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“Ah Hear That Storm A-Comin’ … “ 3 comments

The storm approacheth, a bit like a freight train.

For about 18 hours, our TV and radio stations have been warning us of a huge storm on its way, headed directly for us. Already, this morning, we are hearing of big snow falling to the west of us and down in the Niagara Region.

I don't understand. If we know it is coming and approximately when it will hit – this afternoon, apparently – why aren't we closing schools now as opposed to trying to send everyone home in a mad and dangerous scramble later today?

OK – I admit it. This question comes from the place in me that would like to not have to drive up to campus and teach this afternoon, knowing that I will have to drive home confronted by high winds, low visibility, and lunatics who appear to have never driven in winter conditions before in their lives.

A good winter blast is such a nostalgia trip for me. Time seems to change in the quality of its passage when we are restricted from normal activity and forced to sit home alone, with candles, fireplaces and perhaps a good book. When I was growing up, there would be one or more such storms each year. Our power would go out and all 12 of us would huddle around our huge wood stove, which was actually a cooking stove as much as a heating stove. Sometimes there would be more than 12 as some of our neighbours would, for one reason or another, not have some alternative source of heating. Mom had a few standard wood stove recipes that became so evocative of being snowed in: a meaty chili … stews … casseroles. Baked potatos.

I remember reading the entirety of my mother's copy of Swiss Family Robinson by kerosene lamp during one such storm.  The perfect winter storm book as a person slips a few emotional notches towards "survivalist" during such storms. I still have that ancient-looking, cloth-bound text, published early in the 20th Century. Maybe I'll get a chance to read it again in the next few days!

With the electricity off, our water pumps would no longer function. We would need to draw water from the well just outside our back door, using a primitive, jury-rigged system of ropes and pulleys. This was the coldest damn job ever as one would have to do it in the midst of blizzard conditions, often with gale force winds … and there is nothing colder than well water splashed onto woollen mittens in those circumstances. Our water was of terrific quality so you could drink it right from the well. I also learned, from a young age, the trick of flushing the toilet with a bucket of water. We didn't use well water for this. My brothers and I were recruited to fetch pails of snow to be brought inside and left to melt in the bathroom for this specific use.

Our house was once described as a "drafty old barn of a place". Yes, it was. This was not a modern R-2000 home. The chinks in the brick work were numerous and I knew just where they were and how to position my legs when sitting still so as to not be bothered by a draft. We had to be careful of pipes freezing when the wind would blow from certain directions. My bedroom was just above the legendary wood stove – lucky me! I got some heat for part of the night when it was on. Storm or no, I was used to waking up to a freezing cold bedroom and to having a tiny snowdrift in my window sill. I learned the trick of grabbing my clothes for the day and running down two sets of stairs to the basement, putting them in the dryer for 10 minutes to warm them up.

So, today I sit in my modern, non-drafty downtown condo and contemplate the approaching storm. Other than the driving problem, it lacks a certain fear factor. When asking for add-ons when the condo was built, I expressly asked for a gas stove and a gas fireplace. Yes, these are nice things to have at anytime but I've learned a bit about alternative heat sources in the winter. I may even fetch in a few buckets of snow and let them melt, just for old times sake. You'll rarely find me without a supply of water, canned goods and candles.  Or my copy of Swiss Family Robinson.

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