It is the morning after the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. Snow in big fluffy flakes is falling sideways, blowing easterly. Yesterday’s ice glazed trees and roads today are flocked in white. It is a snow day in Wisconsin.
Today a snow day is commonly referred to by meteorologists as a weather event. It is more than that; it is an anchor for memories, a bold hash mark on a timeline, and a photograph preserved in a scrapbook.
When I look back at the snow days in my lifetime, they are intertwined with the people and the branching points of my past.
A snow day can be a luxurious day to stay in sweatpants or pajamas, drink hot chocolate or a hot toddy (my grandmothers’ winter drink of choice), camp out on the couch and watch movies, or for the hearty and young-at-heart and limb, bundle up and head outside for winter activity from sledding, to snow-shoeing, to cross-country skiing, to snow-boarding, and in Wisconsin especially up North, jump on a snowmobile and speed from bar to bar, or assist travelers in trouble.
If you’re snowed in with a lover or spouse, the day offers some other options. With your kids you can break out the board games and playing cards. If you’re alone, a day of snowed-in solitude can be an opportunity for reflection and relaxation, naps and long soaks in the tub. For me it’s a time to write and reread journals, to cross off a couple of items that have languished on my to-do list, to call or email friends and family, or to cook and eat my favorite comfort food, unless I was caught unprepared and forced to scavenge the pantry for potluck.
It can also be a dangerous time for travelers and public safety workers, the road crews plowing us out, utility workers repairing the grid, and police, EMTs and firefighters rescuing us from the dangers a storm creates. I must also acknowledge the delivery drivers who bring food to our homes when our cupboards are bare, and the taxi and bus drivers, tow trucks and roadside assistance, who deliver us to our destinations when our other modes of transportation fail us, or are buried in snow.
I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I grew up along Lake Michigan and understand what it means when the weather forecast predicts lake effect snow. As a child, I couldn’t wait to bundle up and get outside. I’m surprised I still have all my fingers and toes. I have wonderful memories of red saucer sleds, snowball fights with the neighborhood kids, and building forts and iced floor plans with my sister, Roz. Mom would always tell us it was time to come in from the cold, and when we whined she would bribe us with hot cocoa and compliments on how beautiful we were with our rosy cheeks.
As a teenager I also have memories of shoveling snow. We lived on a corner lot, so it was no small task. When I lived with my partner in our Eastside Madison home it too was a corner house. Thankfully snow- blowers helped, except with the ice, or the heavy, wet, or deep snow. It was always a chore to get dressed up and outside, but once I got there, I began to enjoy the body memories of being bundled up and out in the wonderland of Wisconsin winter.
Since it’s Sunday, I often call and check-in with my parents.
Dad informed me that 65 years ago today, he and my mother went out on their first date. This snow day is their anniversary, although 65 years ago he reported it was dry and mild.
I also have memories attached to snow days and the people I loved and lived with.
Following are snow and ice storms in Madison and the associated people and memories:
March 4-5, 1976 – devastating ice storm – One of the worst natural disasters to hit Wisconsin in history. This incredible ice storm completely snapped hundreds of utility poles, downed thousands of power and telephone lines and totally destroyed many trees. Some ice accumulations ranged up to a phenomenal five inches in diameter on wires and limbs of trees. The excessive ice accumulations were in part caused by thunderstorms that rapidly built up the ice. High winds gusting to 60 mph made a horrible situation even worse. Up to 600,000 residences were directly affected by the ice storm and up to 100,000 people were without power during the height of the storm. Some rural areas were without power for over 10 days.
My husband Frank and I lived on top of hill near the Dane County Coliseum, now the Alliant Energy Center where the University of Wisconsin hockey team played. We watched fans leave the Coliseum and travel home, trying to drive up the ice-covered hill, and then control their vehicle as it came down its crest. It was bumper cars as the brakes locked and the rear wheel drive cars spun out of control. It was our perverse entertainment, since moments earlier we lost both our electrical power and heat, and watched the TV cable snap and fall in the street, adding an additional hazard for the cars to avoid.
January 12-14, 1979 – Near blizzard – 12 to 20 inches. Milwaukee had 14 inches. Drifts to 8 feet. My birthday fell in the middle of this snowstorm. My marriage was unraveling and it wasn’t a good time. It was the calm before the storm that would envelope Frank and I. It was a weekend morning and I was already drinking wine while I opened birthday cards and a gift from my husband when the phone rang. I answered. It was Mary, the gas pump jockey friend and technical college student from my feminist consciousness-raising group, with whom I shared an attraction. She was snowbound and couldn’t get out of her driveway in a rural suburb of Madison. Mary had just broken up with her girlfriend, Capri and was in tears, wanting to be held and comforted, afraid to be alone. I consoled her as Frank sat on the couch with me, and disguised my reaction when Mary confessed that she wanted to be with me. A couple of weeks later, we became lovers and in March on my wedding anniversary, Frank and I separated.
January 22-23, 1982 – Blizzard – 10 to 20 inches. Superior had 19 inches. Three years had passed since my marriage dissolved. During that time, I had moved from my home with Frank, to a sublet alone for a summer, then into an apartment with Mary, followed by a stormy break-up when I met Sandra who I wanted to be my lesbian long-term partner. Our relationship ended quickly when I couldn’t accept being in a non-monogamous relationship, yet we remained friends ever since. I then began a “fatal attraction” relationship with Deb, a straight woman with three kids, who I moved in with into a ranch home and played house together, and failed. My alcohol abuse during this lesbian adolescence was spinning out of control, and when my relationship with Deb ended I stopped drinking for awhile. I was snowed in with my “friends with benefit” lover, Janet, in 1982. That winter we first got snowed in at Janet’s, then stuck at the house I shared with my roommate, Chris, a French teaching assistant, who identified as a lesbian but that winter took one of her male students as a lover. That same winter, following the snowstorm, were frigid days with 80 degree below zero wind chill.
In those three years, I moved four times, began and ended five relationships, not counting the one night stands in between. Oh my!
November 30 – December 2, 1985 – – Widespread snows of 10 to 18 inches. Madison had about 10 inches. Another three years had passed and I moved in with Laurie #1. We were snowbound, yet made sure we had stocked up on groceries and beer. I was drinking again and the summer after this storm would mark the end of another relationship. This time I knew I needed help. Before Laurie left, I checked into an outpatient alcohol program. When she knew I was safe and getting the help I needed she and her son, Joey, who I adored, left me.
December 14-15, 1987 – Blizzard (gusts to 73 mph) – 10 to 17 inches of snow. Madison and Milwaukee had 13 inches. After getting sober and spending time alone for over a year, I began a new relationship with Laurie #2. I had moved that winter into a new contemporary townhouse that abutted a marsh and natural area. The winter blizzard, though dangerous, was beautiful. That winter getting snowed in was a gift. We spent most of the time making love and talking about our future together.
December 2-3, 1990 – Madison had 17.3 inches. Ranks as Madison’s heaviest snowfall in 24 hours. Laurie and I had moved in together with her daughter Kelsey into a larger townhouse in the same complex. I had bought a new car earlier in the year, a red 1990 Toyota Celica. I pulled out of the garage and immediately was stuck in the deep snow. Like years earlier with my relationship with Frank, Laurie and I were unraveling. Instead of lovemaking this snowstorm, we were arguing about the lack of it.
November 26-27, 1995 – Snowstorm – 7 to 14 inches. Snow fall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour fell during the afternoon commute and resulted in a traffic “gridlock” around the Milwaukee area. I was snowed in with Cindy, my partner of 15 years. I had not moved in with her yet. We had just reconciled after our second sabbatical from each other.
March 8-9, 1998 – Blizzard – 8 to 12 inches. Wind gusts reached 40 to 60 mph at times, causing frequent whiteout conditions. Snowed in with Cindy.
January 2-3, 1999 – Blizzard – Widespread 6 to 20 inches. Wind gusts of 30 to 35 mph, with gusts of 50 to 60 mph near Lake Michigan, created frequent whiteout conditions. Snowed in again with Cindy.
January 21-22, 2005 – Blizzard (gusts to 50 mph) – 6 to 15 inches. Although winds gusted up to 50 mph in some areas and visibilities were reduced to less than 1/4 mile due to falling or blowing snow. Snowed in alone. We shared a commuter relationship. Cindy was living and working in Green Bay.
March 13-14, 2006 – Winter Storm – 17 to 32 inch of heavy, wet snow. Snowed in alone again. Cindy was now working and living in Milwaukee. I had to hire someone to blow the snow and plow out the driveway.
February 23-26, 2007 – Two-round storm, with one overnight the 23rd to 24th, and the second round overnight the 24th into the 25th. Snowed in alone again. Cindy was still working and living in Milwaukee.
February 5-6, 2008 –Blizzard/Winter Storm – 10 to 21 inches. Greatest accumulations in southeastern Dane County through Rock County. Last time I shoveled or blew snow at Cindy’s house. I used the new snow-blower she purchased for me. I moved two weeks later into a condo since we had separated.
December 8-9, 2009 – Winter Storm – large area of 12 inches or more. Madison area had 17 to 20 inches. Snowed in alone and home from work.
December 10-12, 2010 – Winter Storm/blizzard – large area of 6 to 23 inches. Maximum amounts of 16 to 23 inches in west-central to central Wisconsin. Alone.
February 1-2, 2011 – Blizzard (gusts to 60 mph) – 8-24 inches across much of South and East Wisconsin, with 12-24 inches across extreme Southeast parts of the state. An additional 3-6 inches of snow had fallen on January 31st and into early February 1st, bringing three-day snow totals to around 1.5 to 2.5 feet. Home alone.
December 20, 2012 – Life-threatening blizzard with more than a foot of snow in less than a day. Snow day at home from work. I wrote a play.