Op-ed column: Experiencing a Northeast winter builds character

In February 1969, I moved to Schenectady from Norfolk, Va. with my family. I heard continuous storie

In February 1969, I moved to Schenectady from Norfolk, Va. with my family.

I heard continuous stories about the ice storms of 1967-68 and some of the snowstorm stories of the past as well. I got the impression that I was moving up to the North Pole. I received confirmation of this perception at the end of December 1969, when we had accumulated 57.5 inches of snow, along with subzero weather, into January 1970. We went on to set the single-season snowfall record in the Schenectady area of 111 inches of snow.

I found all of this snow exhilarating and the long winter a character-building experience. Most of us did not have snowblowers, and we shoveled that snow by hand. I don’t remember any federal or state aid coming, nor do I remember much negative reaction to the heavy snowfall. It seemed to be part of the character of the great Northeast.

I moved away from Schenectady for a few years during the 1970s and returned in November 1981. We now had four young children, and arriving in the Schenectady area in early November, we found everything a bit depressing. Partly because of our departure from good friends and also because of the blah November weather, we were all in low spirits.

As soon as the first snowfall arrived, however, we were uplifted and brightened by the fresh snow on the ground. Although not skiers, my family has always enjoyed winter for many reasons, including the quiet time we experience in not having to do outdoor chores. We enjoy reading, and a good fire in the fireplace warms the room and our spirits.

Out of character

Today it seems that our political leaders cannot get their requests for state and federal aid in quickly enough. For the great Northeast to crumble under a little flooding, ice or snow and reach out for government aid strikes me as being out of character for who we are. It projects the image of one being a victim.

In the past, the charitable organizations jumped into action, and people came together to support one another. Our snow-clearing equipment is far better today than it was in 1969, when most of the home work was done with a shovel.

Another perspective

A few years ago, I was hosting some Chinese visitors who asked what we did in the winter with snow. I remarked casually that we have good trucks to clear the roads. The sidewalks and driveways are cleared by people who own their own snowblower and shovel. They informed me that even in the factories in northeastern China, everyone, including management, grabbed a shovel on snow days and cleared the snow by hand.

Our recent cold spell reminded me of the late ’60s, when it was not unusual to have subzero weather, or 10- to 20-day stretches where the temperature never climbed above freezing. The GE workers who were on strike in 1969-70 can probably attest to the coldness of that winter as they manned the picket lines for 14 weeks, huddled around fire barrels which were continuously fed.

The Norwegians have an expression that “there is no such thing as cold weather, only improper clothes.” With all of the advances in cold weather clothes, snowblowers and front wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles, let all of us Northeasterners enjoy the weather that is unique to our area and remember it helps build our unique character.

Gerard F. Havasy, a semi-retired General Electric engineer, lives in Scotia. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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