Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stories from the Road -- The Christmas Eve 2009 Blizzard

I have discussed at length in many other notes/blogs the tough stretch December 2009 was for me and my family. The matriarch of our family, with a heart of gold and a sense of humor unmatched by anyone in its perseverance, finally succumbed to Alzheimer's Disease. Her funeral was on an overcast day in Lincoln -- very typical by Nebraska winter standards. Cold, breezy, and barren -- the weather was a perfect symbol of our mood.

Grandma did not like winters. Her blood circulation was poor most of her life, and she was chilled easily. I'm not sure she would have been a fan of the weather at her funeral. "Brrrr!" she would have said. "Goodness!" Despite this, she loved Nebraska, and I have a feeling that would have won out here in the end.

The overcast, as it turns out, was a harbinger of much worse winter weather to come. By 23 December, the weather conditions deteriorated rapidly. Snow and sleet began breaking out in much of Nebraska, with freezing drizzle preceding it. Soon, the snow took over, and the winds began to howl. By Christmas Eve Day, blinding snow had encompassed much of the state, and actually much of the region. Travel was impossible. Walking down the streets was disorienting. The visibility was so bad, that I had trouble figuring out if I was on the street or off during an occasional walk into the displaced Arctic. During the night, the sky was a haunting orange color. The falling snow looked like asteroids from an Armageddon-like sky. It was stunningly beautiful, actually.

With horizontal snow and absolutely empty streets, Lincoln seemed like a ghost town on a day that normally is anything but. It was totally bizarre to see the streets of Lincoln completely empty during the day. And at night, the scene was just jaw-dropping. The orange glow overwhelmed all views. The snow was everywhere, and the streetlights were essentially useless. I was in complete awe.

Christmas was soon canceled. The interstates were closed and would remain so for a couple of days. No trip to Sioux Falls, no trip to my home town, nothing. My mother and I were stranded at her house. A few games of Scrabble, some television marathons, a little bit of cooking, and an exchange of gifts. Mostly watching the snow fall...and fall...and fall. Lincoln received a foot of snow, most of it blown for hours after it had ceased falling. We walked the streets on Christmas night. Amazingly, a couple of bars had opened. One or two customers per bar, drinking their holiday sorrows into oblivion. Mom and I walked our sorrows away. Piles of snow lined the streets, still largely empty. The only sounds were of wind and that stillness that only snow can make.

By the day after Christmas, some restaurants began to open. Mom was in the mood for soup, and we went to Panera Bread to satisfy her hunger. We didn't talk much there; instead, we listened to all of the families discussing their own level of Christmas disaster. One family was from Colorado Springs and had missed the birth of their grandchild. Another had missed two days of work and was worried about being fired. Mostly, families with cabin fever. Even in a restaurant, there was a sense of desperation. Everyone needed to leave somehow, somewhere. Mom and I? Maybe it was our genetic stubbornness of appreciating home, but we were happy to see life standing still for a little bit.

One thing you can count on once in a while in Lincoln... Slow down. Listen. Share. Life will return soon enough.