The winter that wouldn’t endPublished 9:29am Thursday, February 13, 2014
Great-grandfather, known to all the aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings as “Poppa,” was prone to telling tales as tall as the Porcupine Mountains, as reliable as a Yugo never could have been, and as accurate as a 30-day weather forecast.
Poppa would sit back in his well-worn chair, munch on a handful of popcorn, and begin stories with disclaimers such as, “You just might find this hard to believe, but…” From there, fanciful stories were told of people and events that were fun to hear, but very hard to accept.
They were flights of fancy, seemingly as trustworthy as tales about Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe, Pecos Bill lassoing a tornado, or even John Henry and his mighty hammer. Poppa always had a twinkle in his eye and a poorly stifled grin on his face as he wove the mystical fabric of his increasingly incredulous sagas.
One of Poppa’s favorite subjects seemed to be stories about “The Winter That Wouldn’t End.”
“The snow came down for months on end, not day after day, but week after week and month after month. Schools didn’t have snow days; they had snow weeks. Churches had to close. Temperatures couldn’t even get up to zero degrees. People weren’t allowed to drive on the streets; they faced thousands of dollars in fines.
“A couple of fools tried to pull off a robbery and got stuck in the snow. Not only did they get arrested for the robbery, they had to pay a $2,500 fine for driving.
“When Ground Hog Day came on Feb. 2, and that cowardly rodent ran back into his burrow after seeing his shadow, we were all sure it meant six more years of winter. It was the winter when hell did freeze over.”
Yes, Poppa usually had that little mischievous twinkle in his eye when he told his stories. But, when he spoke about that very unbelievable winter, he spoke in hushed and solemn tones. He spoke with reverence and respect for the people that endured the seemingly endless snow and cold. He spoke with admiration for the people that went out of their way to help and care for their neighbors at a time when everyone shared the same frozen misery. He praised the heroes that braved the worst of storms to keep roads cleared, hospitals open, food on grocery shelves and spirits lifted. He told the stories with such conviction and sincerity that it was hard to not believe.
These are my thoughts on what one of my great-grandchildren may someday write about my recollections of the winter of 2014. How could anyone ever believe such incredible exaggeration?
Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His optimistic “glass full to overflowing” view of life shapes his writing. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. Wilson touts himself as “a dubiously licensed teller of tall tales, sworn to uphold the precept of ‘It’s my story; that’s the way I’m telling it.’” He can be reached at email@example.com.