Today, on this tiny island, we're having what's being called (by Environment Canada and the media) a "blizzard".
Now, I know they have a standard definition of a "blizzard" ... the wind, snow accumulation, and temperatures all have to reach certain levels. But is it me, or have those levels dropped in the past few years? Seems to me, we're having "blizzards" that are a lot like what we used to call "crappy days".
(I know I run the risk of sounding like an old fart here: "Blizzard? Why, you kids today know nothin' about blizzards. Now, February ought-four. That was a blizzard." So be it. As I learned when I got together with a bunch of bloggers the other night ... I am friggin' old. Now hush and get me my slippers.)
I'm originally from Winnipeg, and the standard by which Winnipeggers judge blizzards was set on March 4, 1966. That was a Friday - blizzards always happened on a Friday. It was like God was saying "OK, you get the day off school, but you'll pay for it with a weekend of shovelling."
The wind howled. The temperatures plummetted. The snow fell - tons and tons and tons of it. During the height of the storm, my Dad got on his Air Force survival suit and walked out into the front yard. By then, the snow was hip deep on him - chest deep on me, I'd guess - and the wind kept blowing him over. He would have to cover his mouth and nose to breathe, the air was so cold and the wind so ... well, literally breath-taking.
When he got back in, we all settled down to play cards and "Clue" and "Monopoly", make puzzles and do all those "blizzard day things". Mom made hot chocolate with marshmallows on top, Dad poked at the fireplace, getting the blaze just right, Norman Rockwell came by to do our family portrait. Blizzards were a gift - a day when we huddled inside, safe from the elements, and drank deeply of family.
The day after a blizzard? A different kind of gift.
Dad woke us up bright and early. The sky was clear, cloudless - an incredibly crisp blue, and the sun turned the snow into a billion diamonds. I suppose it was gorgeous, but there was no luxury of wallowing in the beauty of it all. There were three shovels - one each for my Dad, my brother, and me. And mountains of snow to move.
And I do mean mountains. Some were just snow, others contained cars - it became an archeological dig, carefully uncovering artifacts like my Dad's 1964 Dodge station wagon. We knew where he'd left it, and if you looked closely you could see the tip of the radio aerial jutting out of the lump in the driveway. It took us the better part of the morning to excavate around it, careful not to chip the paint with our shovels. The rest of the driveway took all afternoon. On Sunday we did all the sidewalks around the house.
I was twelve years old (do the math if it amuses you) and this was my first experience working shoulder to shoulder with "the men". We'd nod to the other men in the neighbourhood, out shovelling their drives and sidewalks. Now and again Dad would stop and lean on his shovel and talk to the guy who lived beside us, and my brother and I would stop and lean on our shovels and take our own breather. And when Dad would start to wind up his conversation ("Well, better get back to it ..."), my brother would skim a bit of snow off the top of a drift and flip it into my face. And we'd get back to it.
A few years ago, Mom made all the kids photo albums - splitting her albums up and giving us all a few pieces of long ago. One of the pictures in my album is simply titled "March 4/66". For a Winnipegger, that's enough of a caption.
In the picture, we're about halfway through uncovering the car. My brother is on top of the pile, carefully shovelling snow off the roof. I'm digging around the wheel wells. And my Dad is leaning on his shovel, watching us. You can't see his face in the picture, but I bet I know his expression.
So ... the folks at Environment Canada can call this a blizzard if they want. And truly, it's not fit for man nor beast. It's a storm. Dirty weather. A crappy day.
But to me, it's not a blizzard.