Sledding In the Face of Disaster

The great ice storm of 1998 brought our Epiphianic ceremonies to a screeching halt, and left the sedentary pa'tridge bereft in his pear tree. The entire State of Maine, from Kittery to Fort Kent, from Eastport to The Magalloway, was a disaster area.

It was the first time I was ever in a disaster, and while I reserve the right to revise my remarks, I took the experience somewhat as did the dear Grandmaw on the TV who told the panting viewers across the map, "I hadn't used my old kitchen wood stove in 19 years, and d'you know, it was kind-o' fun!"

I would award second prize (and an Oscar) to the chap from probably Squirrel Island who was accosted by the television squad to make a few remarks about the storm. Him, I didn't know, but I do know a thousand along the Maine coast like him, and I gave my full attention because I knew whatever he said would be well worth a lot more than television would ever pay him.

He tilted his lobster-catcher's cap sou'west by two points thataway, shifted his spruce gum abaft the aft, and said, "Twarn't my choosin', but we're makin' out." So we are now cleaning up, and the power company thinks a couple of weeks if they can find their nippers.

We've had ice storms before, and this was a bit better than most. When the transformer over on the next cell block went off and headed for the moon, I remarked to my only wife that things were shaping up for an interesting weekend, and she said "Eyah." We had no power, and more or less neither did anybody else.

All at once it occurred to me that I was in a position to be labeled "Resident" and interviewed on television, and nobody had any television to look at.

I've always wondered about these anonymous people who show up at any kind of disaster, all ready to make a statement for television. We, their audience, never know who they are.

Once the picture is made and the voice recorded, and before airing, the studio identifies them as "Citizen," "Neighbor," "Tenant," "Taxpayer," "Witness," or even "Victim." And while they usually rate as generous a byline as a Barrymore, Olivier, or Sothern, they don't get it. There was one disaster I recall, when the lady came on the TV screen and under the picture it said, "Witness."

The announcer said, "Now I understand you were a witness?" (Television erudition is frequently minimal.)

"Yes," she said.

He said, "Will you tell us what happened?"

"Well, first there was this awful bong! like the sun blew up, and then the house roof went through the barn."

"Yes, what happened next?"

"Well, that spooked the horses, and they climbed the fence and ran down the road like foxes after a sparrow."

"And then?"

"Well, just that the school bus was comin' along, and Shorty Binley, the driver, didn't know what to do and he put the bus up a tree."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, until the firemen came."

"What happened then?"

"They put out the fire."

"The fire? What was on fire?"

"Well, I don't know for sure, but it was the Merrill house, the Dingley House, the Banter place, the Center School, the Martin hardware store, and I think the Pentecostal Church. I ain't been over yet to see. That's what set off whatever it was I heard."

"It certainly sounds as if you had an exciting afternoon here."

"We'll, not no more'n usual, the way things go around here. I sure wouldn't want to live anyplace else!"

"Thank you."

And this lady gave all this without recompence to the television station, and all her glory lay in that one thin word, "Witness."

So it was disheartening to realize that after all these years I participated in a disaster and was eligible for television fame, and every television set within 300 miles was blacked out by the disaster all of us shared until the ice melted.

FORTUNATELY, our power was quickly restored, and we were able to enjoy the disaster. They did interview witnesses, and bystanders, and neighbors, and nearly everybody except me.

I had made a few notes and was ready, but nobody from television came to tape me.

Had anybody, I intended to tell about long ago, when our daughter was in pigtails and we had a fairly good ice storm. All creation was a tinkling, shining fairyland of sheer delight, and we didn't know it was a disaster. We didn't have electricity, a telephone, or appliances.

Daddy took daughter, and bundled-up we took the sled. We started up in the orchard and we coasted on the crust down to Ice Pond Brook, a matter of five uninterrupted miles, swooooosh!

Then we walked back to the farmhouse, pulling the sled, and then Mommie dished up dinner right through to a hot apple pie. Her brother hadn't slid with us because it was a two-sled, but we let him have dinner all the same. I wonder, does anybody have a sled now and go sliding when so much fun is called a disaster?

Or, to put it another way, why was a disaster less disastrous once upon a time?

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