Friday, December 05, 2008

The Blizzard of '66

Sorry, I’ve been busy this past week, with work demanding a lot and the holidays upon us. We’re having an extended period of snow (which makes me happy). Here is a memoir of me as a nine year old boy, inspired by photographs I came across last summer when visiting my parents. I apology that these black and white shots aren’t’ the best of quality, but they’re the only photos I found from this snow. The first photo shows Bubba (in front), my brother, Denise, Sage and (I think) Bubba and Denise’s older sister. The second photo is of my brother (on the left), Denise and me.

I fell in love with winter in the 3rd grade. January 1966 was a particular snowy year in Petersburg. In the middle of the month, there was a dusting snow for my birthday. But the real snow came at the end of the month, when the eastern seaboard closed down due to a massive blizzard. Richmond, just to our north, received over 40 inches of snow within the last few days of the month. Everything came to a stop and most important to those of us attending Walnut Hills Elementary School, we were given an extended winter break. It was like a second Christmas holiday. Every day we’d trek out, pushing through knee deep snow as we may our way through the alley behind our houses to the hill on the road between Bishop and Warren Street. There, we’d spend hours sledding, our run going crossing Warren Street and then through a path in the woods that headed toward Fort Hell. We’d then hike back up and do it again. This was a rather safe run as the street we sledded on was the edge of the development and few people drove up it when the weather was good. With the snow and ice, in the days before four wheel drive, it was nearly impossible for vehicles to make it up the hill. All the neighborhood kids convened at the hill. Most were older than us; my brother and I mostly hung out with Bubba and Denise, who lived next door. When fatigue overtook us, or our clothes became too cold and wet, we’d retreat back inside where mom would fix us hot chocolate or a bowl of snow cream as our gloves and coats dried over heat vents.

The family at the corner of the hill, whose boys were several years older and always taunting my friends and me, took it upon themselves to take a hose and spray the hill down with water at night. With fresh ice on the hill, it was a fast run and we were assured no cars would try to make it up the hill. They also scrounged up a metal oil drum with the top cut out in which they’d keep a fire going. As construction was beginning in the woods south of Warren Street, with streets being laid out and a few homes being built, there was plenty of scrap lumber available. Someone had even brought smudge pots, black metal cylinders that were used to mark hazards like the end of pavement in construction areas, and used these to provide a little light along light the sled hill at night. My brother, sister and I felt left out as our parents didn’t let us go out at night. But during the day, for the week we were out of school, we got to enjoy the hill as we shared our sled, which was one with metal runners and a wooden deck and a wooden slat that allowed you to twist the runners in an attempt to give the vehicle some maneuverability (which we needed as we made our way through the path and into the woods).

Of course, what was joyous for us wasn’t for our parents and other adults in the neighborhood. Many families were stuck. My father, unable to drive our newer car, was able to get around in our older and heavier Buick for which he had tire chains. Early in the storm Dad stopped by one of the fabricating plants he inspected and borrowed a few sheets of steel. Placing these in the trunk, over the back axle, he was able to go just about anywhere. But other families were not so lucky. We heard stories about families being stranded along I-95 and how farmers along the freeway took in families whose cars were in the ditch. But that didn’t affect us kids. We were happy; we were out of school for a week. However, I’m sure that by the time we returned, more than half the moms in Walnut Hills were on the verge of losing their sanity.

We only lived in Petersburg for three years; that next summer we moved back into North Carolina and near the ocean, where it seldom snowed. I’d be in my thirties before I saw another blizzard and every snow since has been measured against the one we experienced in ‘66.

For another story about living in Walnut Hills and our local Civil War site, "Fort Hell," click here.


  1. My first thought...OH NO, Not here!

    Love snow, but I want it to melt after I have taken my pictures and the children have had enough time to play. :)

  2. Good memory. You were a happy kid, weren't you?

    (Still no sign of snow here...)

  3. Think all of us who grew up in snow places have a blizzard we measure all others against

  4. I remember that winter. We got a lot of snow in the Midwest, as well. I remember taking off on a sled down our street's hell when my dad took my brother inside to warm up. I crashed into a parked car and knot on my noggin, which was cured by a nap and some hot cocoa.


  5. That has to be the best snow picture I've seen in a while. It looks like a good time was had by all.

    I was still in Cuba in '66, but when I arrived in upstate NY in '68 without a winter coat, I experienced a REAL winter.

    I love the snow. It reminds me of my childhood, Thomas Kinkaid paintings and my favorite holiday.

    I need to plan a trip up north in the winter (again!) so the kids can go sledding and snowmobiling...and drink hot chocolate at Nestlenook Farms in the White Mountains (again!).

  6. Kontan, when I lived in Hickory, we'd get a snow or two a year--but just a few inches. Ice storms were more deadly.

    Mother Hen, yes, I was a happy kid!

    Pia, after we moved to the Wilmington area, we would occassionally have a one or two inch snow. Once, when i was in high school, we had a six or eight inches

    Randall, hell or hill? is that a freudian slip? LOL

  7. Scarlet, I was in Ellicottville NY from 90-93 and enjoyed some real snow!

  8. Unlike you, Sage, I don't remember my childhood blizzards with such kind thoughts. I hated the cold (and wet) then and I hate it now.

    Thanks for the visit. Re your question - we finished the Mansion today (3 1/2 days work) and I will post photos either tomorrow or Sunday.

  9. A good memory you have. You have enjoyed your childhood. Beautiful snow picture. Thank you for sharing it here.
    A visit from you to my blog is much appreciated. I am so glad. Take care, sage. God Bless.

  10. hi there ... "netchick sent me"! i wish the enjoyment of snow ... now it just seems to be an annoyance ... something i need to shovel, or clean off my car, or navigate through on the way to work. i have some great memories of winter from when i was a kid ... growing up in Atlantic Canada, we have our fair share of storms!

  11. that should say "i miss the enjoyment of snow" ... fingers don't work so well this morning!

  12. Thanks for the comment, Sage. We didn't see the Gov. this time; he was in Philadelphia at the gov's. Conference. His lovely wife was there, and very complimentary and friendly to us. We will see him on Wed. night at the party we are invited to. I'll tell him you said hello...

  13. Wow, your story triggered my first memory of snow. I was three years old, living in Memphis. The snow was taller than I was. I remember walking down the shoveled sidewalk and reaching up to touch the top of the "snow wall". Then we moved to Miami Florida and new weather memories took over...hurricanes! Thanks for describing so well how children feel about snow. Wish we had some in Mississippi right now!

  14. Kenju, the governor will be pleased, I'm sure!

    Venus, it was a good childhood

    Michelle, you live in such a beautiful place!

    Kenju, tell him I'm a loyal tarheel even if I can't vote for him or pay taxes there!

    Randall, yes! lol

    Susie, you should write about your snow!

  15. When I see old pictures of me playing in the snow, I could've sworn that we got more then than we do nowadays. I still love to play in it with the dog. I think this year I may drag Big A out sledding.

  16. I lived in NE Ohio for 3 years and that was snow hell to this suthern lad.

  17. It's good to try to see things some times through the eyes of a child - great photos!

  18. I keep waiting to fall in love with winter... it's yet to happen though.

  19. Murf, yeah, I don't often see snow that's waist deep!

    Pat, I think it was Ohio! Come up here and I'll teach you how to ski or take you out ice fishing.

    Diane, Thanks, I was glad to find the photos as I couldn't remember what Bubba and Denise looked like.

    TC, get yourself some x-country skies... We're having plenty of snow this winter (so far), how is it across the lake?

  20. An excellent story and one that reminded me of one or two I need to write about.

  21. I was born that year and mom has told me what a winter it was. I was born in March 66 and Easter fell right after my birth. Mom said they were taking me to church to show me off and their was a blizzard on Easter weekend. She said she can remember her in her fancy Easter dress and gloves and a foot of snow as they drove the old car through, me just a tiny newborn all gussied up.