Southwords

Winter Carnival

Between a rock and a hard place

By Jim Moriarty

It was as if the town was flash frozen. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, nor do I recall the fulsome meteorological explanation of why. Something about a toad-strangling tsunami followed immediately by the polar vortex. The mind mercifully disguises traumatic events like this one — the week my mother, the Dark Lord, and my wife, the War Department, coexisted in a 20×20 space with nothing but a deck of cards, dying cellphones, a finite supply of crossword puzzles, a package of Ballpark franks, two cats and a fireplace with a dwindling pile of wood.

Like most transplanted Northerners, we once held the ability of our Southern brethren to drive in snow in utter contempt. It wasn’t personal, though I confess we did at first find it unusual when the merest whisper of snow, the slightest suggestion of a flake wafting from the sky on butterfly’s wings, could by itself empty the entire dairy section of the Winn Dixie. Fools that we were. We had been raised in a land of salt and sand and hard-packed stuff that your tires could bite into like a ferret sinking its teeth into an old man’s calf. We had yet to meet real, honest to God, Southern ice.

We knew ice, of course. Through years of evolution we’d learned to navigate it on skating rinks using blades sharp enough to carve a leg of lamb. But drive on it? Where we came from only Zambonis did that, and that was strictly to make more of it.

So, when the rain hit, and then turned to slushy snow, and then turned into serious, deep snow and then froze as solid as that 5,300-year-old caveman they found in the Alps and then stayed that way for day after day after day, well, it was a problem. The first night was filled with the sounds of overburdened pine branches cracking and snapping, followed by the dependable echo of transformers exploding. We were in for it.

Our street just happens to be in a neighborhood with a three-grackle limit — any more than that sitting on the wire at one time and the power goes out. We do not blame anyone for this; it’s just a property of the property, as it were. Our part of the grid has a tick. But this was a beast of a different stripe. The whole town was down.

With some difficulty, and relying on my years of Northern exposure, I was able to rescue the Dark Lord from her apartment and bring her to our house. We closed off all but two adjoining rooms and put a fire in the fireplace. It was cozy. How long could this last? It would get warm. The sun would melt the snow. The birds would sing in the fields. The electricity would be restored and, with it, the heat pump and the stove. Hot water would blossom like forsythia in the springtime. Only it didn’t get warm. It got even colder.

Because age has its privileges, the Dark Lord got the couch. The War Department and I settled into a sleeping bag on the floor. The cats looked at us much the way we once looked at Southern drivers. Resting like mountain lions high up on the backs of overstuffed chairs, you simply knew they were looking down, wearing their little fur coats, thinking to themselves, “You people have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

Day one. Day two. Day three. Still no electricity. After our flashlight batteries flickered and died, the remaining sources of light after sunset were the wood fire and a single oil lamp that, I believe, had last been used by Ahab on the Pequod. Encouraged by a captive audience, the Dark Lord found this a splendid time to deliver a rambling, and yet oddly comprehensive, historical perspective of the many things the War Department had done wrong. This involved everything from her husband’s — “I’m right here, mother” — shortcomings to our current lack of modern conveniences. By day four several of the area hotels were up and running and I managed to relocate the Dark Lord into one of them, thus saving her from being smothered in her sleep.

It was six, no seven, no six — oh, I don’t know — days until a power crew came down our little dead-end street reconnecting the doohickey to the thermocouple. They were from Houston, Texas. God bless Houston, Texas. I ran from the house waving my arms as if they were the Allies liberating Paris. Vive les Americains. Remember the Alamo.

We don’t laugh at Southern drivers anymore. And if snow is forecast, hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to the Harris Teeter we go.  PS

Jim Moriarty is the editor of PineStraw and can be reached at jjmpinestraw@gmail.com.

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