Ice Storm Blues: Winter Memory Writing Challenge
The following story is a response to the Jackie Linley's winter memories writing challenge.
I'd never been in an ice storm before. Although I started out in Washington state, at age eleven we moved to California where I was to live for the next 23 years. So when I returned in 1990 with my own family, I had long forgotten winter weather. The Pacific Northwest is moderate though. Winter's are not extreme usually compared to the midwest and the east. Ocassionaly we have a harder winter than normal. 1996 was one of those hard "memorable" winters - as in "will never forget."
My son Troy and daughter-in-law Sarah, along with their little toddler, Brynn, were visiting us from Southern California. We lived on a rural peninsula with the Puget Sound just across the road through the trees. Our acre was mostly trees with a bit of grass and an orchard on a grassy knoll. The weather forceast was snow, and lots of it. We all know weathermen are often wrong, this time they were right about the snow, but there was not lots of it; however there was lots of ice.
In the middle of the night we heard an explosion. There were seven people in the house sound asleep and it woke everyone of us. This was followed by yet another explosion. We looked out the huge picture windows in our living room expecting to see something firery, but there was nothing but some snow. We were totally baffled. Then there was another explosion. What the heck? My husband stuck his head out the door and listened. The next explosion happened, and as a former Chicagoan, he figured it out, - deep freeze. They called it an ice storm. Trees everywhere around us were breaking. The weight of the ice on the trees caused them to snap. Since we lived in a forested area, we listened to the explosions all night long. It was sounded like a war zone. The power went out early on and did not come back on for eight days. We were lucky, some people didn't have power for two weeks or more.
Usually when the power went out, it wasn't a big deal. We had a gigantic old woodstove to keep us warm and to cook on. Water was the only issue and we stored it regularly because it went out often in our rural setting. However, we did not save enough water for seven people for an eight day duration. It presented several problems:
- The little snow we had was so frozen it was hard to get enough into a bucket to be of much help for anything.
- The only way we could flush the toilet was with a bucket of water. This was a gross-out with seven people in the house.
- We couldn't bathe other than a little sponging because the water was mostly for cooking.
- With all the downed trees, thick ice, and living many miles for any supermarket of size, we were unable to buy more water. Word had it anyway that they sold out quickly.
- Washing dishes was difficult with so many people and not enough water.
- There was ablsolutely not enough water to wash clothes.
This was most difficult for our daughter-in-law who'd been raised near the beach in southern California all her life. She had no clue about power outages, septic systems, or about pumps and wells. The toilet thing was especially hard on her. They'd only been married about a year or so, and because they were so far away, she didn't know us all that well. And let's face it, a toilet with seven people using it gets really full and gross to anybody, but especially when you're with people you are not intimately acquainted with. We flushed once a day if we could get enough water in a bucket, and the four males "colored the snow," so to speak, and saved their biggest contributions for the commode.
My husband's Green Beret Motto
Bored out of our gourds
The second most annyoing problem was boredom. The days went on and on with only small, occasional changes in temperature. My husband and my three sons were very good natured about it; it was an adventure to them. We ladies were not amused since we did all the work of cooking and trying to clean up, and to keep the baby clean and happy. Hubby would try to rally the troops with hot chocolate and attempted to keep a steady flow of lighthearted conversation. He's a funny story teller (real stories, not fictitious). In this rally mode, his motto was "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, so chug-a-lug baby." That turned sour on me real quick (pun intended).
There was no VCR, no cable, no CD's, we got sick of board games (no pun intended) rather quickly, and with the tension, conversation got strained at times. Our granddaughter helped a lot with her cuteness, but she had her cranky moments too.
My son Troy had always loved to chop wood. So he bundled up and kept warm and productive by chopping wood in a little open woodshed we had. We already had enough wood chopped, but it kept him out of a tension filled house and it certainly didn't hurt to have extra wood in case our trial decided to go on forever. The other guys would go out and help or watch. My youngest was only four so he loved to be just part of the group. He was having a ball.
It was getting harder and harder for me to refrain from reading my husband the riot act for being too cheap to buy a generator when we could. When we stood on our front deck, we could hear the sweet symphony of all our neighbor's generator motors running. They were watching movies on their VCR's. They were flushing their toilets. They had running water. They had running dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines. It's good that my daughter-in-law was there and I had to have good manners or I would have turned his adventure into a nightmare. It really wouldn't have helped anything but to relieve the massive boiler of pent up steam in my head, to have said "I told you so." Besides that, my husband was having fun. He was a former Green Beret and roughing it was manly and cool. When in his Green Beret mode, his motto was "No pain, no gain." Many of his regular "stories" during our trial were from his experience in a thirty day survival exercise he'd had in the Green Beret's. He ate a snake. He made fire out of animal dung. He got hit in the head by a boat during a water exercise - the very reason he thought this adventure was fun, I'm sure. He did all kinds of impressive things on his stupid survival maneuver. But we weren't a military unit, and I plumb forgot to buy snake when I last went grocery shopping.
Flushed at last
The magic moment
We kept hearing from neighbors that the power crews would soon arrive, but we were at the end of the Peninsula so we were served nearly last. On the eigth day we were all hanging out in the living room and family room when all of a sudden the lights and TV went on. There was a pause, then pandemonium. Except for my husband, the baby, and my four year old son, everyone was trying to beat the others to do the honors. My daughter-in-law pushed her way through and without drumroll or fanfare, flushed the commode. The ceiling opened, the clouds parted, and the bathroom was filled with radiant beams from heaven and the angels were singing "Alleluia!"
When the celestial visitors departed, I got out the tidybowl and a brush and did a stellar job cleaning the porcelin throne. While I was at it, I cleaned the sinks and the floor. The Oval office was fairly sparkling.
Helen trumps Barry
Because Sarah had suffered the most, we let her shower first. I could swear I saw and smelled tiny little scented fairies fly out of the bathroom when she opened the door after showering. I'd forgotten what shampoo smelled like. It was sheer bliss after smelling sewage for eight days.
That night I made a feast and we all ate in front of the television watching movies. The atmosphere was festive and gay and there were smiles and happy chatter all around. Then my husband burst the bubble with, "See honey, it worked out fine without a generator."
The boys had to pry mine and Sarah's hands off his neck. When his color changed from blue to pink again, we heard him humming Barry Sadler's hit, "Ballad of the Green Berets" in the next room. Anyone can sit around and tell stupid survival stories and put a log on the fire every now and then, that didn't make them "America's best," as Barry would have you believe. No, we women did the brunt of the work that whole week. Sarah and I were the true survivors, which led us to trumph Barry with Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman!" Boy, did they hear us roar!
Barry Sadler - Ballad of the Green Berets
Helen Reddy - I Am Woman
© Lori Colbo 2014. All rights reserved.