Today’s the 30th anniversary of my 16th birthday. Strange way to look at it, maybe, but then again, I’ll bet I’m not the only person who ever thought of it that way. The years of our youth tend to echo down through time (in various ways, voluntarily and involuntarily, good and bad, whether we like it or not), and few of mine echo the way 16 does. I wrote about it last summer in a series of posts about the summer of 1976, and I’ve written about the fall of 1976 on more than one occasion. Before the 30th anniversary of ’76 is over, you’re liable to be sick of reading about it here.
I don’t remember much about the actual events of my 16th birthday, except I had an actual birthday that year because there was a February 29th that year. (In off-years, like 2006, I observe it on the 28th.) It was a Sunday. One odd memory sticks with me–when I came down to breakfast that morning, my mother teased me with “sweet 16 and never been kissed,” which was not strictly true, although I surely hadn’t been kissed very much, and in my opinion, not nearly enough.
What’s more memorable is the next week–on Thursday and Friday, March 4 and 5, one of the worst winter storms ever to hit Wisconsin barreled into our area. As the National Weather Service describes it:
This incredible ice storm completely snapped hundreds of utility poles, downed thousands of power and telephone lines and totally destroyed many trees. Some ice accumulations ranged up to a phenomenal five inches in diameter on wires and limbs of trees. The excessive ice accumulations were in part caused by thunderstorms that rapidly built up the ice. High winds gusting to 60 mph made a horrible situation even worse. Up to 600,000 residences were directly affected by the ice storm and up to 100,000 people were without power during the height of the storm. Some rural areas were without power for over 10 days.
We lost the electricity fairly early on, and spent one dark night listening to the wind howl around the farmhouse. On the second day, my parents dispatched us kids to the homes of various friends in town, where the lights were on. That was an adventure in itself–but the adventure had its limits. I passed up the chance to go to an out-of-town basketball game with my friend because I wanted to stay in and read Vincent Bugliosi’s chronicle of the Manson clan, Helter Skelter. Such was the level of my nerdiness aged 16 years and one week.
We were among the lucky ones. We were only three days without electricity, the longest we went without it during all the years I lived at home. Yet even in the midst of a storm for the ages, one thing remained the same for me: My radio never went off, although it switched to battery power for a while. In fact, my memory of the wind howling around a dark and cold house on that first night is punctuated by Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way,” which was new that week. Several other records from early March 1976 can still bring back those stormy days–even though I’ve listened to a lot of them over and over since then. Eric Carmen’s bombastic “All By Myself” and Gary Wright’s spaced-out “Dream Weaver” were in the hot rotation. And there was “Squeeze Box” by the Who and “Fanny” by the Bee Gees, the theme from S.W.A.T. and “Love Hurts” by Nazareth, “Slow Ride” by Foghat and “Golden Years” by David Bowie and at least 32 others on the Top 40–because no matter what, come hell or high water or five inches of ice, when you’ve just turned 16 and you’re obsessed with rock on the radio, the hits must keep on comin’.