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.


Julie K said...

You could tell any story again and i would still go read it.

Curse that McA-hole manager!

A Novel Woman said...

Ah, you're so sweet. And yes, he was. But the waitress at Chez Cora more than made up for him.

The bitter and sweet. C'est la vie!

Debby said...

Holy cow! I seriously cannot imagine going without power and water for 13 days. Ooooh. Sounds a bit like 'Survivor, Home Edition'.

BB said...

Gads woman... I'm here to congratulate you on being #1 at PW and here is an epic novel about an epic storm (with epic-ly great ice pics... and yes I know epic-ly is not really a word. But it should be!). That sounds like a hideous experience. I would so TOTALLY have melted down all over the servery at that place - I despise the breakfast cut-off. Breakfast should be served all day at EVERY food venue. No question.

Great post Pam!

Brink said...

I remember that storm and I know what you went through and yet it brought tears to my eyes when I read the paragraph about wiping your nose and smoothing your greasy hair - that waitress was an angel, it's the simple things in life that mean so much.

A Novel Woman said...

Debbie, we really did feel like pioneers. We took the food we had from the fridge and kept it in the snow and we chopped wood for the fire to keep the pipes from freezing. Luckily, we put in a fireplace woodstove-type insert the year before. We also had running water, albeit cold water after the first 24 hours, so we were able to flush the toilets. I can't imagine what some of the real pioneer women went through.

BB, how are you doing with your 40C weather? And yes, I'm an all day breakfast gal. I love nothing more than going out for the Big Breakfast. It's a big deal in Quebec come spring because we go sugaring off (i.e. collect sap from the sugar maples for syrup, boiled in big pots over open fires.)

Brink, you went through worse than me. Remember, you got a tornado. You get Bonus Points for a tornado, especially considering you were IN YOUR HOUSE when it blew up around you.

You totally win! Why don't you write about that? I'll post it here.

Anonymous said...

Pam, You make me feel very ashamed and humble. We lost our power due to an ice storm on Friday. It was out for 13 hours, that's right, hours, and I was a basket case. I made hotel reservations for Friday night because there was NO WAY I was sleeping in a house without hot running amentities. To my enormous relief, the power was restored before we went to the hotel. I should also mention, it is just me and my hubby, no kids at home at present. Yes, ashamed and humble.

A Novel Woman said...

Jo, don't be ashamed.

We lose power all the time, but it's usually for a few hours at a time. This storm was exceptional, and we came within a few hours of shutting down and evacuating the whole city because the water was the next thing to go.

We've camped with the kids when they were little, so we looked at it as an extended camping trip.

In the middle of winter.

With the cats and dog in tow.

Debby said...

I just had to comment. My word verification is 'dicskies' which is what McDonald's people who won't serve breakfast one minute later are called. Dicskies.

nightsmusic said...

Pam, bless your heart! What a trooper you all were! We've lost power in the winter for a few days at a time and we gather round the fireplace with candles and board games. After the sixth or seventh time it happened, the DH bought a generator but we all realized how much we liked it without so only run it two or three hours to keep the fridge and freezer cold.

Besides, after the total quiet of no electrical anything, the generator is too jarring to listen to for any length of time.

A Novel Woman said...

Dicskies!!! HAHAHA, I love it!

Nightsmusic, we bought a generator right after it happened, and we've only used it a couple of times, mostly in the summer to keep the fridge going. But you're right, it's SO noisy you really have to limit it to a few hours. The big ice storm of '98 took everyone by surprise. Now we also keep spare batteries and candles and canned foods too.

Trudy said...

I remember watching the news in '98 and thinking how awful it must be - but you've almost put me there.

Our power was off for twenty-four hours once, and for several long stretches over the years. It's hell for that long! But nothing like what happened in Montreal. Glad to hear you are now prepared for anything!

jeanie said...

See, I know how I reacted to adversity nearly 10 years ago.

Of course, compared to your ordeal it wasn't a biggie.

I was a temp in an office. Everyone had flu or couldn't get in due to minor floods. So I went home early and made a baby.

Certainly not as daunting as 13 days without power - 4 hours without supervision and you can change the world!!

Michelle said...


A blogging friend recommended you and I can see why - great story, even though I very much doubt you cared about that fact during the ordeal!

I can completely relate to the bawling thing. I did that once in my life under different, but equally stressful circumstances. In my case it worked - I scared the young office worker into listening to my side of a story.

I also sympathise with the power out, although I have never experienced your kind of weater. I'm born in Zimbabwe now living in Scotland and even here we rarely get extreme cold.

I've experienced my own power-loss drama story. They're not fun at the time, but they are great telling afterwards.

A Novel Woman said...

Jeanie, as in BB's sister? Whoo Hoo, a warm welcome to you. And you aren't alone in the baby making department. There was a mini-baby-boom around these parts after the Great Ice Storm. It was, after all, the perfect way to a) stay warm and b) stay occupied.

Hi Michelle! Scotland? Oooh, lucky. I love Scotland and someday my husband (who is of Scottish descent) will come with me to travel through the Highlands.

A Novel Woman said...

Hey, Trudy!

We have so many power outages (thanks, Hydro Quebec!) that we're all used to it, now. I was fully expecting a loss of power last night, the wind was so powerful, but nope. Last year, the wind ripped the siding off the back of the house. Do you think global warming is getting worse? I do.

Julie K said...

At my parents' place, it was around -35C, but -50C with the windchill. No ice though, and the power stayed on, thank heavens, but as my mom said, that is 'hellish cold'. After this week, I'm looking forward to seeing global warming in action [g].

A Novel Woman said...

Hey Ms Julie,

Yes, your mother is right. That is hellish cold, but nothing we Canucks can't handle, right? I say, right? (g)

Me? I'm going to bake. Shortbreads and truffles made with Swiss chocolate, and almond clusters and chocolate balls and....and....

I LOVE Christmas!