There was snow up to my waist

 ... the aftermath, a truly winter wonderland

by Don and Lorry Norris

"The pile of snow was so high," my wife, Lorry Norris, said, "that people would put poles or sticks at the end of their driveway. You couldn't see our house from the road because the plows had built the banks so high.

"And you couldn't see what was coming at intersections, so you had to almost get out and look at every block. There was no place to park a car on the street even if you could get your car out of your driveway," she said. Lots of cars were abandoned when the snow got so deep that it lifted the chassis off the road.

"Actually we didn't drive the car for a week," she explained." "We stayed home, or we walked! Can you imagine? We actually walked to the store. And it was fun! We met neighbors we hadn't talked to in years."

Just for the fun of it, we man-handled our trash barrels to the top of humongus piles of snow, but the joke was on us because picking up the trash was pretty low on the city's priority list. Actually every able bodied soul on the city payroll joined the effort to clear the snow.

Snow forts appeared everywhere, many engineered by family teams. Some of the most elaborate forts were destroyed in the ensuing snow-ball battles.

Snow sculptures began appearing within two days, all over town. Some were good, some were okay, some needed an art director; but they all added to the joy of the season.

The dangerous part of having the world turned into a North Pole playground was when the kids began digging into the huge piles of snow. Warnings went out on televison and radio of the danger of children building snow houses -- the fear of collapsing was high.

Amazingly, we heard of no one losing electric power in Melrose.

We literally had to dig ourselves out of the house. We removed the glass panel in the stormdoor, and pushed the snow away with brooms. Then we had to shovel it away from the door -- from the inside of the house. The two cars had disappeared, and were represented by two vaguely rounded mounds in the driveway.

But every hill became a place to slide on, and with practically no traffic for a whole week, beginners became expert sledders quickly. If you didn't have a sled, a chunk of corrugated cardboard was almost as good. We saw some kids using trash barrel tops. Of course Melrose is a community of steep hills.

For seven days we walked everywhere we had to go, even to Malden once to pick up my wife's unemployment check.

"We had lunch in a little Italian restaurant near City Hall to celebrate our first walking excursion in weeks," Lorry said. "Buses were cancelled, the MBTA trains were either halted or late as workers had to fight through four feet of snow to reach switches and clear signals."

In the backyard, our woodshed acted as a small windbreak, but since we're 200 feet over the valley, the snow swirled around the shed and almost buried it on the east side. It was over its roof. We had a small paddle snowblower, but (wouldn't you know) I couldn't get to it in the shed, and second, it was hardly effective in six and seven foot drifts.

When we finally did reach the little snowblower, it was necessary to make three, four, even five passes, standing in the same position while peeling away layers of snow. It was case of manhandling the 20-pound paddle blower back and forth, like a scythe. But it wasn't as hard as shoveling tons and tons of new snow.

The pain -- or joy -- of the storm went on for a week. Lots of people had to be rescued -- older folks who could not free themselves from the heavy, deep, drifted snow. Local folks showed their colors, however, and helped each other, spoke to neighbors they hadn't 'seen' for years, and there was a sunshine response -- when the sun finally came out.

On the second and third day, the streets were so narrow that two cars on the same road would have to make a hasty decision as to who was going to back up into the nearest driveway. On the whole, this volunteer system worked rather smoothly, realizing the rather combative nature of New England drivers.

One would finally need to get some groceries, and so whole families would tag along with sleds. It became a fun time, and spirits were up, in the face of this adversity. It became a game. And I think we did a good job in providing help where help was needed.

It was a photographers wonderland, a place of enchantment everywhere one looked. A whole week to shoot snow scenes, and how people were coping. Most of those final prints were of smiling faces.

Every day one could hear the staccato whine of snowmobiles. Suddenly there were endless miles of narrow, snow-covered streets on which to race. I didn't hear of anyone being arrested for driving their machines on the public streets; when used properly, a snowmobile was a fine utility vehicle, under these conditions.

I heard of some snowmobilers providing a cold taxi service for essential workers.

"We were fortunate in the series of winter storms in that we didn't lose power," Lorry added. "We are on the end of a power section that is prone to failure, and we solve the problem by running an extension cord over to a neighbor's house."

The heroes of the occasion were the army of snow-plow operators, the police and firemen who kept functioning throughout the storm, and the people at the hospital who had to double up on shifts.

March 7, 2003

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