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You Thought the Winter of ’21 Was Bad?

Yes, it was, and I acknowledge the pain and suffering so many people have endured (and are still dealing with, without water or power). I will chronicle our relatively mild inconvenience in a future post, but I am reminded of the winter that will remain the worst of my life: 1974.

We were living in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 1973, my then-husband was offered a job in Washington, D.C.,  where we had met and were married, and we were delighted to return to be returning to the D.C. area. But I was pregnant with our second child, due in November, so they allowed him to wait until the new year to begin the new job. The plan was for me to stay in Ohio until he found a house in the Virginia suburbs.

So I was alone in an old, drafty, dusty duplex in the middle of a Northern Ohio winter with a newborn and a preschooler with bronchitis (who eventually developed, and still has, at 50, asthma). In order to go on the simplest errand–the pharmacy, a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store–I had to bundle the older girl like the Michelin man and wrap the baby in multiple layers, trundle them out to the car in the (detached, of course) garage and wrangle them into car seats.

My parents lived fairly nearby, and I’m sure neighbors helped out,  but my memory is mostly of being up at night with the baby and running the shower to ease the older girl’s coughing. Those were long nights.

When husband found a house, I began the process of packing up and arranging movers. He flew home once and rented a van to take plants and other precious items. However…. during the gas crisis of 1973-74, there were restrictions on gas purchases. At this time you could only buy gas according to your license plate–even numbers of even days and so forth. I don’t even know how he made the trip from Ohio to Virginia. I had other things to worry about.

The moment that still sticks most durably in my memory was when the movers were trying to get the washer and dryer from the basement and the washer needed to be drained. I sat in the middle of the living room floor, paralyzed. I felt like I couldn’t go on another moment.

But of course I did.

We had arranged for me to fly with the kids to Pittsburgh and stay with my in-laws while the movers took our goods to the new house, and then fly to D.C. when the house was somewhat set up. I remember nothing about the flights, how I got to the Cleveland airport, or how it was flying with a baby in my arms and a preschooler by the hand. I’m sure there were moments of great kindness from strangers.

The baby was allergic to disposable diapers and could not be left wet. The doctor had told me to use cloth diapers with no plastic pants and change her every time she was wet. I absolutely had to use disposables when we traveled, but at my in-laws house we laid her down with a bare bottom and a light bulb nearby, as the doctor had advised.

We ultimately settled in our new home (which I had never laid eyes on until I arrived with the kids) and lived there for eight years, until we moved to Texas. It was a wonderful neighborhood with good Fairfax County schools–the elementary school was a half-mile walk away–and it was worth the turmoil to get there.

Oh, but the journey was one of the toughest of my life.

Google street view of that house today. We paid a bit over $60K for it. The current market value is probably in the $700s–five bedrooms, three full baths, 1/4 acre lot, commuting distance to Washington, nice Fairfax Co. neighborhood–and those tall white oak trees–woods behind the house with neighbors on the other side, and kids to play with in the woods.

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