March can be temperamental in Southeastern Pennsylvania. One day, spring flowers are ready to pop, the next day brings freezing temperatures and snow falling almost horizontally due to gale-force winds.
This morning, many of my friends are without power after a nor’easter blew through, taking down trees and telephone poles. Until the wind stops, restoration will be slow, leaving people without heat, water, telephone, or (gasp) internet access. On the news last night, a three-year-old boy was interviewed. His family had no power, so they were playing games by candlelight in front of a blazing fire. The toddler said that he was most upset that he “couldn’t watch any movies.” Of course, the father interjected that he doesn’t watch many movies when they do have power.
When I was a little older than that child, we had a major March storm, the blizzard of ’58. My memories are certainly distorted, but it seems the snow covered our front and back doors, and to get out we needed to tunnel. There was no power to our neighborhood for days, and no one could drive anywhere, even if there was a shelter that offered basic necessities. We had to fend for ourselves.
We were lucky. We had not converted to more modern oil heat yet, heat that required an electric spark. Instead, we had a coal furnace and a coal stove, so we were warm and fed, and with candles, it was light enough for the adults to play cards or read. Many of our neighbors made their way to our house. In my memory, it was a giant sleepover with friends of all ages coming to our house to stay warm and to get a meal.
Mealtimes brought our version of stone soup. Someone had a few carrots, someone else had a meaty ham bone, and onions and potatoes and celery and dried beans and canned tomatoes all went into the pot. Miraculously, everyone had enough to eat. Even though there was worry about pipes freezing and trees falling, the adults took the interruption in stride. There was nothing they could do, so (in my memory, at least) they waited.
We weren’t bored. We looked out the window at the falling snow. We went outside to gather buckets of clean snow to melt for drinking, for cooking, for hygiene. We enjoyed having time away from the day-to-day chores. After all, it didn’t make sense to clean when we kept tracking in wet snow. Perhaps the biggest treat was the ice that my great-grandmother doctored to taste like the best vanilla sherbet ever.
The house smelled of wet wool drying over a rack on top of the large square heat vent between the living and dining room, of the coffee that brewed non-stop, of the odor of unwashed bodies. There was steam on the windows from boiling water and the breath of family and neighbors. I still associate these memories with good times.
There were no reporters showing up to interview the inconvenienced, to broadcast our tribulations to the entire tri-state area. There wasn’t much television back then, and even if there were, we were all in the same boat, and we were more concerned about our own neighborhood. We trusted that family members who didn’t live within walking distance were being helped by their own neighbors because that is what we did–we took care of our neighbors.
My heart goes out to all of you who are without power today, and without much hope for quick restoration. But most of all, you have my sympathy because our world is so different, with little opportunity to use this weather event to bond with neighbors and forge memories that you can mine in the future.
One last note: The best thing about a March storm? Even while we are chilled to the bone, unable to get out on icy roads that might be made more dangerous with downed power lines and fallen branches, we know that spring will be here soon!