We didn’t know it was coming…the storm that would forever change our definition of the word, “ice.” After all, it was March – the month when spring was usually well on its way. Who would have thought Old Man Winter would pull such a trick?
The black sky started to rain frozen sleet around 11:00 p.m. after the kids were already deep in the dream-land of childhood. The wind howled, throwing frozen pellets against the windowpanes of our old farmhouse, creating such a racket that we adults couldn’t begin to fall asleep! The outdoor security light in the back yard cast flailing shadows as the limbs of our trees whipped this way and that, resembling strands of furiously shaking dust mops. At the time it didn’t occur to me a window could easily break and allow the vicious storm to enter the house if even a single tree branch fell in the wrong direction.
Eventually a drowsy stupor overtook us around 1:00 a.m.; my husband and I slept fitfully in the midst of the continuing noise from outside. Around 4:00 the wind died down and we fell asleep for good - after covering the kids with extra blankets since our power had been out for several hours. The entire house seemed very dark and very cold, but we snuggled under a stack of wool blankets and slept like hibernating bears.
The light of morning seemed even brighter than usual when I finally woke up. I remember peeking outside the blankets to watch my breath puffing above me like a cluster of little white clouds. I blinked quickly to adjust my eyes’ focus. Why did our bedroom walls seem to reflect the outdoor light with such a glare??
“Better get up and call the power company,” I muttered, while my husband turned over and asked, “What’s it look like outside?”
I hopped out from between the sheets, pulled on a fleece robe, and ran to the window. I could not see a thing because ice – not just the usual hoary frost - covered the entire pane. After finding the same thing to be true in several rooms on various sides of the house, I finally found an open slit up in one corner of the hall window.
I peeked outside; my own front yard seemed almost unrecognizable. A thick layer of ice covered everything – the lawn, the bumpy bunches of dead grass along the creek, all the trees in every direction. It seemed almost like the whole world had been turned upside down repeatedly, dipped in water, and then quick-frozen each time. The ice was THICK.
“C’mon you guys, you’ve got to get outside and see what happened last night!” I urged as I roused our four kids. Of course they jumped right out of bed, eager for adventure. Their dad sensed the excitement in the air and several layers of clothes later, we all stepped outside into an arctic wonderland.
During the hours of the night, freezing rain adhered to every possible surface. Our two-story brick farmhouse became one big ice cube. The stately old maple tree stood solemnly shrouded – many of her branches impaled in the ground below. The same was true for our giant cottonwood. Some of the larger branches of the cottonwood were buried as deeply and securely as fence posts. The excessive weight of the ice forced them several feet into the ground when they fell.
The gravel driveway was now a smooth sheet of ice. Our wood fence wore a thick glaze on every surface of every board. The wire fence surrounding the pasture glittered and sagged under the additional weight. Electrical poles bowed down while their heavy wires lay on the ground. Miraculously, the cows in our pasture seemed to have survived, but their backs, whiskers, eyelashes, and tails were crusty with ice. The sun shone boldly on this solid-white world of ice, forcing me to squint painfully to endure the sun’s reflection.
Many images from that day seem clearly etched in my memory. The dog’s breath flew in every direction as she slipped and slid down the driveway. “We can’t pick up anything – it’s all stuck!” cried my kids, verifying that the storm had not left one single thing untouched. I also specifically remember sending our older son down to the creek with a five-gallon bucket to retrieve water to flush the toilet. Little did any of us know that this chore would become the daily grind for the next fourteen days while we remained without electricity.
The weeks that followed were not easy. The house was dirty, and our bodies and clothes were dirty. Our perishable food spoiled, and our patience rotted away as well. And yet as I look back on “the ice storm,” my memory diminishes the hardships and magnifies the many small bonded moments we shared as a family.
Our winter wonderland on “the morning after” defied description. Absolutely everything was beautiful and awe-inspiring in a shocking sort of way. We learned what it meant to adapt and work together as a family as the days went by. People living in the next county received power before we did, so we learned a new sense of gratitude when migrating to friends’ homes to take showers and grab a hot meal. During the days without power, the kerosene heater sat in the kitchen - our only source of warmth in that room - where my older son blew spit through a straw onto the top and then watched the bubbles sizzle and evaporate. What creative recreation!
I remember the ice storm of 1991 as a time to recognize the power and supremacy of God. It taught me to count my blessings, seek patience, and hope for the certainty of restoration. Most of all, it taught the whole family what it meant to hunker down, look out for each other, and appreciate the radiant warmth emanating from our hearts, even when frozen stiff – in March!!
DEAR SISTER BETH,
I LOVE THE WAY YOU WRITE!!!!
THE STORY THAT UNFOLDS IN THE UNIQUE WAY YOU DISCRIBE WHAT YOU ARE TELLING THE READER. Keep sharing, and blessing all of us. I am one of your biggest fans! :)
Love in Christ, Jacque