised entirely of young, flighty November flakes.  By contrast, the Blizzard of ‘77 used only mature, January snow.  In Buffalo, January flakes are ripe and plump, and they hit like mini-snowballs.  The flakes in that blizzard were especially fat; every time three of them landed on each other they formed a snowman.  Donna and I were in Northeast Philly visiting our friends, Wayne and Phyllis Clapier, when we heard a forecast of heavy snow for western New York, which didn’t alarm us.  If at that point they had called it the historic blizzard of ‘77 we might have been more concerned, but no one got around to naming it until later.  It’s also true that at the time I didn’t put much stock in meteorologists’ forecasts because I thought, “What qualifies someone who studies meteors to make predictions about the weather?”  It has since been explained to me that meteorologists focus not on meteors, but on meteorites, and anything that plunges into our atmosphere must have some effect on it.  So I stand corrected.

We encountered the storm on our return trip.  Huge snowballs were pounding our windshield, and somewhere along the stretch of I-90 between Syracuse and Buffalo the road conditions grew hazardous, even by western New York standards.  The snow was falling so fast that plows couldn’t keep up with it, vehicles were being stranded, and polar bears were carrying away the unfortunate occupants.  There was some concern expressed from the young mother in the passenger seat about the wisdom of proceeding.  She pointed out that our son Nathan, almost two, and our daughter Grace, about five months old, were in the back seat, covered with frost, the way the polar bears prefer their dessert.

But the driver was undaunted.  He shook his fist at the storm, cursing the great white beast, and vowing to pursue it to the ends of the earth to avenge the loss of his leg.  He would have used a direct quote from Moby Dick if he had the sort of memory that could do such things.  His wife reminded him that he still had his full quota of legs, and if he had read to the end of the book, he would know that things didn’t end well for Captain Ahab and his crew.  The good news for the passengers of this vessel was that soon the New York Thruway was closed and Ahab was forced to bring the little Toyota Pequod to the nearest port.  Thankfully, we found a motel with a vacancy, where we spent the next several hours regaining circulation in our extremities. 

After an enjoyable day or two in a single room with an infant and a toddler, the snow was still falling and the thruway still closed.  This was problematic, because we didn’t have enough money with us to pay for another night.  For the benefit of our young readers, let me explain:  In those days, we didn’t use plastic cards* for money, we used paper money, and sometimes we would run out of it.  Even though it was just made of paper, it was backed by real gold that was stored in a big fort called Knox, in Kentucky.  This seemed to work out fine until one year a creepy man with a gold finger snuck into the fort with his band of thugs.  The man with the gold finger didn’t steal the gold; he contaminated it so we couldn’t use it.  You may be interested to hear, boys and girls, that he had a big Asian bodyguard with a magic metal Frisbee hat called a derby.  Can you say derby?  Now that America’s gold is contaminated, we use plastic money, and we never pay any attention to Kentucky unless there’s a horse race, which, oddly enough, is also called a derby.  Apparently, even though he helped ruin our gold, the people in Kentucky named their horse race after the magic metal Frisbee hat worn by the bodyguard of the man with the gold finger. 

And boys and girls, there is one other odd thing about what happened to our gold.  The bodyguard who wore the magic hat had a very odd name.  Can you guess the odd first name of the bodyguard?  Did you guess Rumplestiltskin?   That was a good guess; but no, the first name of the bodyguard with the magic hat was Odd, and you’ll have to agree, no name could be as odd as Odd.  If you’re wondering, his last name was Job, like when you have to take out the trash or do the dishes or contaminate America’s gold reserves.  Now please hand this story back to your mom or dad and go find some odd job to do.

What do you mean they’re no longer interested?   Go back and tell them that I remember now what my point was.  We were out of money, so we would have to leave the motel, but we still couldn’t get home.  So I opened the telephone directory (which was a big paper book full of names and addresses and phone numbers) and I found the name of a local pastor.  I explained that we had been stranded by the snowstorm, and I asked if maybe there was a widow in his church who would let us stay there until things cleared up, in exchange for some shoveling.  This is where the story gets interesting.  Well, not yet, but maybe soon.  The pastor I spoke to, a Baptist fellow, invited us to wait out the storm at his house.  Apparently none of the widows in his church had survived the blizzard. 

The problem was getting there. The snow was so deep at the door that we had to use the window.  I volunteered to go first, but I wasn’t expecting the pack of arctic wolves that attacked me.  I tried to run, but the deep snow made it impossible.  One or two of them grabbed me by my boots and dragged me to their lair.  I remember thinking, when I saw that the destination was their lair, it would have been more poetic if they had dragged me by my hair.  The head wolf, a fellow they called Alfa, which I assumed was short for Alfalfa, explained that it was nothing personal, but they were going to have to dine on me, as they hadn’t had anything to eat in a while, and they had lots of mouths to feed.  I tried to reason with him, as he seemed a reasonable chap, but they already had a big fire going and he ordered his minions to place me on it.  Thankfully, just as they did, I awoke in the bed in our motel room in the middle of the night.  Then it all became clear to me.  There must have been a wizard in the wolf lair, perhaps disguised as a member of the pack, and in all of the commotion he had whisked me out of there and back to safety.    

Somehow we got to the pastor’s home, and he and his family were gracious hosts.  After a few days, we were able to resume our journey, and proceed to the general location where we thought we had left our house.  Therefore, I don’t want to hear any whining from Doug about modern blizzards.  No, I haven’t heard any whining yet, but I write this as a preventative measure.   

When I think of snow, there’s a wonderful verse of Scripture that comes to mind:

“Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18)

The prophet Isaiah was addressing the people of Judah who had turned away from the worship of the Creator, and had descended into idolatry.  Their sins were blatant---they couldn’t be missed.  They were bright red, like scarlet---like crimson.  But God was offering a way of forgiveness and restoration.  If they would repent, their sins would be covered.  Their sins would become as white as snow, as pure and clean as wool. 

What God said to Judah, through His prophet Isaiah, is true for each of us.  As horrendous as our sins may be---as blatant and as evident to others, or just to us and to the Lord, the sacrifice provided by “…the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world…” (John 1:29), is sufficient to cover them.  He is the one foreshadowed in the Passover, the innocent, spotless Lamb of God slain for the sins of others.  Have you cried out to the Lord, confessing your sin and embracing the Savior He has provided?  Have you said, “God forgive my selfishness, my pride, my lust, my anger, my hatred, my rebellion, my discontentment, disobedience, ungratefulness, idolatry,” or whatever particular sins may be known only to you and God? 

Have you said, and meant in your deepest being, something like this,
I know I have sinned against you.  Forgive me.  I believe that Jesus lived a sinless life, and then went to the cross as my substitute.  I believe that he rose again, and lives today, and I trust him when He says, “…he who believes in me has everlasting life.”  (John 6:47)

If so, then you may be sure that your sins are covered, just as those of the thief on the cross, to whom Jesus said, on the declaration of the man’s simple faith, “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:43)

The snow that falls from heaven and covers our sins has no pollutants, and the depth of it can never be measured.  It can’t be purchased with plastic, or with all the gold in Ft. Knox. 

“…you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)



* Back before the war, as I recall, my old friend Sam Hee Haw Wainwright offered me a chance to get in on the ground floor of plastics, but I was so tied down by the old Bailey Building and Loan that I had to pass on it. 

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