On a dismal, sleeting January morning, “the Ice Storm of ’98” had set in. My husband, 10-month-old son and I had moved to my parents’ home, since our own house, which depended upon electricity, oil and hot water radiators, was cold. At my parents’ house there was no power, no phone service or running water, but the woodstove quietly hissed and released applewood breath. On top of it sat a simmering kettle and pot with water to cook, drink, wash and bathe.

I sat in an old wooden rocker nursing my son; concern about the radiators at our house had brewed inside me for days. When my husband entered the room with his coat already on, I asked him to arrange for the oil company to drain the radiators before they froze and burst. As he left, making only the sound of scuffing shoes, I realized that he hadn’t looked at me. My chest tightened as I got to my feet, asked my mother to watch my son and carried hot water to the bathroom.

Pouring water into the sink to wash and a cup to brush my teeth, I dressed, washed dishes and prepared to follow my husband. Wet ice on the driveway made me crouch and grab the car for support.

Snow was mounded where the snowplow had pushed it aside, but he hadn’t had time to return to scrape away the ice, then sand the surface. The house was surrounded by 80-foot-high pine, oak and maple. Some smaller trees had fallen close to the driveway, while others sagged, struggling to stay upright under coats of ice like stone. Rubbing against each other they creaked and screeched, dropping bows the size of oars.

Inching over the driveway and clearing away the ones that I could drag, I drove around the rest.

My rusty Subaru slid into J&S Oil, where I’d buy gas, then fill milk jugs with water from the outdoor spigot. I picked up milk, peanut butter, oatmeal and propane for the camping stove. They had no ice left for use with frozen food, which sat in the snowbank.


Almost two hours had passed by the time I parked next to our peeling bungalow, where I made my way to the door, under a curtain of sinking, frozen lilac bushes. In the kitchen my internal thermostat read the temperature at about 40 degrees. Shivering, I pulled my hat down and waved my flashlight over the narrow steps, as I descended to the damp, mildewed cellar where spider webs hung from the ceiling. The hot water heater, circuit board, oil tank and boiler stood silent like sentries waiting to be reviewed. Nothing had been touched.

My face flushed, jaw set and hand grabbed a hacksaw to make a rasping scratch against a pipe above my head.

Sputtering, I breathed in and finally released like steam from a boiling kettle, “How dare he!” Straightening up, I put my back into that copper pipe, slicing till my shoulders ached.

When the pipe didn’t give, I threw the saw at the sentries and drove to the oil company. It was time to take the wheel.

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