What I learned From the Blizzard of ’79 by John Cali

Last week’s Hurricane Sandy brought back my memories of a fierce storm from an earlier generation. Way back in 1979 my family and I were living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. In those days that area rarely got the severe storms they’ve seen in recent years. So the sudden blizzard of 1979 came as a shock, especially since it was just a few weeks before spring was supposed to start.

In our town, 30 miles west of Washington, we got 40 inches of snow, all in one night. The town was paralyzed. Back then the local governments didn’t have much equipment or experience with such monster storms. So our streets did not get plowed for over a week. Nearly everyone was stuck at home. We didn’t have cell phones or internet service in those days.

We were the only family in our neighborhood with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. So after the storm subsided I was able to get out to the local grocery store a couple miles from our house. I had practically a full-time job running errands for the neighbors, including grocery shopping.

Being a suburb of a major city, many of the neighbors had never spoken and were complete strangers to one another. The blizzard of ’79 changed all that.

It’s almost a cliché, but tragedies and disasters often bring people closer together. Strangers become family, and we realize how connected we all are. The relationships of virtually all our neighbors, including my family, were never the same again—because of a blizzard.

I’ve often asked myself why it takes such events to make us aware we truly are all connected.

Related posts:

Two Men on the Trail
Earthquakes and Hurricanes


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6 Responses

  1. Robin Becker

    Hi John- always love your thought provoking stories and questions.

    We went through the blizzard of 77 in Western NY..I can relate in that our whole road were of people we knew or knew of but not personally. When the blizzard hit and people got blocked I was watching my Dad and brother load up and keep going back and forth in horrible weather conditions just to help out those who were having difficulty. It made my heart swell with pride for their kindnesses then. This resulted in more friendships. I believe majority rules on the kindness people will do even for strangers. To me it is evidence that at our core we all are love and we are connected. Another HUGE thing I have realized (even more since 911) Thinking about firemen, policemen, ambulance drivers. Some volunteer and shockingly these jobs are the least paying ones..yet day after day they do things all related to helping or saving others..most are strangers to them. Many risk their lives to save someone they never met!! Somewhere within these amazing people they must feel that inner connectedness stronger. If I was president (LOL) They would be the highest compensated workers out there..But they are more towards the least paid yet do these incredible acts to help others.
    So, yes my two examples refer to disasters and tragedy where I really became aware of an underlying connectedness..helping others, some even risking their lives to do it for someone they only know as a human being. It is a beautiful realization.

    • John Cali

      Thank you very much, Robin. I’m originally from western New York State — so I know how fierce the winters can be there. As you said, there are plenty of folks like your father and brother, plus all those in public service, who selflessly serve those in need.

      I think we’d do ourselves and the world much good if we concentrated on those folks instead of the “wrongdoers.” There is far more good in the human heart than the opposite.

  2. sheila

    Hi John,

    How are you?? Yesterday afternoon I looked out my front window and found 5 huge utility

    trucks in front of my house and scattered on the street. You see, I live on Long Island, New

    York. An area completely devastated by Hurricane Sandy and then the Nor easter that hit

    night before last. As I looked a little harder I found that these folks were from Arkansas.

    I went out to talk to a few of the guys who were having lunch. What an amazing group of

    men they were. They were 1000’s of miles from home here to help us remove downed

    trees AND get our power back on. It is amazing how these things become a priority in your

    life when they are missing. All I could say to this group of men was Thank you but I truly

    got the message about how connected we all are.

    Thank you

    • John Cali

      Hi Sheila, I’m doing great — thanks very much for asking. And thank you for sharing that heartwarming story. We truly are all connected. It’s times like this that clearly remind us of our oneness.

  3. Micki

    Hi John,

    I think our lives get busier and busier and faster and faster, and unfortunatley or fortunately when a disaster or tragedy occurs that is when we realise that we are all connected and pull together one way or the other.

    It’s a shame that we all don’t just do that as a normal everyday occurence although I believe there are still a lot people that are there for others.

    I think that with age and experience in this time, comes the recognition of that, and we do slow down and smell the preverbial roses, and realise that we are not on our own.
    Love and hugs to you,

    • John Cali

      Thanks very much, Micki. I was thinking exactly that thought just a moment before I read your comments — there are lots of good people out there spreading kindness all over the planet, even in “normal” times, not just in troubled times.

      Love & hugs to you too,

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