Thursday, December 27, 2012

Day 19 - Ice Storm Recollections

I don't know if it's true for everyone but it seems that my recollections of distant events exist more in small, visual snapshots than in an exact chronological accounting.  One such memory is of a Virginia ice storm in the spring of 1979. 
Our family was visiting for the weekend, a sort-of job interview, where it was arranged that we would stay the night with an elderly farm couple who were only strangers long enough for introductions to be completed.  A warmer, more welcoming pair I had never met.  He was short and rotund with stubby, fat fingers scrubbed clean to a shine but forever stained by the Virginia soil in which he labored.  His cheeks were Santa Claus rosy, a perfect accompaniment to the mischievous twinkle of his eyes.  His wife was tall and lean, with a long, stern face.  She had stooped shoulders from which a print dress and white apron hung revealing no hint of shape at all.  Her hands, gnarled from hard work and advanced years, still hinted of once slender and graceful fingers. 

We had run from our car through the wind-driven rain and sleet into the warm glow of their kitchen.  We were ushered to seats around the large kitchen table and I remember the dinner items exactly: their own pork tenderloin, home-fried potatoes, fresh-canned green beans, sliced tomatoes, homemade sweet and sour pickles, and home-canned peaches with ice cream for dessert.
The closest we come to an ice storm here is when we leave the sprinkler on.
The men and children had retired to the living room and, as she and I finished the last of the dishes, the lights flickered and went out.  I heard some mumbling from both of them as one by one, small lights began to appear here and there.  Candles, apparently permanently positioned around the three rooms, provided ample light for the flurry of activity that took place in the next few minutes.  I remember asking if the power would likely be out for long, thinking the answer would be somewhere between minutes to hours but the reply was that it was likely to be out for several days.  They knew of the coming ice storm and what it could mean.  I did not.

Having lost power, the temperature in the old homestead would quickly begin to drop.  There was a short flurry of activity as armloads of quilts and armloads of pillows were carried through what appeared to be a closet door in the kitchen.  Then there was a time of chatting by candlelight in the living room.  Before long it was announced that the basement had warmed and as if I were to know what significance there was to that statement, we were escorted through the magic closet door.  How silly I felt.  Having lived in the south for so long, I had completely forgotten that such things as basements even existed.

There, in the small underground footprint of the house, my memory captured mythical images, vignettes in pools of yellow lamplight floating on a sea of the dark unknown.  In the center of the room with concrete floor and concrete walls there stood a big-box of an oil furnace radiating its welcome heat.  Situated on a faded carpet, near the furnace, two old, high-back rockers awaited their occupants, upholstered and worn, one positioned with a foot stool.  Between the rockers there was a small table holding an oil lamp which captured the entire scene within its circle of light.

Some small distance away, in its own circle of lamplight was a card table set with another lamp and a game of Monopoly, where the older children gathered to pass the time. 

I remember a great deal more about that basement and the cozy warmth found there but I don't want to bore you further with it here.  Though one more thing I remember about that particular ice storm, and others that I have experienced since, was the gun-shot sound of breaking tree limbs ringing randomly through the countryside.  
  Oh yes, the old man had been right.  The power would be off for days and days and days. 

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Great memories! Love those two dearly! And Danny said,the sign of a good writer is that you feel like you're there... "I can picture it, you know." Love you mom!