24-7 Family Togetherness Time

For lack of a coherent entry, I thought I'd ramble a bit…

I never quite found a way to believe that my little blue planet took the opportunity of wintertime to point away from the Sun, not until I looked up one icy, sunny winter day and saw the rainbows. Every year after that, they came back, like the ice, my silent friends of wintertime afternoons. Only in midwinter was the sunlight angled correctly to stream in through the picture window, where it would be refracted through the cut-glass panes of my mother's coffee table.

If you looked up, straight ahead, toward the kitchen, you would see the horizontal rainbows splayed against the ceiling. They would show up first as white globs of light, then sharpen into rainbows, and then quietly fade over the course of the afternoon.

On the days of ice storms, they gave me something else to watch besides the glass-sculpture world outside the window.

We spent our waking time in the living room, close to the wood-burning fireplace, on ice storm days. Without power and heat, the rest of the house was simply too dark and too cold to do much of anything in, so whether we liked it or not, it was 24-7 Family Togetherness Time.

For people who have never experienced this particular type of weather event firsthand, it is difficult to explain the total isolation of the event. Somewhere between you and the nearest town, some suicidally-inclined tree branch would finally get the courage to break from the tree and take some power lines down with it. Soon after, others would succumb to the weight of ice and peer pressure and hop down to the ground to keep the first branch company—and so on down the line.

The end result: power could literally be out for days.

But, being the intrepid modern-day pioneers that we were, our houses automatically came equipped with two features generally unseen in most suburban houses: a woodpile, and a wood-burning fireplace.

Most folk who had qualms about 'killing trees' tended to lose them after their fourth day without power. In the absence of electricity, idealism can only keep you warm for approximately three hours. Seventy-two hours into the situation, all but the most ardent environmentalists will burn nearly anything combustible to raise the ambient air temperature high enough so that breaths are no longer visible.

The first day was always an adventure. I would lie by the fire, dressed warmly, and read by firelight until my mother would scold me about ruining my eyes. (Given that I've worn bifocals since my 22nd birthday, maybe she had a point?) More often than not, we'd end up all sleeping in the living room to take advantage of the ambient heat of the fireplace.

The second day was more humdrum.

The third day was when everyone started climbing the walls. Mom would haul out her heaviest pot and put a roast and vegetables in it, and let it cook over the fireplace all day. Even now, I associate pot roast with ice storms, despite the fact that we actually ate more sandwiches and cold food during the power outages than we did pot roasts.

By the fourth day, insanity started to set in. You were cold, you hadn't had a hot shower in several days, you hadn't left the house, and more often than not you didn't have phone service.

On the fourth day, someone usually got brave enough to try to go to the store. Not necessarily because we would be in need of bread, milk, and toilet paper (although we usually were) but just for the sheer accomplishment of having gotten out.

Out here in eastern Alabama, we just don't get the same severity of ice storms that I remember from my childhood. Geof and I both think we may be in for a good one tonight, but even that probably won't keep us in the house for more than a day. We've got the three southern staples (milk, bread, and toilet paper) in any case.

Maybe Jeff will get to sleep in tomorrow.


oh, you only _think_ we don't get that severity of ice storms around here. We get them, they're just not a normal occurence around here. But, I promise you that I can completely understand what you're saying. Thankfully, we had a Coleman camp stove as well as full camping equipment. So, when the power went out for a week, we were at least partially ready. We also had a couple kerosene heaters, so that we could go into rooms away from each other for periods of time. We don't have them often, but we most definitely have nasty ice storms around here.

There was a really bad one in 1994 that I know hit Mississippi and Alabama. We had another one after that around 95 or 96, but I don't know if that went into huntsville. The 94 one though, was really tough. I was kind of looking forward to a snow day myself... but it didn't happen... oh well. We used to have a wood burning heater at my house too. It was replaced by Gas heat, but nothing is quite as warm as the wood burning heater. But the wood heater also wreaked havoc on everyone's sinuses, so it had to go..

I remember the '94 ice storm at Bama! Classes were cancelled for the day and we all slid down to the strip to get some beverages. :) The ice was easily an inch thick on all of the branches! We also tried ice skating on the quad -- but that didn't work out too well. It lasted about 2 days before the ice had melted off of the streets.

We were out for like a week or two. But I was in junior high then. :) I also remember that it wasn't just loose random branches falling... whole trees were falling. That was our family entertainment. Watching this one tree arched above our driveway, then it would pop back up, then lean again, until it eventually fell... We were also out of power for a week or two. When our power goes out though, so does the water. So it definitely wasn't too fun.

Yeah, that one just messed everything up in '94. We were on the southern edge down in Forest, so we didn't see as much of it. The next bad one was in January of '96 ... I know because I was at MSMS at the time. Campus was frozen shut from Thursday to Monday afternoon. It was a lot of fun. Power stayed on most of the time [we were by a substation, and the power lines were mostly underground from there], and we had a jolly fun time acting the fool. :)

Oh, and I did get stuck at home for a while. Bankhead Parkway was shut down until mid-morning. :p to all you plainspeople. Heh.