snow

"The Blizzard of '69"

By Jeff Owenby

It was Christmas of 1969 when a powerful snow storm hit our area. In Portland, Oregon, a city notorious for its amount of rainfall, the blizzard arrived on Christmas Eve and kept us all snowbound for six days. Fierce winds lowered the temperatures even further, and everything turned to ice. A great silverthaw emerged leaving our neighborhood embroidered by the largest ice rink imaginable complete with deadly slopes, and impossible roads.

This passing of time while isolated felt very strange; but it was a wonderful kind of strange. Outside were massive snow drifts getting higher, more so than we Portlanders were accustomed to, and it was ceaseless. Each day brought more snow and high winds that brought the city to its knees. We considered ourselves in the midst of an emergency situation, and were not prepared. Still, in the midst of the blustery crisis, the snow kept falling, and the world never seemed more beautiful. Soon it was up to our windows.

During this period, there was an unusual calm in the house; although we were being assaulted by a vicious Northwestern storm, it was still Christmas, and I felt strangely secluded. My friends and I could go out and play, and it was wonderful. Never had I seen such huge mountains of white in a neighborhood setting. In our backyard, the snow covered our windows, and was edging toward the roof of the house. Schools were closed. Each day the snow fell harder, and each day, I prayed for it to continue.

We never lost power, nor did any of our neighbors. My dad tried to make it to the store, but our car couldn't negotiate the heavy snow. Our neighbors across the street had a Jeep, and being fanatical about 4-wheeling, were able to get out. They bought lots of supplies for everyone, such as candles, and whatever else was needed. For me, life was great; it was carefree, and there was no responsibility. The snow had seen to that.

For Christmas that year I received the game "Psyche-Paths" and The Beatles' album "Revolver". I played my records on an old Ward's Airline record player, and played every Beatle album that I could get my hands on, to death. As a big surprise gift for my dad, my mom bought him a pool table. Fortunately for us, it had to be set up by pro's, and they could only come about a week before Christmas, so he got his gift early, and we, had a pool table to play on while snowbound. The only place it would fit was in my parents' master bedroom, so they took my old room. My brother Pat had moved out by this time, so I got his room.

One morning, after heavy winds had frozen the landscape, my friends Rick and David from across the street would come over, and we'd play everything we could think of in the ice-covered tundra of Rockwood until we were frozen solid. The most deadly toy of all was the metal disc that they had for sliding in the snow. The wind had created a gradual slope of white that topped our six foot fence. I recall using a shovel handle to punch holes in the ice to create a natural stairway to the top of the fence. From there, David, the youngest neighbor boy, who was about eleven, made the first trip across the ice in that deadly disc.

As with many famous explorers, some never come back alive. Some fall into abysmal ravines, capsize at sea, or fall to fierce animal attacks. After watching in horror, we all learned that there was only one way to stop a snow disc on a seventy percent grade: crash into the house at a speed of approximately 1500 miles per hour (Mach III). David was the first casualty of the snow (though he'd been a bicycle casualty many times before-even knocking out his front tooth from a fall, but that's another story). Once the story fully circulated, David had joined the ranks of the famous expeditioneers.

Indoors, the biggest attraction was the pool table, and we'd play for hours. I got to be very good at it, and even beat my brother Mike when he visited on leave from the navy. Mike was a reputable pool player, but was in for a surprise playing his kid brother. By night, I'd be listening to my Beatle albums under the purple glow of my blacklight, trying desperately to imagine how great it would be to be one of them.

Then, as all good things must come to an end, that awful day came when the wind was calm and the skies were clear. The sun came out and the snow began to melt. School, quite unfortunately, was back in session for the following Monday. The good news was that I was actually able to get out of the house and go to our local Fred Meyers store to look at albums. I sadly purchased a solo album from John Lennon called "Live Peace in Toronto" by the Plastic Ono Band. At the time I thought it was cool because it was John Lennon.

Yes, by January 1st, 1970, we were all back out on the roads, and life had returned to normal. The sixties decade had come to an end with a powerful declaration. In a way it felt strange, kind of sad, kind of exciting, but new and different just as every new year had felt to me. This was how 1970 introduced itself.