Everyone has a winter storm story. Anyone who lives, or grew up, north of the Mason-Dixon line has lived through some doozy of a storm that left lasting memories of the hardships and survival tactics used to get through it and live to tell the story – usually with some exaggeration to make the story really good and juicy.
I grew up in small town in Indiana, not much bigger than Wheatland. In the early 1990s the town got hit with a massive ice storm; branches were coated in ice two inches thick. Some people saved some branches in their freezer to bring out to show to company when they visited.
With ice that thick the power lines didn’t stand a chance and the whole town was without electricity for over a week. School was closed, all the businesses were closed, and the roads were a mess. Some of our relatives had electric based heat so they moved in with us. My parents and I lived in an old, large farmhouse built by my great-great grandfather that had oil heat, but with no electricity the blower wouldn’t work. We closed off all but three rooms and that small expanse now held my parents, myself, grandma, uncle Wayne, teen cousins Chuck and Brian, and great aunt Lillian.
My father ran a line from an LP tank outside in through the kitchen window and hooked it up to an old camp stove circa the 1970s so my mother could cook some hot meals for us all. My parents slept in their bedroom under piles of quilts since their room was one of the rooms shut off, but the rest of us bedded down in the living room. However, sleeping was a difficult matter in the den of the snoring din. Great aunt Lillian’s snoring was so loud it made the old windows rattle and my uncle snored like a hibernating bear complete with growling. Even as a teenage girl I knew enough to leave a 70-something woman alone, but my uncle was fair game. He kept insisting he didn’t snore, so the second night – I recorded him. It was a lovely accompaniment to our breakfast the next morning.
When a group of farm raised, active relatives get cooped up in a small space they all tend to get a little squirrely; so my father decided to make a little money with all that pent-up energy. We went out as a family (all but grandma and great aunt Lillian) and took jobs cleaning up people’s yards. All that ice had downed branches all over town, similar to the snow storm that took down so many branches here in Wheatland. Town folk were more than happy to hand over cash to some hearty country stock who were willing to do the work for them. We would have done anything to get out of that house and moving, and maybe get in a few snowball fights and ice-covered branch “sword fights.” Besides, I was a little afraid of what my uncle might do in revenge for my recording stunt and I felt safer in someone else’s yard than in those three rooms.
One yard we cleaned up was the owner of the local movie theater. In addition to paying us for our work, he included a family pass for us all to go to the movies together. We had to wait a while to use it: after the electricity came on we needed some space from eachother.
Grandma, great aunt Lillian and uncle Wayne are all gone now. My parents and cousins are still in Indiana, but I don’t get to see them as much anymore. 20 hours is a long drive. But that long ago ice storm is an event we will all remember; not because of the hardships, but the fun we managed to have in spite of them.