The sudden snow we had a couple of weeks ago brought back some memories for me. When we woke up to a surprise of solid white, I immediately looked at the digital clock, not to see what time it was, but to make sure we had power.
It's been three years since the ice storm that froze the Deep South, leaving us without roads and, in some cases, without telephones. It's taken me about that long not to call Holiday Inn every time a cold snap is predicted on the news. I learned my lesson during the ice storm; I am not the kind of woman who would have survived the pioneer days.
It took me a good week after the power came on to quit wearing every item of clothing I own, from an entire drawer of leggings to every turtleneck, sweatshirt, and jacket, all at the same time. For weeks, I marveled that when I turned on the heat, the air got so warm we couldn't see our breath. And for a good 48 hours after we got power, I was truly shocked each time I turned on a light and the room was illuminated.
After we pulled the bedspreads off the windows and doors (we'd used them for insulation), I threw out the dozen or so empty bottles that were covered in melted candle wax. I suddenly realized that I had lost my romantic side. We used to eat by candlelight a couple of times a week, but after relying on matches to find my way through the dark house and straining to read anything after 5 p.m., the romance of candles had dimmed. For months after the storm, we took our meals under the bright, unflattering cast of overhead lights, the barer the bulb, the better.
I also didn't care if I ever felt the warmth of a blazing fire again. There's just something about huddling up on the hearth with my young, all of us sobbing from the cold and me desperately throwing everything from the recycling bin into the flames, that takes away all the appeal of a flickering fire.
Now, I again take electricity for granted. If a light doesn't turn on, I just change the bulb, and if warm air doesn't immediately flow through the vents when I adjust the switch, I relight the pilot.
But 36 months after the storm, there are times that I miss something about that ice storm. When I battle with my sons about turning off the television, I think back to the long cold days when it was just us, the only sounds the snap of the fire, the hush of the snow, and our voices.
I remember not being able to play cards or games because it was too cold to expose our hands. Instead, we played "Twenty Questions" again and again and again, huddled up to our chins under every blanket that wasn't nailed over a window. Even if I never want to play that game again, I miss that time of fellowship with my family.
My oldest son is 15 now; not only does he not cuddle anymore, he rarely is interested in anything his family has to say.
Last night we had a cold snap, and my first thought was of canned goods and firewood. We were all sitting around in the same room where we'd weathered the ice storm, only this time we were glued to the TV. Everyone was in his own seat, and any touching was rudely protested. Not only could brother not infringe on brother's space, but I was brushed off if I stroked someone's hair or put my arm around one of my son's shoulders.
I thought of the four nights and days we sat curled up together, relishing the warmth our family's bodies provided, entranced by the blazing fire, and interested in anything anyone else had to say. We listened and were still.
At the time it was a challenge to stay warm and fed with only a fireplace, a few cans of beans, and a shrinking woodpile. Now, I see that it was not only a challenge, it was also a gift.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society