Stories Told

Dreading snow

When I was nine years old, my parents bought my brother and I snow shovels, put a bow on each of them, and leaned them against the fireplace next to the tree Christmas morning. I mark that moment as the day I began to hate snow.

My hometown of South Bend is one of the snowiest cities in the nation. It ranks eleventh, actually, netting 66 inches in an average winter. (Syracuse, NY, the snowiest city, gets almost twice that!) Given that winters were colder and snowier during my 1970s and 1980s kidhood, I’m certain that South Bend got more than that then. I shoveled it all.

First snow fell in early November, last snow fell sometime in April, and we usually didn’t see the ground in between. More than once, snow piled up in strip-mall parking lots was still melting the first of June!

The rule was that we had to have the driveway and sidewalks (on our corner lot) cleared before Dad got home. Heaven forbid that Dad have to pull into the garage over snow, leaving tire tracks that would freeze and be nigh onto impossible to remove!

It was common for my brother and I to shovel the drive and walks two or three times in a day, often while snow was still falling. When you had more than a foot in the forecast, you didn’t want to wait until it was all done falling. Even healthy, energetic kids like my brother and me would wear ourselves out trying to remove a giant snow dumping all at once.

The city snow plow left huge deposits across the end of our driveway and on our tree lawns, sometimes six or eight feet high. Once Mom painted a sign reading FREE SNOW and stuck it in the pile in the tree lawn. A photographer for the city paper happened to see it and made a snap. It ran on the front page the next day.

Central Indiana winters are mild compared to what I grew up with, and they’ve done nothing but get milder with each passing year. I had to shovel snow for the first time this winter just the other day. I shouldn’t complain. But I still do.

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49 thoughts on “Dreading snow

      • Michael says:

        Indeed, that’s pretty cruel. I don’t think you had told me that. I had plenty to shovel as well with I’d guess a 16 x 50 driveway that we had at the time in the snowbelt around Cleveland.

        • Yes, even then I thought that they should have just bought us the shovels and not associated them with Christmas. I didn’t have bad feelings about being told I would shovel, I had bad feelings about the shovels being tied to Christmas. Clearly I’ve never forgotten it.

    • Just finishing my morning coffee and about to don my driveway snow clearing duds driveway banjo in hand. I wouldn’t want to have to clear six inches each and everyday through our extended Winters here in Ontario but I am good with every other day or so. I find the entire exercise invigorating and restorative and central to my northern roots. Now having to drive in the stuff is another thing altogether. Thanks for providing this opportunity to commiserate, helpful indeed on this late February morning. 👍

      • The exercise is good, to be sure. My normal outdoor activities are better done in warmer weather so I’m grateful for the exercise aspect of snow removal.

  1. I smiled several times reading this post. Having lived in central Indiana most of my life, I’ve rarely faced South Bend-like snows. Memories from those time I did have to shovel were certainly revived with today’s post.

    • It was a stroke of comedy genius on my mom’s part.

      Somewhere around here I have a photo of Mom dwarfed by the piles of snow at the end of the driveway. I should have put it in this post.

  2. DougD says:

    My son is shoveling right now, we got another couple of inches overnight. There’s about 2 feet on the ground now which is unusual, luckily we have a couple of really keen retired guys with snowblowers on our street!

      • My father is now the retired guy with a snowblower. He often does the driveways of the Iraqi neighbours who aren’t used to snow and spend long hours working at the hospital. When they get home and see their driveways done they ring up Dad and invite him over for tea. Where they press gifts of Middle-Eastern sweets or teas on him. The other day, the Iraqi neighbour at the end of the townhouse gave him a Black & Decker coffee maker. Very generous.

        • When I’m retired I might just buy a snowblower to be that guy. Every neighborhood needs one or two of them. I’d even go around mowing lawns. That’s good exercise.

  3. I have lived away from the snow since leaving New York State as a teenager. I was home visiting this past December when four feet of the stuff fell in six hours. I spent several days with shovel in hand. I am ok with not doing that again.

    • I feel you, brother.

      I love Indiana except for the snow. Then, I’ve never lived anywhere else. I might fall more in love with a place where snow isn’t a thing.

  4. Andy Umbo says:

    After my Dad passed, I came back from Washington DC to stay with my Mom and help her out, and most of that seemed like snow shoveling! The last year she was with us, was the winter of 2010 / 2011, which turned out to be the most cumulative snow Milwaukee had since the blizzards of the late 40’s. It literally snowed between 4 to 6 inches almost every other day for over a month! My parents had a widely spaced house on the corner lot as well, so the motivation was to do my “civic duty” and keep the corner open as well for all the grannies walking to the bus. This entailed running out about 11 pm after the plows were doing a clean-up pass, to reopen the corner access before it froze into an ice berm overnight! I know why people pack-up their lives and move someplace without the snow! Winter doesn’t mean much to me, and even I’m thinking about it…

    Of course, the big difference, having lived all over, is whether or not people know what to do with the snow. The snows that shut down Texas, aren’t even really an “event” in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, not only do they have snow plows, almost every vehicle has a plow blade fitting on the front; so every garbage truck is snow plow, and every 4 wheel pick-up truck. There is also proactive response, the city doesn’t ait until after to start salting. Of course, a lot of the city services are city services! Not privatized and owned by someone else, like in Indianapolis.

    I remember a snow event in Indianapolis when I lived there, where it was only about 4-6 inches, and they did not service the I-system in a timely fashion, then closed the “loop” stranding people in their cars, who then had to abandon their cars and scramble up the snowy embankments and try to get rides home! Having grown up in Chicago and Milwaukee, that would have never happened; people would have lost their jobs and public offices! A poor snow response scandal is how Jane Byrne became mayor of Chicago!

    • When I moved away from South Bend I was shocked at first by how badly Terre Haute (and then Indianapolis) handled snow when it fell. But then I realized: South Bend had to budget more for it because they got so much more of it. It was a much bigger deal. For the couple times a year we get major snow dumpings down here, it probably doesn’t make sense to invest in things like trash-truck plows and such. But it does mean a very different experience here when the snow flies. Like the time I was stranded in my Indy neighborhood for a week after a big snow dumping that lasted days, because the city was so busy keeping the main roads clear and couldn’t get to the side streets. Even during the Blizzard of 78, South Bend got to the side streets fairly quickly.

  5. Being sick of shoveling snow is one of the main reasons I left Colorado for the slightly warmer climate of North Alabama. But we did get three inches of the white stuff last week. I was want for a snow shovel, but it warmed up enough to let it melt on it’s own.

  6. Kevin W says:

    I also grew up in South Bend and hated snow. When I moved to Indianapolis to escape it, I fell in love and married a girl who lived to snow ski in Colorado. I was hooked once I learned. Now 35 years later, our 3 kids are all avid skiers and snowboarders, so it’s weekend trips back through South Bend to Michigan to get a snow fix!

  7. Being from New England, we are snow people although I live near the coast so the milder temperatures usually transition the snow to gnarly slush that turns to ice at night. The good thing is the snow leads to compelling photo opportunities….L.

      • We kids saw the snow as an opportunity to make a few bucks. Armed with our shovels, out we went to the homes of people I have with age become. There are no kids at least in my neighborhood who shovel snow as entrepreneurs. I hate to sound like my parents did, but kids have changed.

        • I made a fair amount of money shoveling neighbors’ drives and walks. In the neighborhood I live in now, kids will come around to ask to mow my lawn. Trouble is, they want $20 or $30 for it, which seems high given that it takes me only about a half hour to do it.

  8. I grew up in snow country. Many a time piled it up in stacks over my head to clear the driveway. Got stuck in it, slid off in it, had to pull cars out of it. Oh yes, “snow adventures”. I have always hated it. Curiously I live in snow country still, but not so much falls here in the Cariboo as in other places, such as near the coast. I still hate it. I use a snowblower because shoveling means death at my age. This year has been snowy, but worse it has been icy.
    I think it’s well past time we moved into those underground cities we were told would be the future.

  9. Roger Meade says:

    Anyone who lives down wind of one of the big lakes is going to get their share of snow. Our average in Ishpeming is about 200″ each season. This year we are way behind- so far. I have two 2-stage blowers, one for backup, because you do not want to be without if one breaks and the repair shops are overwhelmed. I used to have a single stage machine too. which was nice for the fluffy “lake effect”, but it died and I have not replaced it. My son-in-law does the snow work now, which is very nice. I get him a warming gift once in awhile for thanks. It’s actually comforting to come awake at 0400 and hear the 3 truck phalanx of plows scrapping our road. All is right with the world and the city workers are on the job!

    • I was looking at snowiest cities — but didn’t really zoom out to snowiest places. That changes the game considerably, and puts South Bend much, much farther down the list. 200 inches a year – my hat is off to you.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      Roger you got that right: downwind! I’m always amazed when Milwaukee gets a huge snow, and then by the time the west to east winds take it over the lake, my sister in Lansing gets so much more….and then, poor, poor Buffalo!

  10. tbm3fan says:

    I don’t have any clear memories of snow in New Jersey between 1958-62 when I was 5-9. I have maybe maybe two of when I lived outside Baltimore between 1962-66 at the ages of 9-11.

    The one that stands out is a blizzard in February 1966 that left about 4-5 feet of snow and drifts as tall as a two story house against their sides. Everything was cancelled for a week and it was about that long before a snow plow came which just created a 7 foot wall of snow along both sides of the street. My parents were to come home from a Florida trip at that time and the taxi dropped them off on the main road and they had to trudge a mile to our house. In June 1966 we moved to sunny Southern California.

    I wouldn’t be so glad about milder winters anymore than I would be glad about milder summers without the fog along our coast. Our Coastal Redwoods won’t be happy about that, nor Sequoias inland, as those changes portend something that is not going to be good.

  11. Nancy Stewart says:

    I remember that “Free Snow” photo, but I didn’t remember that it was your mom’s idea. During the ’78 blizzard we lived on Irvington Street, and if you remember, those were pretty narrow with cars parked on both sides. On the second day L.S.Ayres called and wanted to know if I could make it in to work. I told them that I had no idea when we would be able to get out, and what idiot would be trying to go to the mall to go shopping anyway !! Finally, on the 3rd or 4th day I worked up enough nerve to call the street department and asked them when they thought they might get Irvington Street plowed. And I will never forget his response …. he laughed at me !! But the day after that they did finally come through. We took the kids sleds and pulled them to Michigan street and then all the way to Cira”s grocery store to get some supplies. It was so weird to see Michigan street so white and not a car in sight.

    • I’d all but forgotten that you lived on Irvington! I remember Lancaster and the house on Michigan St. clearly, but that’s all.

      We did the same thing with sleds to Cira’s. They were out of regular bread, as I recall, so we bought a half dozen packs of English muffins and ate those instead.

  12. I think being forced to shovel snow as a kid will lead to a lifetime hatred of it. This happened with me.

    When I was thirteen I moved in with my dad, stepmom, and stepsiblings. The house was in the country with a driveway about 100 feet long. And I became the “designated shoveler” by my stepmom. The reason: My dad might “have a heart attack” shoveling, because he was (barely) over 40. (This seemed to be a big trope in the 80’s). My stepsiblings didn’t have to either, because either they were too young, or if not that, they weren’t boys. So I alone had to do the shoveling, while watching others play in the snow. Thankfully we only lived in that house for two winters, but the seed was planted.

    I’m older than my dad was at that point, and I shoveled my driveway last week. Thankfully it’s also a lot shorter!

    • Yeah, I remember the heart attack trope. I did some chores in my elders’ stead for that reason.

      Snow shoveling was, in my family, 100% about making my dad’s life nicer. Let’s shovel the drive before he gets home so he has it easy getting in the house.

  13. Maybe I should not but I had to laugh out loud reading the first paragraph. When one has snow for maybe a few days a year it is wonderful but I remember huge snowfall that the city was unable to remove in time and then 2 months of freezing cold. The whole city was stuck under some kind of ice armor…dreadful.

  14. Richard Scholl says:

    Jim,
    Compared with your experience in South Bend, I during my youth I found Indianapolis winters have always been mild. When I was growing up, in school in the 50s and early 60s, I-recall only one “snow” day when school was cancelled. Winters typically had several snowfall days, but snow on the ground rarely lasted more than a couple of days before it melted. City streets were never plowed, yet, the four years I delivered newspapers, I always used my bicycle because of the distance I had to go to pick in my papers, and never had a problem. What you have been experiencing in Indianapolis has been the norm for decades, where snow induced shutdowns and snow lingering on the ground for several days have always been rare, but did occur occasionally.

  15. Ed says:

    Jim, I grew up in the city. Dad parked on the street, no driveways. Every time my brothers and I shoveled the car, the plow would dump more snow around the car. That got very frustrating and tiresome. After marriage and purchasing a home with a driveway. When significant snow fell I would shovel snow to about 4 or 5 feet from the end of the driveway so that the plow would just go by and not dump snow back onto the driveway. Worked for me. Finished the driveway after the plows stopped.

  16. kennethwajda says:

    Absolutely. No snow is the best snow, and I live in Boulder Colorado. We don’t get all that much compared to the western slope (Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen) but the amount we got yesterday was the perfect amount–it didn’t snow at all.

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