This winter’s extreme weather has awakened a dormant trait that I hoped I would never display: generational oneupsmanship. When a “polar vortex” brought record-cold temperatures to the Midwest earlier this week, I found myself saying to younger folks (a growing population segment for me), “If you think this is bad, let me tell you about the blizzard of 1978.” Then I launched into some of my favorite stories about rationing electricity, wading through snowdrifts to exchange groceries with my neighbor, etc. My tales inspired no awe, but it felt good to have the storehouse of memory that enabled me to tell them.

Now a great thaw has begun. Temperatures have shot up nearly 60 degrees in central Indiana, rain is falling steadily, and last weekend’s snow accumulation is melting fast. Flooded streets and basements are sure to follow. I’m already rehearsing the script in my head: “If you think this is bad, let me tell you about the flood of 1982.” I was pastor at a church in Fort Wayne, IN, that winter and a similar fast reversal of weather flooded the city, driving several of our parishioners to seek emergency shelter. President Reagan overflew us in a helicopter to inspect the damage. I’m sure I’ll have opportunities to tell those stories in the days ahead.

My elders did the same thing when I was a youth, and I resented it. Their doleful stories of bygone disasters seemed to discount the significance of my own experience.

Now I have a different perspective. I feel these recollections strengthen the bonds of one generation to another, and reassure younger people that they will survive today’s troubles because the previous generation did. Old-timers’ stories remind everyone that the “hundred-year flood” comes every 20 or 30 years, but people find a way to salvage something and rebuild.

Guess that makes me an old-timer, doesn’t it? But I’m beginning to think this disaster is survivable, too.