Saturday, December 13, 2008
A Winter Wonderland
It's amazing how a new day can give one a new perspective. The ice remains, my car wouldn't start this morning, but it's okay. The sun is shining through the ice on the tree branches and it's magical. I'm reminded of the Great Ice Storm which happened here in Quebec ten years ago. Forgive me, those of you who have heard this story before.
January 5th, 1998 began with a steady, gentle drizzle which glazed everything it touched. We hunkered down in a post-holiday torpor, and curled up by the fire in our little stone house. Soon the wind came, the power went out, and we were plunged into darkness overnight. Pine trees drooped like collapsed umbrellas. Tree branches cracked like gunshots as they snapped, unable to sustain the weight of the ice. A maple crashed on our roof, ripping out cable, phone, and hydro lines.
We woke to suffocating silence; no hum of appliances, furnace or television. No cars, or birds. Our world was smothered in thick ice which muffled all sound. The streets in our suburb resembled a tintype photograph, its colours reduced to shades of grey. There was no sign of life, anywhere. And still it rained.
Hours stretched into days. My young children turned to board games and cards. In the evenings, my husband and I recounted stories by candlelight – how we met, our wedding, baby tales.
Fear was replaced by acceptance and surrender. Our phone line was down, the car was blocked by fallen hydro lines, so we had no choice but to hunker down and wait. We chopped wood for heat, hauled out our old camp stove, and raided the freezer.
By day nine, our road was open but we were still without power. I hammered several inches of ice off my car so I could treat the kids to a hot Mc’breakfast. Unable to bathe for over a week, we straggled in smelling of wood-smoke and worse. I began my order when the lanky teen behind the counter said we were too late. By one minute! I explained our situation, he consulted the manager, but he said, “Sorry. Company Policy.”
I stood, openmouthed. To be turned away - when I was so close I could smell the bacon - flipped me over the edge of sanity. Yes, I’m not proud - I had a total meltdown right there at the counter. Not a few gentle tears rolling down soot-stained cheeks, kind of crying. No, this was out of control, hands to the sides, head thrown back, howling like a lost child, bawling.
The server panicked. Clearly, this situation was not in his training manual. My two daughters maneuvered me outside, while my son urged me to get a grip, but I stood on the sidewalk and wept freely as people elbowed past our ragtag group.
A minute later, I wiped my nose, smoothed my greasy hair, and piled the kids in the car. Even though they reasoned we were too “gross and disgusting” for a local restaurant, I was adamant. An angel, disguised as a waitress, gently guided us to a table. Without a word, she appeared with a newspaper and coffee, then asked, “What else can I bring you?” It was as soothing and soul-satisfying as a mother’s hug. We each ate two breakfasts, and returned home to wait for a miracle in the form of a hydro crew.
But our ordeal continued. We managed a communal shower at the recreation centre, and then the weather turned bitterly cold. We wore coats and hats inside, even to bed. Several times each night, I rose and stoked the fire to keep the pipes from freezing.
Day Thirteen passed.
That evening, I answered the door and there stood my friend Lesley. She handed me a thermal bag, a bottle of wine and fresh flowers, then turned with a cheery “Bon Appetit.” I was hit by a waft of hot turkey. Along with an entire roast, there was carrot soup, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, and warm apple pie – ready to eat, all prepared by my friend who has a full-time job, and a family of her own to look after. It was a boost to the morale and a salve to our flagging spirits. I arranged the flowers, and we sat down by candlelight with our feast.
Now, everyone has had a least one standout meal in his or her life. I’ve had my share, from simple lobster rolls on an east coast beach to filet mignon in Paris. But this hot turkey dinner on a raw January night shared with the people I love most in the world will always be special. It was prepared with love, and sustained us when we really needed it.
As we polished off the pie, just like movie magic, our home roared back to life as the power was suddenly restored. Though the lights blinded us, we cheered and hugged each other in relief. We had survived one of the worst storms in Canadian history. It gave me the confidence that I could face anything life could throw at me.
Except, maybe, missing the breakfast cutoff at Mc’You-Know-Where.