Storm of 73,
February 9th, 1973 dawned cold and gray. My basement room was cold and dark and I didn’t want to crawl out from under the four blankets I was wrapped in. It would have been nice to light the space heater but daddy wouldn’t allow it. He wanted to make sure the gas company got as little of his money as possible so the heater stood as cold as the room over in the corner. In a moment my feet met the cold tile floor and I made my way to the shower. I was to start a new job this morning. Mother had gotten me a job at the Bibb Mill but after six days I was going crazy. I had stopped by John Cunningham Trucks a few days before to pick up a part for my new truck. Mr. Cunningham asked me how I’d like to come to work for him. I had never sold used cars before but here was my ticket out of the mill. Now, don’t get me wrong. My mother had worked at the Bibb for many years. In six days I had come to appreciate the work my mother did. She worked in a hot, humid, and lint-filled environment for those many years to help put food on the table. I now had a new respect for her.
It was about 8:40 when I left the house to drive to the car lot downtown. I was to be there at 9:00 and 20 minutes driving time would be sufficient. Slowly the truck’s heater warmed up as I made my way down Macon Rd and towards town. I made my way to 13th street and crossed over the viaduct. I liked to cross over the viaduct. I would look over the railing and try and watch the trains moving along their tracks. As I strained to get a glimpse of a train, something white caught my eye. It looked like a clump of cotton. To my right was the Swift Mill. I wondered why cotton lint would be blowing so far from the mill. I looked up to see the clumps falling all around me when one hit my windshield. It blew apart in a thousand pieces.
“Oh, It’s snow,” I thought.
Now, Columbus, Georgia is not so far south that we don’t get a few flakes of snow. Most winters we would get a flurry. I can remember one of my 7th grade teachers holding a piece of black construction paper out of her classroom window to try and catch a few flakes to show us students but they would quickly melt. These snow clumps were only a momentary curiosity. They would be gone in a few minutes and everyone one you would meet during the day would ask if you had seen the snow.
In a moment I had turned into the lot of John Cunningham Trucks but no one was there. I was a few minutes early and someone should be along any minute. The clumps had now turned into a snow shower and was actually sticking to the trucks on the lot. I mused that if it kept snowing, there might be enough snow to make a good sized snowball if I collected it off the hoods of several trucks. Daddy had a photo of a snow when he managed the Rexview Drive-in. It had snowed enough that he had made a little snowman about one foot tall. There might just be enough snow on the trucks to do the same.
I sat patiently but still no one had arrived. By now it was 9:20. I saw someone in a loan office across the street so I decided to call Mr. Cunningham to see what the problem was.
“It looks like it’s going to be bad weather today, John,” Mr.Cunningham said on the phone. “Our policy is not to open when there’s bad weather. I’ll see you on Monday”
“You’re truck hoods are mostly covered with snow,” I returned and told him that I would be there on Monday.
I returned to my truck and started back towards home. By now the snow was really coming down. I had seen this kind of snow in movies but I had never experienced it myself. It was now coming down so hard that I had to turn my wipers on. Those on the roads ahead of me were driving very slowly. The radio was telling people to stay at home and to keep off the streets. I was headed home and that’s where I planned to stay.
As I neared Cody Road, my tires were spinning. I could barely make it up Edgewood Road. I soon topped the hill and in a moment I was home. In less than an hour the snow was already covering the streets. I was wondering when it was going to stop. After all, people in Columbus aren’t good at dealing with rain, much less snow!
By the time I pulled into my driveway there was enough snow on the ground that I slid to a stop. My father’s car was already covered with at least an inch of snow and it was still coming down. The back steps were covered and crunched under my shoes as I made my way to the back door. Daddy was watching out the window as I opened the door.
“Not working today?” he asked.
“No. They don’t open in bad weather.”
“Bad weather? This will all be melted by noon,” he said. “We don’t close the drive-in for anything. The Edgewood will be open tonight.”
Still it continued to snow. The shrubs were now sagging under its weight. I’d never been in snow before and I knew that I had to get into it. I bundled up as best I could and went outside. The outside was surprisingly quiet. I trudged around the yard leaving tracks in the powder which was now about three inches deep. What was just a common back yard was now a winter wonderland and the snow was now falling harder. I would shake the limbs on the trees and a cascade of cold snow would run down the back of my neck. In just a few minutes my feet were cold and wet and I was getting soaked from the snow melting in my hair and running down my shirt. I guess people in colder climates were equipped for such events but I wasn’t.
Back inside I removed my shoes and pulled off my wet socks. My feet were red and throbbing. Just then my sister Alice came in from her job.
“This is so cool!” she squealed, shaking the snow out of her hair. “I didn’t think that I was going to make it home. I must have passed twenty cars that had slid in the ditches.”
“I’ve got to find some warmer clothes,” I stated. “I want to walk down to Tom’s house but my shoes are soaked.”
“Look at how hard it’s coming down now,” Alice called from the living room window. “I can’t see across the street.”
It WAS coming down. As I gazed from the window, I knew I had seen this kind of snow in the movies but this was Columbus, Georgia. A few cars were slowly making their way down Cody Road but they were driving very slowly and some would fishtail in the freezing slush.
“I’ve got to build a fire,” I said as I looked into the dark fireplace.
I pulled on some dry socks and put on my wet shoes and dashed back down the back steps to the wood pile under the porch. I mean, would a snow storm be without a good fire? In a short while I had crackling fire going with my wet clothes hanging from the fire screen. I pulled on some dry clothes and went back outside to fetch another load of firewood.
Our back porch was on the upper level of the house with steps leading to a landing outside the basement. As I stepped onto the porch I had a high vantage point to view the yard and the surrounding houses. Only now it was snowing so hard the I could barely see my neighbors house less than a hundred feet away. The scene was surreal and deafeningly quiet. It was as though there was cotton in my ears. The only sound was the snow crunching under my shoes as I descended the stairs. I scooped up an arm load of wood and headed back inside to stoke my fire. With the fire burning cheerfully, I joined my dad in the den to gaze out the window. In a little while a vehicle pulled into the driveway. It was my friend Bill Holmes in his Toyota Land Cruiser. Now it was time for fun. I stepped back onto the porch as Bill opened his door and called to me.
“Hey John. You want to go with me and pick up my mom from school?” He called.
I pulled on my coat and was in his jeep in just a few seconds. Bill’s mom, Etta Holmes, was a 4th grade teacher at Blanchard Elementary and there was no way she could drive in this weather. As we made our way through the snow covered streets, I was amazed at how many cars were in the ditches. Everywhere there were people trying to push cars back onto the road. Bill had 4 wheel drive so we had no problems. When we arrived at the school, Mrs. Holmes had several of her teacher friends who couldn’t get their cars out of the parking lot. Everyone piled into the cruiser and we made several stops and finally got everyone home safely. Then Bill and I cruised the streets. Now people were flagging us down for help. Bill would hook his wench to the hapless car and pull it from the ditch. We would watch as the driver pulled away and seconds later, skid back into another ditch. Columbus had never seen such a snow and people simply didn’t know how to drive in it. Bill and I were pretty good at it. During the summer months we would drive to a muddy road after a big rain and practice skidding in the mud. We learned to turn in the direction of the skid and to use the brakes sparingly. Driving in snow wasn’t much different than driving in mud.
Still the show fell as Bill turned in the direction of my house. On Macon Road we got behind one lady who was doing well until she approached a traffic light. Within a few yards of the light it turned yellow and like the law abiding driver she was, she hit the brakes. Round and round she spun in the road, jumped the curb, and came to rest in the K-Mart parking lot. We cruised on through the yellow light and on toward Cody Road.
Back at home I dashed to my room and grabbed my 8 mm film camera. Rats! No film. I wanted to get movies of this snow but I was out of film. I could have had Bill stop at a store to buy a roll but I didn’t think about it. In fact, no camera in the house had any film. All I could do was sit at the window and watch. Every now and then my sister and I dash outside, throw a couple of snowballs and dash back inside. We simply didn’t have the proper clothing for this kind of weather.
Later that afternoon my sister’s husband made it home from Fort Benning.
“Look what I have,” he said holding up a pair of boots. “Arctic snow boots!”
This was too cool! Each boot had a valve that could be inflated with air. They were one size too small for me but if I didn’t inflate them, they fit just fine. With the boots on I made another trip outside. They worked great! My feet were warm and dry. I decided to trudge my way down the street to Tom Morris’s house. The snow was now six inches deep and getting deeper. I couldn’t tell where the yard left off and the street began. The snow crunched under my boots as I hiked through my transformed neighborhood. Only my footsteps could be heard as I made my way down Oak Circle and turned onto Dexter Drive and even they were muffled by the falling snow. I arrived at Tom’s house and knocked on the door. His Aunt Marie seemed surprised to see someone at the door as she pulled back the curtain.
“Come on in,” she said opening the door.
I shook off the snow and went in. Tom was working at the Columbus Ledger Newspaper but he’d been called and told not to come in. We all swapped snow stories of the day. His dad had been told to go home and his truck fishtailed most of the way home. My visit was short and I begged my leave.
“I’ll come up to your house when it stops snowing,” Tom informed me.
Still the snow came down. By late afternoon is was ten inches deep and falling. Bill stopped by again and showed me a wad of cash. People were now paying him to pull them out of the ditch.
“It’s a shame we can’t go camping,” I told him. “I’ve always wanted to camp in the snow.”
I had my tent set up in the backyard but it had collapsed under the weight of the snow. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.
By late afternoon the snow had now let up a bit. Oddly enough, Martin Theaters closed the Edgewood Drive-in for the night. It was the only time it ever closed due to weather .
As the light of day started to fade, the storm had slacked off and was now only snow showers. The heavy snow had moved on. As the gray light began to fade the storm was now down to flurries and the wind began to pick up. I could see patches of dark blue sky as the clouds began to break up. I grabbed a yardstick and shoved it into the snow on the hood of my daddy’s car. 14 inches! That was a big one day snow for anywhere, much less Columbus, GA. As twilight faded the clouds moved out and the stars popped out one by one. Though it was now dark, there was an unusual luster on the snow. Everything was white and any light seemed to be amplified and added to the iridescence of the scene. It was beautiful! Though it was February, I felt that I was witnessing the snow scenes that so many poets and song writers had described over the centuries. Now I was witnessing the winter picture for myself and in my own backyard. I braved the cold and wind as long as I could before retreating back into the house. Soon there was a knock at the back door. It was Tom. We sat and talked about the day’s events for a while.
“I’ve got an idea,” said Tom. “Let’s walk to Dennis Curd’s house.”
“That’s a pretty good walk,” I returned.
“We’ll never see this kind of snow again. Let’s do it!”
We wrapped as warmly as we could and started on our journey. Dennis’s dad was the pastor of the Edgewood Church of Christ and was our best friend. We walked the snow-covered streets until we got to Macon Road. Macon Road was a busy 4-lane highway but now was unusually empty. Deep ruts in the snow showed the evidence of people trying to make it home. Now the water in the ruts was freezing and driving would be treacherous. We arrived at Dennis’s doorway and rang the bell. When the door opened we launched into a chorus of, “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen. When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.”
Tom sang lead and I took the base part. We were invited in and given hot chocolate to warm us. We had a pleasant visit and all to soon it was time to make the return trip home.
My bed was warm and inviting as I slid beneath the blankets. The day had been one of the most unusual of my life and I wondered what tomorrow would bring.
Category: John Gilbert