Blizzard stories accumulate on local couple's website
By Maureen Walsh / Correspondent
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Where were you when the lights went out? And the tide crashed in? When the snow came down fast and thick and the wind whipped it up again into drifts that covered fences and mailboxes and cars?
Where were you when the voices on the radio said martial law is in effect, stay off the roads, and don' t eat the lobsters stuck in the hedges?
Where were you 25 years ago during the Blizzard of 1978? Bruce and Rosalyn Simons want to know.
In fact, the Braintree couple is hoping their website will become the central Internet resource for information, personal stories and web links on the blizzard. Their on-line collection of personal stories and photos already has attracted a flurry of interest from the Hull Lifesaving Museum; from Chris Haraden of Hanover, author of "The Storm of the Century"; and from Channel 5's "Chronicle," Channel 4 News and FOX Channel 25.
"Anybody who has a story, we'd like to hear it. Send us an e-mail or leave a note in the guest book," said Bruce, who started the website almost seven years ago with a few memories from family members and friends. "You can post pictures on the page, anything you want to share. The website is just for fun."
A senior systems analyst for State Street Financial Corp. in Boston, Bruce said he enjoys creating websites to highlight people and events that others enjoy. He and Rozz, both age 46, have been married almost ten years. Rozz, a former payroll manager, operates Aunty Rozz's Pet-Sitting Service in Braintree.
Although he's always had an interest in weather and storms, Bruce said he didn't develop his fascination with the Blizzard of '78 until he and Rosalyn compared their experiences. They had grown up in Hull together and dated as young teens, but they didn't reconnect until a chance encounter on the T more than a dozen years after the blizzard.
"My memories are not that dramatic," said Bruce, who was living in Brockton in 1978. "Basically I was shoveling snow and trying to find a place to put it. I met a lot of people in the apartment complex, just walking around, saying hello. I don't think we ever lost power. It was more of a party kind of thing."
It was a very different story for Rozz.
"I was working at Shawmut Bank in Boston, and nobody knew what a big storm it was going to be," she said. "They wouldn't let us out early."
After an hour-and-a-half trip to Quincy by T, Rozz managed to catch what would be the last MBTA bus to Hingham. Two friends she met on the bus helped her dig her car out of the snow and drove with her to Hull.
"Hull was already flooded then, about a foot-and-a-half, up to my knees. The car died, and we pulled over," Rozz said. One of her passengers lived nearby, but she and her other friend had to keep walking. "It was hard to get our bearings. Everything was white, and the snow was coming down sideways."
The two friends were rescued by a young woman, Kim Gustafson, who invited them to join a small group of stranded people in her nearby apartment. They huddled around the gas oven to dry out and keep warm, and the next morning the water had gone down.
Rozz stopped on her trudge home to check on her aunt and her uncle, who was deaf and blind. "I stayed there, not thinking the tide would come up again. I thought it was all over," she said.
When the water rose this time, Rozz and her aunt and uncle had to be evacuated by boat to a police wagon. They were taken to the Memorial School, where they spent the next few days with as many as 3,000 other evacuees.
"I was so glad to see my dad when he finally came for me," Rozz recalled. "My parents' house had no electricity and no heat, but had a fireplace where we all huddled to keep warm for many days. The freezer in the basement was defrosting turkeys, roasts and steaks, so we ate very well."
The Mecklers, a neighboring family whose house was under water, stayed with the Glikin family for the whole week
"My parents' house was kind of fun. We just tried to keep cozy, telling stories and relaxing by the fireplace," Rozz said. "Out on the street, people were walking around, using sleds to take kids for rides. There were no cars. It was like a Norman Rockwell scene, a different feeling that everyone was friendly, sharing."
Still, she said, one storm like that was enough for her.
"When it first happened, I needed to talk about it, it was so traumatizing, but no one wanted to listen," said Rozz.
"When she told me her story, I said, 'Wow, that is something else!' I had no idea she went through that," said Bruce. "I was fascinated. I started going around and asking relatives and friends what happened to them. I found all kinds of connections between people I knew."
Some of his favorite stories, in fact, come from his aunt Lil Willis, who ran the cafeteria at the Memorial School that served as refuge for Rozz and the other evacuees.
"She talks about how she and her coworker ended up feeding several hundred to several thousand people three meals a day when they were used to 300 kids once a day," he said. "It's just amazing what those couple of women took in stride."
Lil Willis's notes on the website include the challenges of scrounging up kosher meals, diabetic meals and breakfast at 6:30 a.m. for early bird toddlers. She also wrote, "We heard two women on the third floor were in 'business.'"
In recent years, Bruce said he's been actively soliciting stories for the website. Some of the entries describe harrowing journeys home, the flooding and destruction along the coast, and the experiences of residents evacuated from their homes.
Others focus on details: how the fish tank froze, the scuba divers who came to shut off the electricity, a brand new car scooped off the street by a front-end loader to make room for the snow plows.
"The Blizzard of '78 was shared by a lot of people," he said, "but everyone's blizzard was different."
And how is it for Rozz, after 25 years, to have the media chasing after her story?
"It's been quite fun and exciting, though it was easier to tell the story at first," she said.
She's thrilled that some of her blizzard photographs of Hull will appear in "The Storm of the Century" and will be enlarged for display in the Hull Lifesaving Museum's special exhibit on the storm. "I'd like to see more interest, though, rather than just the 25th anniversary," Rozz said.
The storm has had another big effect on Rozz's life. She ran into Kim Gustafson, the acquaintance who offered refuge in her apartment the first night of the storm, at one of Bruce's Hull High School reunions and the two became good friends.
"I remember sloshing along in that freezing knee-deep water, " said Rozz. "I don't know what I would have done. She made a difference in my life."
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