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LOOSELEAF LAUREATE: Remembrances of some cold, cold winters

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By Terri Likens, Editor

Despite the date on the calendar, the darkness of winter has enveloped us and unusually cool December temperatures have us wondering:

Will this be another winter of ’93? And for those of us who go back a little longer, we may wonder if this is another winter of ’77 or ’78.

The winter of 1993 was my first full winter in Chicago. It felt less like a season than a lesson in suffering. Lake Michigan froze over so badly that shipping had to cease and the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking vessels could not make a dent in it.

Wind chills brought already miserably cold temperatures into shockingly bitter levels. Even short-term exposure was dangerous, and The Associated Press, for whom I worked at the time, would pay for a cab just to travel the two blocks to get the evening newspapers at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times offices.

Anita Igou, who owned my Kingston Heights house before me, told me 1993 was the only year she and her husband, Henry, found themselves trapped on the ridgetop for about a week without power.

While she told the story in good humor, I can imagine the actual hardship.

The hardships I most remember involve the winters of ’77 and ’78.

Both winters, I was a student at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Both times, I returned from the Christmas holidays to frozen, near-deserted campuses.

I was a resident assistant in the dorms, so I had to return to the campus early to get things ready for the next semester.

I had no car of my own, so I had to rely on other students whom I had coordinated with to get back from my parents’ home, then just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, to campus.

I won’t go into the long, harrowing journeys on slick, sloppy highways when the weather turned unexpectedly poor. I’ll just say it’s a wonder we made it to campus alive during both winters.

The start of school was delayed for at least two weeks because of the deep freeze and the deep snow, and this created problems for those of us who had made it back to campus. Snow had accumulated until driving was impossible, and many of us did not have enough groceries to make it that long.

This was back before communities had emergency service agencies that tried to anticipate such problems, and so we had to fend for ourselves.

And fend we did.

We pooled our meager resources and made meals a daily group effort. We might have had some odd combinations, but we made it through OK.

Grocery stores were too far away to walk to, but I remember one midday foray that a large group of us bundled up for – to the conveniently, just-off-campus Red Barn Liquors. Try not to judge us: It was the ’70s, and we were young.

I hope this winter is nothing like the winters I’ve just described – despite some forecasts already calling for single-digit low temperatures two weeks before Christmas.

And if they are, maybe they’ll at least keep the mosquito and tick populations down next year.