I remember the Blizzard of '67.
I had just turned 10—I was in the fourth grade at St. Angela School on the West Side. It was a Thursday. The morning started out like any other snowy day. My brother Jimmy and I put on our boots and walked the one block west down Massasoit Avenue to school.
My dad had passed away a few months earlier, so my mother began working the day shift at Brach's candy company on Lake Street; she'd left for work about 90 minutes earlier.
The snow was already falling when we left. As usual on snowy days, the Sisters of Providence and teachers had lined the hallways with newspapers so we could take-off our wet boots before entering the classroom. By noon it was apparent that predictions for a 4-inch accumulation were way off. We couldn't go out for recess after lunch because the snow was too heavy.
When the bell rang at 2:45 p.m., more than 1,000 first- through-eighth graders spilled out onto sidewalks. Gales of laughter and shrieks added to the excitement. I know I tried to catch snowflakes on my tongue.
But then, oh then, the snowball fights began. It was great! I had lousy aim, but I remember crouching fast and furious to gather enough of the powder to pack a snow ball. I'm sure I got nailed at least 10 times.
Jimmy, my older brother by a mere 16 months, and I burst through the back door of the traditional brick bungalow and changed immediately into play clothes. That meant a couple pairs of pants—we didn't have formal snowsuits—layers of sweaters, a jacket and those incredible long knit caps. They weren't short, and they didn't just hug your head; they were knitted into a long triangle that tipped to about the elbow. I always loved those, maybe because they were the ones featured by the Charlie Brown gang in the famous, "Charlie Brown Christmas" cartoon.
Already we were several weeks into winter and had lost bits and pieces of winter wear. Therefore, we relied on mismatched pairs of mittens. We had no shame, if we couldn't find mittens or gloves, we adapted by donning a couple pair of socks and pulled them over our fingers and hands.
We ran down the street to meet our pals, the Ziegenhors—they had six kids—Patty Ann was my best friend, and Jimmy and Marty were best friends. The neighborhood was alive with kids—the Gorskis, the Nelsons, the LaFavers, the Maloneys, the Kriesels, the Naskas and the DiGrazios. "Yab-a-dab-do!"
No doubt someone got hit in the face too hard with a snowball and started crying. But you got over it when the face hit was followed up by a harmless tackle into a snow bank.
By 4:30 p.m., we were all soaked through to the skin. No matter, it was time to go home for supper. My sister Jane, a 19-year-old nursing student at Northwest Hospital, had gotten in. She brought her friend, Jennifer, to stay; Jennifer lived on the South Side and couldn't make it home. WLS radio was blasting a Beach Boys tune, "Help Me, Rhonda," as we walked in.
Then the phone rang. I remember Jane answering the white rotary device that lived on top of the radiator cover in the kitchen. It was my mother. The message that followed was like manna from heaven because it never, never happened before: There would be no parent at home tonight!
Distraught, and I'm sure exhausted from the trudge through the 20-some inches of snow and more to come that brought Chicago to its knees, my mom said, "Janie, I can't make it home. The Central Avenue bus got stuck at about Jackson Avenue. I'm going to have to stay at Elsie's (a co-worker from Brach's). Are Jimmy and Ann all right?"
"It's all right Mom. The kids are fine. I made them take off their wet clothes. We'll be okay. Jennifer is staying too because she can't get home either."
"Okay, I've got a left-over meatloaf in the refrigerator. Do you think you can bake a few potatoes?"
"Oh yeah Mom. Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."
The discussion between the two continued for a few brief minutes and ended with my mom's famous words of warning. Her voice rose about two octaves as she said, "While I'm gone, I don't want a brouhaha going on around there. Do you hear me?"
"Mom, nothing's going to happen. What are we going to do? We can't go anywhere," said Jane with a sarcastic lilt to her voice.
Jane hung up the phone and let out a buoyant and gleeful cry that she matched with a jubilant up-and-down forearm move, and announced: "She's not going to make it home!"
All my mother's warnings went right out the window. My gosh, my big sister was sooo much fun! I loved her enthusiasm. Being honest, though, she wasn't reckless either.Still, I have no idea what we ate that night, nor did I care.
The radio blasted out an endless string of hits: "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees; "Wooly Bully" by Sam The Sham & the Pharoahs; "Little Bit O' Soul" by Mansfield, along with hits by the Supremes, Sonny and Cher, Buffalo Springfield, the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five and the Lovin' Spoonful.
After our clothes had dried on the radiator where we laid them out, all four of us headed out into the snow again. Sure it would have been responsible to shovel the snow, but that would come the next day. We first had to get our fill of fun out of our systems. I remember Jane and Jennifer were putting the finishing touches on a snowman out front. Jane told Jimmy and me to go in and find a scarf to put around its neck.
Well, Jimmy had that mischievous "Jack Nicholson grin" on his face. That meant trouble, yea! We went upstairs to look for a scarf. I found one. But we didn't come down the same way we went up. We managed to open the window in Jane's bedroom, climbed out onto the secondary roof and then jumped about 8 feet into a deep drift of snow.
Jane yelled, "Oh my God!," and burst into laughter. I remember Jennifer—she was a tall gal, about 6 foot—reaching into the drift and pulling me out by my arm. Jane grabbed Jimmy by the shoulders and helped him up. We were all laughing so hard that tears were streaming down our faces. We wiped them away before they iced-up too.
Of course and as always, the woman who lived in the apartment building across the street, the redhead—we never referred to her by name—stuck her head out of the window and threatened to tell our mother. Naturally, we knew she would and did the very next day. But for now, we didn't care. And besides, my mother tended to handle mischief pretty well. As long as there was no blood and nobody broke the law, she could usually come to terms with an incident that happened without her having to witness it.
We went inside then and drank hot chocolate. We sat at the red Formica table in the kitchen and played the game of "Life," then "Clue," and probably "Password."
Unfortunately, the night had to come to an end. The next day there was no school. We went out again, but this time, we worked on shoveling the snow. We only had two shovels, so Jane and Jennifer did most of the work.
I remember too that it was my job to tidy the house. There was nothing else that would get my mother's goat more than walking into a mess, a condition she generally related to as looking like "McFadden's flats on a hot summer's day." We never did know who McFadden was or where his flats were located, but it was safe to assume that he was slum lord with a building in St. Thomas Aquinas Parish on Washington Boulevard where my parents grew up.
Anyway, that's what I remember from the Blizzard of '67. That night, we were "groovin'" to playful mischief, music and love. Thank God for that blizzard. I'll never forget it.
Ann Piasecki, local editor, New Lenox Patch and Mokena Patch