The weather forecasters had predicted it. So it was no surprise when our own cold noses, rather than the alarm clock, awakened us a couple of weeks ago. It was barely light and pioneer-days silent, except for the persistent clickety-click of sleet on the roof and the occasional gunshot boom of a tree limb cracking in the distance.
When we finally forced ourselves to crawl from under the covers and look out the window, we beheld the breathtaking beauty that is a North Carolina ice storm. With each tiny twig perfectly coated in crystal, it’s hard not to love – just for a moment – the silvery stillness. Until, of course, that reverie is broken by yet another crashing tree.
In our yard, nearly half of a Bradford pear tree lay on the ground, and a 20-foot branch dangled precariously from an enormous pin oak. And, we were lucky. Around the city, several 100-foot trees had simply tipped over, unearthing SUV-sized roots and taking down power lines, fences, cars and even a roof or two.
Fortunately no one was seriously injured, but there was lots of damage, and 80 percent of our city was without power. We lost electricity for a little over three days at our house. My mom and many others didn’t have theirs restored for more than five. The governor declared a State of Emergency, and over and over, we heard it was the worst ice storm in 12 years.
Ah yes, 12 years. To a person, anyone who lived here in 2002, recalled that epic early December ice storm. And, though it might be hard to convince newcomers, it was much worse than this one.
First of all, this go-round the weather warmed up quickly. And by quickly, I mean that two days after the storm we ate sandwiches outside on our deck because it was actually warmer outside than in. To quote a familiar meme: “Oh, you wear flip flops and snow boots in the same week? You must live in North Carolina.”
In 2002, it stayed icy cold for days. Many in the city fled to hotels powered by generators or left town to stay with relatives. Our kids were 12 and 9 at the time, and since we had a gas fireplace in our family room, we decided to stick it out. We tacked up bed sheets to close off doorways and dragged mattresses, sleeping bags, comforters and blankets into our little 50-degree cocoon. There, the six of us – two adults, two kids, one dog and one hamster – camped.
Wait, let me amend that. There were actually more than six of us, because – prepare to be wigged out – both of our kids had heads full of lice. Yes, lice.
OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, because the actual head lice (brought home from school a week or so before the storm) were gone, but we were still combing their locks every day, searching for the tiny nits that clung to individual hairs. Nits. That word makes me cringe even now. You’d think we were searching for tiny bombs, the way we methodically inspected their heads and used nail scissors to clip single hairs and drop them into sealable plastic bags. I remember sitting by the kitchen window – the best place for light in our cold, darkened house – and going through their hair for two hours each day.
I know there are worse things than head lice. Cancer, for example. But when you’re washing everyone’s sheets and towels and clothes in hot water every day and telling your kids not to scratch their heads and imagining your own head is crawling with bugs, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Add an ice storm and a power outage – no heat, no washing machine, no light, no hot water, numbing cold – and the daily louse egg hunt was agony.
In fact, that memory is so vivid, I don’t even remember what else we did. I know, as soon as the roads were navigable, we ventured out to any place that promised warmth – first just one crowded biscuit joint on the south end of town and then eventually the mall and a few other places.
By the third day, when the power in Jim’s downtown office was restored, we gathered the neighbors and planned to spend the night there. The kids played, and every hour or so, we called our houses to see if the answering machines (and thus the power) were back on.
When an answering machine finally picked up in the early evening, the adults let out a cheer. But all the children were crestfallen. I think one actually cried.
My kids still remember that 2002 storm not as the disaster it was but as a grand adventure. I’m sure there were plenty of kids, armed with flashlights and candles and ghost stories, who felt the same way about this recent storm.
As for me, I mostly missed hot tea. And, for some reason, every now and then, my head felt itchy.