I could feel a cold draft seeping through a big bay window behind me. A small electric heater was warming my toes. Someone else was snuggled inside a blanket.
As I moved toward the thermostat to turn up the heat, one of my sons commented that in all his 24 years, he could not remember a stretch of extreme cold weather as long as the one we are in the midst of.
I agreed that I could not remember the last time it had been this cold for this long, then launched into a tale about the winters of ‘77 and ‘78.
The last several days have been brutal, for sure, but they pale in comparison to the winters of 1977 and 1978. I was just a youngster at the time, in the midst of my sophomore and junior years in high school, but those two winters stand out as the most awesome display of Mother Nature’s wrath that I have witnessed.
One of the memories that stand out is school being closed for so long. Other than the social and sporting aspects of it, I never cared much for school. But I remember that in those two winters in the 1970s, I became so bored that I listened to the radio to see if there would be school the next day, rather than to see if it would be closed. My classmates and I attended school two days in January of 1977 and just one day in January of 1978.
It has been argued many times about which winter was worse, but I believe I am correct in saying at the winter of 1976-77 saw record cold, while the next winter saw records amounts of snow. I was driving by the second winter and remember white stuff piled so high along both sides of some roads that it seemed like driving through a tunnel.
Here are some other things I recall from those two historic winters.
• Walking through the middle of downtown Hillsboro atop towering mounds of snow piled up in the middle of the road. There was no need to worry about traffic because no one was going anywhere except for snowplows and emergency vehicles.
• Only being allowed to go outside a few minutes at a time on some days, and not at all on other days, because it was just too cold. I argued with my mother tirelessly about those limitations, and was certain I could dress warm enough to be OK regardless of the conditions, but for some reason I can see her logic now.
• My mother making snow ice cream for us. Just grab a bowl full of snow (after brusing away the top layer), add a little milk, vanilla and sugar, and I’d quit arguing to go outside at least until the ice cream was gone.
• Walking through neighbors’ yards with friends, hoping we would find a place where the snow was drifted deeper than we were tall. And we found some places. The fun part was that because the wind had blown so hard, the deep snow made everything look flat. But sometimes we’d stumble upon a place where the lay of the ground changed and we’d sink into the snow up to our eyeballs.
• Playing ice hockey – lots of ice hockey – after the temperatures warmed a bit.
• Sled riding down certain streets, blocks at a time, until they were salted or covered in grit. There was no traffic, so it was pretty much safe to sled ride down any street we wanted.
• Spending lots of time on the phone – like one that hung from a wall with a long cord that I could stretch into my bedroom. Yes, I definitely missed the social part of school.
• The down-stuffed mittens I wore outside (when I was allowed outside). They were much warmer than gloves.
• But the highlight, because we barely went to school in January, was playing eight reserve basketball games the final two weeks of my sophomore season. We started that season 1-6, but finished 10-8, so we had a pretty good run those last two weeks.
There is one moment I remember better than others from those two weeks of games. We had lost to Wilmington earlier in the season, but were playing much better and with under 30 seconds left in the second matchup we had a one- or two-point lead as I dribbled up the court.
Shortly after I crossed the centerline a couple of Hurricanes trapped me, and my only safe option was to pass the ball to a teammate who was standing somewhere between the top of the key and the half court line. This particular teammate was a good shooter, but was not a good ball handler, and had never received much playing time until late that season.
Anyway, as soon as he caught the ball, I could see the panic in his eyes. He looked at me, looked at another teammate, looked back at me, then without ever taking a dribble and with two defenders all over him, he launched about a 30-footer. It was a perfect swish.
The other teammate the shooter had been looking at and I were frozen in disbelief as the shot left our buddy’s hand. When it went through the net cleanly we looked at each other, shrugged, and started laughing as we jogged back down the court with another victory in hand.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected].