I came for the steelmill work – stayed for the weather

This morning I am listening to drum & bass and techno, swinging away from my current obsession with classical.   This is summer music to me; I tend toward quieter music – new age, folksy and indie a la Dar Williams, maybe classical – in the autumn and winter.

Mid 40s is expected here today, but cloudy, and rain. The rain is welcome, melting snow and cleaning the dirt and grime and road salt off my van. Then a swing back down below normal, highs in the 20s and fresh snow, later this week.

January’s last week is statistically the coldest of the year here. Either Jan, 26 or 29, I forget. The average high at this point is 29 F. Which really isn’t that bad – you’ve got to figure that 1/3 of the time the daily highs get above freezing. This week is the trough of winter, it’s uphill from here.

January 29 is the anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77. It only snowed a foot, but 5 days of bitter cold and 50 mph wind bursts blew loose packed snow off ice covered Lake Erie. We didn’t have the kind of precise forecasting, radars, computer models, that we do now.

And it was coupled at the same moment with the unprecedented dismantling of Buffalo’s core steel mills. During the Blizzard of ‘77 a billboard stood on Niagara Square next to City Hall: “Will the Last One to Leave, Turn Out the Lights” – a laid-off steelworker had paid for it out of his severance package.

My mother’s grandfather came over from Germany and opened a candy shop. My father’s paternal family have been American since Colonial times – with a brief stint in Newfoundland before coming back down to the Lower 13. His mother was a farmgirl – whose family farm was in the city limits – with an ancestor supposedly born in Buffalo in 1820.

Sometimes I wonder why they decided to settle here. My oldest uncle and his family moved to southern California in 1961. Now I and my sisters have all stayed here, but our cousins on our other side have scattered south. And I wonder why I’ve stayed here. (Actually, I know – a lot to do with the inertia of my clinical depression, but that’s for other posts).

Why didn’t my ancestors move on past the Erie Canal terminus as most did, into the waiting expansive farmland of cleaner air and drier and warmer climes? Probably something in our genes or our karma that finds comfort hunkered down in the gray and cold, the looming shadows and gutteral thrumming from steelmills and rumbling trains, a plebian commiseration with men wearing overalls and carrying steel lunchboxes heading out to the factory at 10:30 at night.

Maybe Buffalonians do not suffer under the illusion that no matter how sunny and warm and bright things may become – even when it is natural, justified – that that is the way it always will be. Life always has a homeostatic balance, a yin and yang. Or maybe we are self-aware that we are so susceptible to that illusion and its inevitable depressing crash, we know we have to have reality slap us out of it every winter, ever season the Bills falter and meander, every time our mayor gets wide eyed over a new grand development project’s blue-skied, people-packed artist rendering.


2 responses to “I came for the steelmill work – stayed for the weather

  1. As you know, I love snow, which makes me a freak, but I am from Syracuse, and I’ve been here since 2003, and I’ve got to say that everyone in Buffalo who complains about the weather should be forced to live in Syracuse (or better still, OSWEGO) for a couple years. The snow is worse, it’s rainer, and I’ve got to tell you, when it’s 104 degrees at 3pm in August and then 62 that night as the thunderstorms roar in, it’s dramatic, but it is NOT FUN.

    Also, since between Buffalo and Syracuse was 8 yrs in the Philadelphia area, I’ve got to say one winter in the gray of places where the grass doesn’t try to sneak every ounce of sunlight it can, and where no one goes “what will these plants look like in the snow” is more than enough for everyone.

    But, hey, blame Central New York. We had Carrier….who built the air conditioners so manufacturing could move to the south and eventually Mexico…

  2. I have never left Buffalo to live somewhere else – was planning to move to Colorado in the early 90’s but things started falling into place here for a while so I decided to stay.

    But I think by 47 winters I do not need any more to keep myself grounded, if I ever do leave.

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