If you're from Chicago, know someone from Chicago, or want to be from Chicago, then you've heard of the Great Blizzard of '67. For those of you from Des Moines or farther west, just know it was a huge deal. On Jan. 26, 1967, snow began falling and did not dissipate for 29 hours. Approximately 23 inches fell. The front pages of the newspapers showed abandoned and mostly buried cars littering the streets and expressways. Time seemed to stand still. Well, maybe not time itself but just about everything else.
I was just a little girl then, a scrappy 7-year-old with braids and freckles. We lived out in the prairies, which are now the far western suburbs. I sat on the back of the sofa with my nose pressed to the window watching my sisters and the neighborhood kids sledding down the huge drifts in a sea of white. Every winter I had to sit out of a lot of outdoor activities due to severe asthma. So I watched, sometimes laughing as they tumbled off their sleds at the bottom of the hills and drifts. When they would come in red-faced and shivering, dropping their wet clothes near the back door, I would pick up a random mitten with bits of crusted snow and hold it to my cheek.
We have a cottage on a lake in Michigan. It's a year-round home and although our kids spent the first few winters ice skating and learning to ski, summer will always be the main draw. In an effort to get everyone up to the cottage last month, we put together a weekend sledding event for our family, including our two little granddaughters. We pulled out all of the old sleds from the garage rafters, bundled up in layers and headed off to a nearby state park.
In all of these years I've never sledded. I thought I broke my ankle the first time I stood on ice skates and skiing is pretty much a death wish as far as I'm concerned. Yet I never forgot that feeling of being left out years ago, wanting to feel that rush of air and thrill of almost flying as all the kids did during that blizzard. This time around I wanted to be the one sailing down the hill, rolling in the snow and laughing.
My daughter and I stood inside the warming shelter, which is much like a metal shed with windows. There's a huge stone fireplace and chopped wood if you are making a day of it. Emily held her little baby, Madelyn, just 3 months old, wrapped in layers and layers of warm blankets. We watched out the windows as our crazy family flew down the hill, screamed, tumbled, rolled and dragged themselves back up for...just one more!
I was wrapping my scarf around tighter, fixing my eyes on the top of the hill, ready to make that climb. Surprisingly, it was taking a lot more courage than I thought I would need. Then Emily turned to me.
"Mom, will you hold Madelyn? I want to give it a try." And suddenly I was looking into the eyes of another little girl, my Emily. The one always trying to catch up with her daredevil brothers; the tiny little girl who sat on the beach while everyone swam to the raft and dived off; Dad's little helper in cleaning up the boat every spring but rarely going on the lake. This was going to be a big deal. I took the baby from her and smiled. I watched through the window as she climbed the hill while I cradled and cooed to little Maddie. And I knew the thrill was all mine.