I was reminded that today was the 30th anniversary of a PRETTY BIG blizzard here in town. As Canadians, we are no strangers to snow, and many of us (myself included) actually love winter. Garrison Keillor calls us “winter people” and who would argue with GK? But even for us, there are weather moments that stick in our memory.
In my own memory, there were two blizzards that stood out over all the rest. These were blizzards that dumped so much snow on the ground that the city literally came to a halt for a couple of days. These are the Canadian “flash bulb” moments. The ones that you remember where you were when they hit, like the JFK assassination for our parents generation, and Princess Diana’s death for us. (and Dodi too! Why do they always forget Dodi? We miss you too!).
The first one happened on this date in 1986. I was in grade 7, and the thing to do when you were in grade 7 on a Friday night in my neighbourhood was to go up to the air force base and see a movie in the base theatre. Yes, this actually happened. There was an old auditorium on the base (that I guess was sort of on the public side of the base. I don’t ever remember having to go through a checkpoint or anything.) The people that ran this theatre got theatrical releases, but long after they played in the first run theatres. My friends and I would go see ANYTHING, even it was nothing we’d be interested in seeing, because it was cheap and it was a night out and we were in grade 7. This is why, on the night of the biggest blizzard in a half century, my friends and I were watching a John Cusack film called “One Crazy Summer”. The storm came on so fast, that I don’t even think it was snowing when my Dad dropped me and a couple of friends off at the theatre, but by the time we got out, things were really blowing around. My dear old Dad was there to pick us up and drop my friends at their homes before the two of us headed home ourselves. We talked a bit about the movie and then turned in for the night. I was sure glad my Dad was there to get us. I don’t know how he got that little K-Car through the drifts, but he never let us down.
When we woke up the next day, we couldn’t believe it. It had snowed steadily all night long, and was showing no signs of stopping. It snowed all day Saturday and Saturday night too. We were going no where on Sunday, and we heard that our school was closed on the Monday. Tuesday was November 11th, so we would be closed anyway. We somehow made our way back to school on the Wednesday after enjoying an impromptu 4 day weekend. My friends and I were like Calvin and Hobbes, making the most of the winter snowscapes and not coming inside until our cheeks were completely frozen, and then only to play with LEGO. Hard to believe that Calvin an Hobbes had only been around for a year at that point. We were, as they say, the target audience. On that Monday, only the busses were running, so my Mom took me and my brother to the mall for an outing. I remember buying a pretty nice hardcover collection of Sherlock Holmes stories from the Coles, and then finding it a pain to drag all over the mall and home on the bus. The other notable thing that happened on that weekend was that my little cousin was born. Her mom went into labour in the height of the blizzard and she was rushed to the hospital on a snow plow! My family is tough. Oh, and Happy 30th Birthday, Erin!
The next storm happened 11 years later, in April of 1997. I was in university and was sort of interested in this girl. Let’s call this girl “Em”. We had arranged a “first date” of sorts. She was going to meet me at work (I was at a library in the north end) and we were going to pick up some supper and head back to my house to watch movies. (Yes, I know. This doesn’t sound like that great of a date, first or otherwise, but I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING, then or now). I should say that by “house”, I mean “my mom’s house”. Yes, I was in my mid-twenties and was still living at home. I saw no reason to leave. I had a sweet set up downstairs with my own bathroom and everything….where was I? Oh, yes. The first date that never really ended. I was driving by then; I no longer had my Dad to pick me up or look out for me. Although it was snowing a bit during the day, I didn’t think much of it, but once we had supper and watched a couple of movies (sorry to say I can’t remember what we watched, but I’m certain it wasn’t “One Crazy Summer”), we looked out and couldn’t believe our eyes. My car was completely covered with snow in the driveway. By “completely”, I mean right up and over the doors and windows. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? It’s at this part of the story I should mention that my Mom was actually at home that night too. Yes, I was on a first date with a lady AND MY MOM WAS PRESENT. It’s remarkable that I’ve gotten as far as I have in life, when you consider my social handicap. I want to make it clear that my Mom was NOT WATCHING MOVIES with us, but she was around. (I’m going out on a limb and saying we were watching a couple of old James Bond movies. Who’s going to fact-check me, right?) I’m not sure when my Mom appeared, but I could sense her presence. “Um, dear. Did you look outside? I don’t know how you’re going to get your car out. Doesn’t Em live across town?” She did, and it soon become apparent that this “first date” wasn’t going to end anytime soon. She called home to tell her parents what was up, and then MY MOM GOT ON THE PHONE WITH EM’S PARENTS TO LET THEM KNOW THERE WAS A MOM PRESENT. I should remind the reader that Em and I were both LEGAL ADULTS during the storm of ’97, but somehow my Mom wanted to reassure Em’s parents that there was a chaperone present. Did I mention I was 24 years old?
My Mom flew into action and dug out one of her flannel night gowns for Em, and got the guest room ready. Yes, you read that right. This girl was on a “first date” and all she signed up for was some take out and a couple of movies, and now she was putting on a stranger’s night gown and was borrowing a tooth brush. I said goodnight to the both of them and headed off to bed myself. I suppose if social media was around back then I’d be taking to the tweets or facebook over this queer situation, but back then you just kept stuff to yourself.
In the morning, the three of us had breakfast, and although the storm had stopped, it really seemed like the city was in worse shape than it was 11 years previous. I was supposed to work that day, but I called my boss to say I couldn’t even get out of the drive way. The difference here was that even the busses weren’t running yet, so we all had to sit tight. My Mom was planning on having some family over for a Sunday night supper, and had all kinds of food in the house for it. The supper was off, now. Obviously. But what to do with all this food? I had a solution. Like me, a good number of my friends were still living at home in the neighbourhood at this time. We were a bunch of late bloomers, you guys. Many of those friends were the exact same friends who climbed into my Dad’s K-Car a decade earlier to get driven to the base theatre for “One Crazy Summer”. I called them up and told them that my Mom was cooking all this food and as a bonus they could me this girl who MIGHT turn out to be my next girlfriend. Three or four of my friends trudged through the snowdrifts to get to our house. We ended up playing a bunch of board games all day and I kept checking in with Em to make sure she was okay and not completely freaked out. She seemed fine, so I took that as a good sign.
My Mom was in her element that night, cooking up a storm for me and my friends, and we all sat around that night visiting and listening to music and stuff. Em really seemed to fit in with the group. The second night was less awkward for her. She already had her nightgown and she knew where her toothbrush was.
The busses were finally running on the Monday, and I had taken a shift at the downtown library that afternoon. We rode the bus downtown together, and we said our goodbyes before she transferred to the bus that would take her home. We joked a bit about maybe having a second date, and she asked what I was doing the next day! She wasn’t even joking! We ended up going to a movie, and I even remember which one it was. A Johnny Depp gangster movie called “Donnie Brasco”. I met a girl who likes gangster movies?! Things were looking bright. And they were, for a while. We dated for a year and a half and most of that time was pretty damn great.
Two storms, separated by a decade, united by movies and the intervention of a parent.
You can end a story at any point to achieve a happy ending. Conversely, you can keep a story going until you reach a tragic one. For example, I like to think of the 2016 Blue Jays season ending with that extra innings game in the ALDS against Texas on Thanksgiving. The game that ended with Russell Martin hitting a soft tap to Odor and ODOR THROWING THE BALL WIDE TO FIRST, prompting Donaldson to dash home from third and win the game and send Texas home winless in the post-season. When you end the story here, you get a lovely symmetry with the bat flip from the previous year, and the ensuing fist-fight in May. We won, and they didn’t. (No need to mention the ALCS against Cleveland.)
In the same way, I like to end the blizzard of ’97 story with two people who didn’t really know each other being forced by mother nature to spend two and a half days together IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE OF THEIR MOTHERS AND A BUNCH OF THEIR DUMB GUY FRIENDS. These same two people standing on a snowy sidewalk downtown, dancing around whether they should see each other again and making plans for the very next night. We won, nature didn’t. That’s where I’d roll the end titles.