January 1977

Many of us have heard stories from our parents and grandparents that start out ‘When I was a kid…’ and go on to tell how much different everything was way back when. Not only did a loaf of bread cost 10 cents and milk come in glass bottles left at your front door, but butter and eggs were good for you and it was considered unattractive to be skinny. It was hotter in summer and colder in winter, snowed more and rained less and everyone walked to and from school for miles in all weather. On and on the stories go. Well my generation has a few stories of its own to pass on to our children and grandchildren and here is one about the worst winter ever.

I will never complain about the cold weather or being stuck inside because I still remember January 1977. We lived in Cincinnati back then, right in the heart of the city in Clifton, just a few blocks from U.C.

It snowed and snowed that month and the temperatures dropped below zero and stayed there for weeks. The Ohio River froze over and many Cincinnatians and Northern Kentuckians walked across the ice ignoring all warnings and good sense.

This was also the month I gave birth to our third daughter. Of course labor had to start late at night and by 2 a.m. on January 4th I could no longer put off the perilous trip to Good Samaritan Hospital. My husband, Joe, held onto my arm with one hand and gripped my overnight case in the other as we inched our way down the ice covered street towards our Monte Carlo parked at the bottom of the hill where he had left it that day. We lived on Van Lear, a dead end street that started at the very top of Ohio Avenue. Ohio Ave. ended at the base of Bellevue Hill, where a long set of steps connected the bottom half of Ohio to its upper half. (This is a common occurrence in Cincinnati where city maps show streets that go from point A to point B uninterrupted, but motorists are frustrated and lost while navigating these streets which end unannounced when faced with a steep incline.)

Several days later, the trip home from the hospital with the new baby was even more bizarre. Joe borrowed a tow truck that had chains on its rear wheels and was able to safely drive us to our gate.
Once at home I was stuck. That whole month the street remained covered with ice and snow and our car stayed at the bottom of the hill. Due to my condition and the tiny infant I could not go anywhere; I was housebound with three kids.

The burden of keeping our cabinets stocked and our bellies full fell to Joe who had to bring home groceries every few days. He’d walk up the hill carrying shopping bags in both hands heavy with milk, bread, soup, hamburger, and other necessities for his family. It was dark and always bitterly cold on those nights when he huffed and trudged up the hill arms stretched taut with the weight of the bags. I remember how he’d have to stop half way up the steps (there were over 25) that led to our porch, to catch his breath. He would bend over and cough, as the sub zero air burned his lungs.

But we survived and I did not give in to the demons of cabin fever.

The joy I felt on that February afternoon when the sun shone brightly and the temperature soared to the mid 20s and the salt finally did its job melting the ice and snow, exposing the pavement for the first time that year, was magnified by my recent hibernation. I was free at last!

The winters of ‘77 and ‘78 are the coldest in recent memory. The wide Ohio River froze solid both years and the Midwest was battered by a blizzards in January 1977 and again in January 1978. This is the measure to which I have compared subsequent winters and all have come up lacking.

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