January 26, 1978, a winter storm nicknamed “White Hurricane” hit the city of Cleveland and surrounding areas with violent fury: 80 mile an hour winds, semi-trailer trucks stuck in snowdrifts lining the highway, and power outages across the city-wide grid. Luckily, before the center of the storm hit, the weather service gave the Cleveland residents ample warning to be prepared for a “big one.” Students were told in the afternoon on the 25th to prepare for the possibly of a whole week off of snow days. At the grade school I was attending, St. Raphael’s Catholic School, Sister Joan of Arc made sure each student had enough work to keep them busy for a whole week. That meant we had to lug home all four of our heavy textbooks: grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science. For a fourth grader, it was like carrying a mountain. (Yes, Joan of Arc was actually her name; and I still am convinced the rumor about her is true: like her namesake she hid a deadly medieval sword under her desk to have on hand when needed to ensure order in the classroom)
At 3:20 the first afternoon school bell rang out - - all walkers and bike riders were now free to venture out in the blanket of white already pouring out of the ominous gray sky. My two sisters and I met at our normal spot on the sidewalk to begin making the routine trek home. We were bundled in our scarves, mittens, and giant plastic boots each carrying that mountain of books wedged under an arm. Our task: trudge 10 blocks in 4 inches of newly fallen powder snow. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Surely, we could make it.
Wait, you also had to factor in frigid below-zero temperatures, and a bitter north-easterly wind that was screaming off the top of the frozen ice of Lake Erie. And did I mention that our house was stationed directly across from the lake which received the full brunt of the ferocious wind? So there we were, 3 shivering, blinded, and scared out of our socks elementary school kids that had to enter the dragon of a newly birthed blizzard. Each step home was like the march of a Russian prisoner walking toward a Siberian camp in shackles of a Stalin’ gulag. And no, I am not overstating the case with pastoral hyperbole. We were trapped in the jaws of another Cleveland winter!
“Look!” cried my sister Gina, “It’s Buffers!” Out in the distance a tiny brown dog was frolicking in the mounds of snow, wagging his tail running toward us. And then I saw him, my DAD, MY HERO, instantly appearing out of the white curtain of snow. He was wearing his favorite leather jacket, chewing on a toothpick, sporting brown polyester pants, and of course forging tracks in his big black army boots: The Iceman Cometh! Somehow, in that moment, Siberia turned into Wonderland! “Hey guys,” he said, “let me carry your books, mom has hot chocolate brewing and we are going to have some fun watching the storm tonight!”
Fun? Yes, fun! When dad was nearbye, life was fun. In one swift movement of his arm he swallowed our stacks of books, and led us merrily back home. On that dark, cold winter day, my dad’s heart of joy melted our fear. This is how it is walking with Christ: though we face a scary and uncertain 2014, and we know that the storms will surely come, Jesus is with us. Joy is always at his right hand!