Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ice, ice, baby.

I have many cold stories for my years spent in Maine but the one that stands out is the Ice Storm of 1998. It stands out because all the other cold stories have one thing in common - the possibility of being warm - just GO INSIDE! Yeah, it's cold picking apples, raking leaves, watching parades, shoveling show, sledding, making snow angels, and all the other outdoorsy things that make up a Maine fall and winter but you can, at the end, just go inside and get warm again. But the ice storm was different because the ice took down the trees, which took down the power lines, which blocked the roads, and the end result of that domino trail was that we ("we" the people of Maine) had no electricity, no fuel to be delivered, no way other than wood to heat our homes. So it was cold.. even on the inside.

The first day, not realising the magnitude of the storm, I was home with my two children huddled in my bedroom under tons of covers with candle after candle burning. I had never fully appreciated until that day and night how much warmth even a single candle flame can emit. But I certainly appreciated the danger of the open flames and so stayed up as late as I could to watch them and then finally relented and blew them out to get some sleep. The temperature immediately plummeted and sleep was hard to come by. I met the new morning more tired than I had been the night before.

Where was my husband? At that time he was an active duty Marine. As a Marine wife, the first thing you learn is that you come second. When the hurricane comes, when the streets flood, when the prisoners riot, when the towers fall, whenever anything bad happens, your Marine goes off to help other people and you are left alone. So I started out the ice storm alone.

As the storm continued my husband came home to check on us. He helped us move downstairs and start a fire in the wood stove. The wood stove was in a room that was an addition off the back of the house. It stuck straight out of the back, an awkward appendage built on a slope so that it was exposed on every side even the bottom! The wood stove put out a lot of heat but the force of nature, the wind whistling along every wall and corner was too much competition. You were only warm as long as you were within inches of the stove and that was a tricky thing to accomplish with a preschooler and a toddler. Next thing I knew someone felt almost too warm and I realised that my daughter was sick with a fever. We spent one long night huddled together in sleeping bags and under every cover we could gather trying to sleep beside the stove. The cold was unrelenting and there was no hope of sleep in such a dangerous situation. What if my daughter got sicker and needed help? What if my son toddled too close to the wood stove and got burnt? All these worries kept me from any sleep and when morning came, I was exhausted and worried and scared and most of all still very, very cold.

How would we ever make it through another day and night? It humbled me that "just the cold" could bring me to such a state of desperation.

My husband was finally able to be relieved of his duties at work and came home with a plan. The main highways had been cleared and the bigger cities had power restored. So we loaded everyone in the car, got onto 95-South and drove to Portland, Maine. (Oh, how I wished we could just keep driving 95 all the way South to home! To warmth!) Husband settled us into a hotel and returned to his duties. It was less than a day or so until we heard that power back home had been restored and we piled back into the car to reverse our journey.

The irony of the ice storm is that it doesn't seem stormy at all. After the initial rain, there is calm, The ice silently forms and everything comes to a halt. There is silence that seems so peaceful but the numbing cold keeps the land encased in the blanket of ice and prevents it from healing. In fact, the sound that would break the silence was the crack of limbs falling and after less than a day at home, the power was gone again. Refreshed from a good night's rest at the hotel, we braved it for a night in the cold, cold house before giving in and looking locally for other accommodations.

The "other accommodations" were a flea bag motel on the wrong side of town. When I registered and all the clerk wanted was a first name and payment in cash, I knew it was going to be one of the more interesting nights of my life! The motel didn't disappoint because my only hope and expectation was to be warm. Being warm, even in a lice infested cheap motel, being warm was a blessing.

Now I cuddle in the warmth of the blessings I have in my family and faith and know that I will not take this warmth for granted. When it gets too cold, I will come inside and be thankful for the warmth.

This post has been submitted to the Write Away contest for December hosted at Scribbit - this month's theme is "keeping warm". I started this post when the contest was first announced - long before the elements combined to create another ice storm, devastating the Northeast. Prayers for all the people living through it now.

1 comment:

Scribbit said...

Reminds me of an ice storm we had years ago but wasn't as bad.