Woonsocket Grandma Who Braved Blizzard Of '78 Immortalized In Grandson's Ballad

Family tale of a feisty Lilian Finkelstein told in Tully Cumming's "Blizzard of 78".


Lots of folks tell personal tales of the historic two-day nor'easter that began Feb. 5, 1978 — singer songwriter Tully Cummings spins the story of his grandmother Lilian Finkelstein's journey that day in the ballad, "Blizzard of '78".

Lilian, a 62-year-old who lived in Woonsocket on Woodland Road at the time (Now she's a Cumberland resident), was babysitting the then 5-year-old Cummings as the storm approached the area.

With Cummings' parents home, and her husband, Elliot (one of four brothers who ran J. Finkelstein's & Sons outer wear and sportswear) waiting for her in Woonsocket, Lilian set off in her Oldsmobile Delta 88, determined to make the trip. "Against everybody telling her not to leave, she left Middleboro, MA and headed for Woonsocket, RI," Cummings said.

"I foolishly thought that I could get home," Lilian said. The storm got worse, and she found herself all alone on the highway with no guardrails, and it was getting dark. She couldn't turn around, she said, because she didn't know the area well enough, so she continued forward for about 20 minutes before she saw a set of red lights ahead, which turned out to be a sander truck. She decided to stick with it. "...and wherever they (the red lights) went, there I would go," Lilian said.

She followed the truck off the highway, and saw that it was turning around to get back on. She decided to park her car and walk to another set of lights that turned out to be a DPW shack. She opened the door and stepped into a room full of men - DPW workers.

"They looked looked at me and said, 'Lady, what are you doing here?' Lilian said. When she told them she was driving to Woonsocket, "They said, 'You're not going anywhere tonight,'" Lillian recalls.

She called her husband to tell him she was OK, then got a ride from a DPW worker in his truck as another man drove her car to a nearby motel.  

Cummings said he can't recall much of that day, but he does remember his grandmother didn't make it home, winding up at the Foxboro DPW, where town workers took her in and set her up in a nearby motel for the duration.  

"I stayed in that motel for four days," she said. Luckily, she had some money and the reputation of J. Finkelstein's & Sons behind her, she said. That and a nearby restaurant kept her warm and fed until her son could use his Jeep to pick her up and take her home.

"And here I am at 97 still trying to recall it," Lilian said. She said she's had a good life as a photographer, golfer and artist, with the sad exception of Elliot's death in 1988, and she's happy to be able to remember much of it. 

"It's a story we've had in our family for years," Cummings said. The Middleboro, MA musician, who's been writing, singing and performing for about 15 years, said the song's been around for about two years.

While the song itself has been around for a while, Cummings said he created a video for it and posted it to facebook today for the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 78. Cummings said Lilian was happy to hear he'd put her story to song. "She loved it. She had tears in her eyes," he said. 

"I guess I have a survivor's spirit," Lilian said of her decades-old ordeal, but with another storm on its way Friday, "I'm staying put and I'm warning everyone else to do the same," she said.

You can purchase Cummings' songs and CDs directly from tullycummings.bandcamp.com, and visit his facebook page to keep apprised of his future endeavors.


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