Berger’s Burg: Think the Blizzard of ‘96 was bad? Wait

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“The weather outside is frightful but, dear, it’s so delightful, That as long as we’ve no place to go. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!" - Sammy Kahn and Jule Styne 1946

People still talk about the Blizzard of 1996 in New York. You remember that blizzard — slippery roads, rail lines, subways, and buses stalled; unending mountains of snow to shovel; and no place to park your car. Yes, folks, that was a bad one, but I remember a few other blizzards that I will remember forever.

Back in 1947, a snowflake or two was innocently dropping on the city. It was the Friday in December just before Christmas. I was a young boy, working after school, delivering packages for my brother Jack, who was the boss. I had finished my last delivery and was waiting for Jack to finish his day so we could go home together when out of the blue, it came. I looked out the window and was shocked to see nothing but unexpected alps of white snow rising up everywhere.

“Jack,” I said, “we better start for home now. The snow is really coming down.”

“No,” was his reply. “I first must send you to mid-Manhattan to deliver an important package.” Not wanting to become a snowbound casualty, I said, “Jack, look outside. The weather outside is not fit for man beast or delivery boy. Let’s go home now!”

Placid Jack then became very angry. He grabbed the package, said he would deliver it himself, and darted out the door into the bitter ice and snow.

I found my way home, and Jack arrived two hours later wrapped in snow. He didn’t speak to me for a week. Did I do right in refusing Jack? Hmmm perhaps not because now, after every major snowstorm, I still see Jack’s angry face in every snowflake. I promised Jack I would never refuse him again, but his angry face is forever etched in my memory. That was the famous “Snowfall of ‘47.”

In February 1969, I was married with two young sons and living in Whitestone. Gloria was anxiously awaiting that day to begin her new job as a kindergarten teacher. I, recently promoted, was also preparing to travel to a new work location The snows came and although not monumental in proportion, created havoc in Queens. The then mayor, John Lindsey, unwisely opted to direct the city’s entire snow removal operation to Manhattan only, ignoring Queens completely. The accumulated snow quickly turned to solid ice, crippling northeastern Queens. It was by then too late to begin regular snow removal. The ice had become impenetrable.

Buses and cars could not travel, people could not walk, and deliveries could not be made. Gloria and I were unable to get to our new jobs. In addition, our milk supply ran out the second day and the supermarket bins were bare. We tried to borrow milk from our neighbors but to no avail. They had small children of their own. Our kids had to survive on water.

The isolation lasted for five full days. Mayor Lindsey never recovered from that political blunder. That was the “White Whitestone Storm of ‘69.”

In March 1974, the family drove to Buffalo, N.Y. to visit my sister Florence. When we arrived, she encouraged us to go to Toronto for a few days to see its sights. However, on the second day there, Florence called and frantically said that we should return to Buffalo immediately. A major snowstorm was on its way.

We packed as quickly as we could. Butby the time we reached the Queen Elizabeth Way to take us to the border, it had started The QEW was reduced to one lane in minutes and mountains of snow were all around us. Many trailertrucks had jack-knifed and many more cars were stalled. I could barely see through my windshield because of the heavy ice chunks that formed there. Slowly, very slowly, I drove with a frightened Gloria, terrified 8- and 9-year-olds, and a shaky driver.

While proceeding in this single lane, I spotted a disabled collie lying on its side, right in my path. How it got there I will never know. I could not stop to rescue the poor animal, but I managed to veer up a snow bank to avoid hitting it. I always hoped that every vehicle following me did the same thing and eventually some good Samaritan was able to stop his car and rescue the animal.

When we reached Buffalo, all the street signs were covered with snow. Since I did not know how to reach my sister’s house without the help of the street signs, I was frantic. Florence had already notified the police to report us missing. However, with a bit of good luck and prayer, we finally made it, but a trip that ordinarily takes 90 minutes, took us eight excruciating hours. My kidneys have never been the same since.

Incidentally, that night while I was thawing out watching the weatherman on TV reporting on this huge blizzard, he abruptly stopped midway, said he had enough, and was going to move to Florida right away. He then rose without completing his report and left the studio. He hasn’t been seen in Buffalo since. That was known as the “Ice Storm of ‘74.”

In early 1978, there was another heavy snowfall. My son Vance, then 12 years, decided to bury himself in a heap of snow behind our development’s garages. He wanted to see if he could escape from this icy encasement. He soon discovered that he could not. Gloria and I spent an eternity searching for him and then digging him out. That was the “Snow Mountain of ‘78.”

So there you are. These were the snowfalls I most remember. How about you? Do you have any vivid memories of previous snowfalls? Contact me and we’ll compare. Nevertheless, I hope that January 2002 will be kind and spare us from the hardship of a major snowstorm. My “blizzard” memory file is already at the maximum. Keep watch, keep warm and throw another log on the fire.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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