March 13, 2013

Misty Watson: Being without power was a post-blizzard adventure

I lay in the dark with my family — my mom, dad and sister — listening to the thunder and sound of an occasional tree or large branch crashing to the ground outside. Every so often lightning would fill the room enough to see my sister lying beside me.

We were in my parents’ bedroom when the power went out, my sister and I sleeping in the floor that night piled under several of my grandmother’s handmade quilts. I remember saying something about hoping the power would come back on soon, and my mom replied that it would be off for several days.

She was right. We were without power for eight days. For us, that meant no heat and no water because we were on a well and relied on power to pump the water for us.

Country living has its perks, but being without power for eight days during a blizzard was not one of them.

I’m sure most of you could tell me what life was like for you 20 years ago this week. We all have a story of survival, of snow drifts up to our chests, of what we had to do for heat, of living without the modern conveniences we’re used to.

And those of you who are transplants from the North can just laugh at the unprepared South trying to handle close to two feet of snow blanketing us as a blizzard swept through — and for still talking about it 20 years after it happened.

I was only 10 at the time. Snow was exciting. (OK. So it still is!) The more that falls, the better!

Except, when you don’t have heat, you can’t go play in the snow because you don’t have a way to warm up after. My dad brought the gas grill inside. Yes, you’re not supposed to do it. Yes, there are a lot of risks involved. We kept a window cracked to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. When it came to staying warm, there weren’t many other options for us. Only a section of the house was heated, and we all slept in the same room wearing several layers of clothes and socks piled under all those quilts.

 We stored our milk outside in the snow beside the front door. We melted snow on the grill to flush the toilets and kept snow in the bathtub so we didn’t have to go outside each time we needed some. We boiled snow to use to brush our teeth, drink, wash our faces and to cook with. And we used the grill to cook every piece of food in our refrigerator and freezers. This was long before my vegetarian days. I had steaks, veggies, hot dogs, chili. We had to eat it or it would spoil. We joked that we ate better during that blizzard than we usually did.

My dad shoveled a walk from our house to my grandparents’, who lived next door. This is not a “town next door.” It’s a “country next door,” up a hill and a football field away. Being 10, and short at that, made it hard for me to trudge through the snow. I spent the days with my grandparents in their living room with large windows putting together jigsaw puzzles. Really, that part didn’t feel any different than any Sunday afternoon of my childhood except we were surrounded by white.

I remember a lot of drawing by the light of a lantern. I’m sure we played every board game in the house 20 times, and I’m sure I did a lot of reading.

I remember laughing to see our basset hound Luther trying to make his way through the snow. He had to leap everywhere he went because he was too short to do anything else. It was “now you see him, now you don’t” as he bounced his way to the house, where he stayed until Dad had shoveled the walkway.

My parents ventured to my other grandparents one day. They lived in town, where they only lived without power for a day or two. Highway 225 was down to one lane, and if you met a car you had to back up until there was a place wide enough to pass each other. Snow banks were higher than the little Ford Ranger my parents were driving. They came back talking about what they had seen on the news, roofs collapsing, people trapped and needing to be rescued.

It never occurred to me that for some people the blizzard was a disaster. I never remember feeling scared (OK, once the thunder and lightning and crashing trees were over anyway). It was an adventure for our family.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. Share your blizzard story with her on Facebook, facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN; email her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com; and Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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