2014-02-26 / Editorials

Alex McRae

Beginning of icy nightmare
Alex McRae

Last week found me racing against the clock to finish my column before an ice storm took out the power. Here’s where I left off…..

… Right in the middle of a prepositional phrase, I heard a distant “craaack” as an ice-covered limb fell, possibly on a power line near me. Another minute, another “craaack.” The lights flickered. My heart skipped a beat.

As the third “craaack” echoed across the nearby creek I looked out the back window and saw a huge sweet gum tree begin to dance. It shook, it shimmied, it groaned, squeaked and tottered. Then it started leaning right toward the house.

The lights flickered again. My heart raced. So did my digestive system.

Another flicker, longer. I forced myself to look outside. The nightmare had started. The sweet gum was falling, huge, ugly, ready to crush anything in its path.

The End was near. And I could only watch as it...

Didn’t do a thing. Like a limp-spined politician testing the winds of public opinion, the tree didn’t commit to falling — or anything else. It just leaned over and leaned back. Period.

End of tree story. Beginning of icy nightmare. Or what passes for an icy nightmare in 2014.

The power went out. The house was cool. We wore (lots of) extra clothes. The water was off. We drank bottled beverages. The oven was dead but gas stove burners heated bottled water for coffee and tea.

When things got really uncomfortable, my wife and I sat in the car, turned on the heater and were toasty warm in minutes.

We got our news on the car radio. It didn’t sound any better than the TV version. After dark, candles were OK, flashlights were better. Small lights that attached to book covers and cap bills provided plenty of reading light.

The morning after the power went out, the ice started to melt. By noon the roads were clear and stores were open. Power was being restored rapidly. Except on our street.

Valentine’s Day dawned. The power was still out but our love blazed like a, a… whatever. We exchanged gifts in the car with the heat blasting away.

Power was finally restored. It was great to have heat and water again. We turned on TV and watched endless — and expected — tales of “surviving”and “toughing it out” through what some insisted was a “Storm for the Ages.”

I wasn’t among them. I’ve weathered plenty of ice storms and cold spells and power outages and the short-term inconveniences those events bring. But I’ve never really experienced life-threatening cold for days on end.

I know someone who has.

Gene Cook was still a teenager when he parachuted into France hours before Allied troops hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Gene’s unit plowed through France into Belgium. That’s where he was a few days before Christmas when the German army launched a last-ditch offensive that became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The fighting went on for weeks during the coldest winter in decades. When they weren’t freezing — some to death — Gene Cook and his fellow GIs were being shelled by German artillery and trying to sleep for a minute or two in foxholes so cold that groundwater froze around the soldiers’ feet and legs.

Supplies ran short and food was so scarce that Gene Cook celebrated Christmas Eve, 1944 with a cup of hot water flavored with candy. He called it Life Saver soup.

Gene Cook survived. He has never forgotten those who didn’t. And he has never forgotten that brutal winter of 1944 and 1945 in the Ardennes Forest.

Gene Cook knows what real cold is. I don’t. When the latest ice storm passed through I thought about him and my winter weather “complaints” melted right away.

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