For some residents, the storm gave birth to fond memories

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter J. Howe
Globe Staff / February 3, 2008

For many New Englanders who lived through it, the Blizzard of 1978 triggers memories of frightening destruction, homes washed into the sea, and thousands trapped on snowbound highways.

When Bev Wright thinks of the blizzard, she remembers the spark of a love affair that's lasted to this day.

Wright was in her sixth month as a counselor at St. Aloysius Home for Boys, a Catholic boarding school for troubled youths in Greenville, R.I., in February 1978. At the time, she was harboring a huge, unrequited crush on the school's recreation director, Steve Wright.

"The second I had met him, it was like a lightning bolt went through me. It was love at first sight," she recalled. But "he completely had no idea I existed," she said. He also had a girlfriend.

By winter, Wright's girlfriend had moved to Vermont, but "he was extremely just professional with me," she said.

Her fortunes - and those of thousands of others - began to change on the morning of Feb. 6, 1978.

Hearing forecasts of a big storm, which she suspected might trap her at work overnight, the then-Bev Mondillo packed extra socks, make-up, and hair brush for work.

That Monday night, as several feet of snow piled up outside, the staff slept on cots and mats in an old convent on school grounds, where they ended up spending five nights. Those nights found Bev and Steve talking, and talking, and talking some more. One night - in the convent - they found their way to a first kiss.

At the end of the week, the couple walked eight miles down snow-choked streets to the Providence lot where National Guard snow-plowing crews had stored their cars. That walk clinched another they made - down the aisle 19 months later at the Brown University chapel. Steve Wright, now 55 and a Veterans Administration healthcare researcher, and Bev, development director for a Brockton health program, will mark their 29th anniversary in September.

"Today, I still see every snowflake," the 53-year-old Bev Wright said, "as if it were the beginning of the Blizzard of '78."

Thirty years ago this week, Emilie Caufield and her husband, Leo, hosted a four-day sleep-over party - for 30 total strangers.

Their visitors were people whose cars and trucks had become stranded on Route 128, barely 100 feet behind their home near the Interstate 95 interchange in Canton. As the sun began to rise the Tuesday morning of the blizzard, when the last of some 27 inches of fast-falling snow was still coming down, the Caufields' son Jim and neighborhood boys out exploring the drifts discovered that dozens of people had spent the night in their vehicles.

Leo Caufield, a career Brookline firefighter who died eight years ago, and Emilie didn't hesitate to invite several to climb over the highway fence - its top barely above the snowdrifts - to come in, warm up, and eat. "What else could you do? Somebody needed help, and you could help them," Emilie said.

That spirit of hospitality pervaded the snow-paralyzed stretch of 128. The Dedham Showcase Cinemas welcomed 500 people in from the road to sleep. Instron, a technical testing equipment maker then based in Canton, opened its doors to 800. St. Bartholomew's Church in Needham sheltered 1,200.

Caufield remembers that the visiting strangers, some of whom slept on the floor of her basement playroom for four nights before plowing crews opened up 128 for them to leave, "were a wonderful bunch of people." Emilie cooked up a vat of American chop suey, and one night, an intrepid group borrowed a sled to make a beer run.

None has kept in touch with her, but she remembers the visitors included a family coming back from a Vermont ski vacation whose toddler slept in a playpen and a Sharon businessman who later delivered her a big ham to say thank you. "It was a great time," Caufield said.

The night the blizzard was raging, the Beanpot hockey tournament went on, and 11,666 fans saw Harvard edge Northeastern, 4 to 3, and Boston University pound Boston College, 12 to 5. Peter Saul, then 24 and living in Belmont, battled the mounting snow in his Camaro to get his date home to Medford, then remembered that friends from his University of New Hampshire class lived nearby.

"I just barely got in the driveway, and then crashed there for four days," said Saul, now a Carlisle resident.

"It was a fun time. We partied every night. If it was to happen today, I probably, being older and a little wiser, wouldn't have gone out. But being a young kid just out of college, I thought I could handle anything. Everybody who was around then has some memory of the Blizzard of '78, usually a happy memory of this peaceful, quiet week," Saul said. "Mine will be being stuck in Medford."

When the blizzard brought record high tides, Jean Brouillette's family cottage in the Sand Hills section of Scituate was among scores of heavily damaged homes. Some washed into the bay completely.

"It was just three days of pounding," Brouillette said. "The house across the street landed on our front doorstep."

Still, she said, "We felt like we were more kind of the lucky ones. At least our house was still standing."

By summer, her father, Robert, was leading the family in repairing the house and replacing the smashed porch and deck. Her job was putting screens in the windows.

Ten years ago, her parents upgraded the summer place to a year-round retirement home.

"We still live in Scituate. We've had 40 years of great memories," she said.

"But I never want to see another one of those storms."

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