By Dr. Tim G Williams
As I recall it was the winter of ’96, blizzard after blizzard griped the northeast. Me being a New Englander having moved to Massachusetts from Chicago some 25 years earlier I can truthfully say that I have been accustomed to the frigid temperatures winters always bring. But it was on that one February day I was sensing there was something that was not going to be normal about this one particular nor’easter. I had been up late last night watching and listening to the latest weather reports and they were predicting a normal nor’easter. That’s if anything is normal about a nor’easter but that’s what they were telling folks.
With that information I began gathering up as much firewood as possible thinking that a typical nor’easter brought with it power outages and heavy snow. I guess in the back of my mind I thought maybe this one just could be a bit more interesting. With that thought I managed to make one last run to my neighborhood store to stock up an a few of the basic supplies to tide me over just in case this storm would last a little longer. With supplies of meat, veggies and of course beer and wine I just made it back when the first flakes of snow started coming down. If the power went out with the temperature out side was a rosy 18 degrees I could use my makeshift outside cabinet as a temporary freezer to keep my perishables from spoiling.
Around 6 o’clock the snow was really starting to really come down. The heavy winds though were blowing the snow horizontal and drifts were piling up along side the house. By 9 o’clock that evening the first floor windows were covered by the mounting snow drifts. By now the lights were flickering and that meant with this heavy snow and winds now at gale force the power would soon go out. In the back of my mind I thought about that back up generator I saw at Home Depot a month ago but the cost just to get the permit was more than the unit itself and me being on a fixed income well I just had to settle with the fireplace in the living room and the wood stove in the kitchen. There was just one problem, when the power goes out the toilet won’t flush because of the septic system is tied to the electric panel. This is because the location of the home is too far from the city’s main sewer lines. I remember as a kid our summer home before it was connected to the towns sewer lines the outhouse was just a few yards away and at night it was an experience to say the least just to go use the bathroom. It was not only in the summer that we used that home but as kids on cold winter nights when my family decided to get away the bunkhouse that we slept in during the summers now served us as a winter oasis when my family decided to get away. With a space heater it provided heat and some comfort on those winter nights. It was at that time of year instead of trudging out into the cold of night to the outhouse the good old pee pot served us well. That’s how people over a 200 years ago went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. There is an old custom associated with pee pots but that is another story.
With that frame of mind I knew what to do. Now confident I had made all the necessary preparations for the long siege of this nor’easter I put some wood chips in my wood stove and more logs in the fireplace just in case that when the power does go out the house will maintain a somewhat cozy temperature. Keeping the bricks around the fireplace warm by keeping the fire going is the key to radiant heat. The same can be said of the wood stove in the kitchen. I am often confused by the new homes that are going up today. So many don’t have fireplaces and if they do the fireplace is at a wall on the side of the home so the heat from the fireplace goes mainly outside instead of radiant heat for the interior. In my house the fireplace is in the center of the home, so what radiant heat there is spreads evenly throughout the whole house. Centuries ago homes always had fireplaces in the center of the home and often had them in every room of the house. Back then that was their only source of heat and for cooking. Today, I often use the wood stove to keep a pot of coffee on and use the fireplace that has bread nooks to keep food warm when the power is out which in New England happens when ever there is a nor’easter. In addition a fireplace automatically adds thousands of dollars to the value of a home. Something an in ground pool or a jacuzzi can’t do.
By 10 o’clock the power went out. With candles lit and the fire going I was content to wait out this storm till morning. Luckily I have my computer charged so I checked the latest weather forecast. Now, they were saying another low pressure system is on a collision course with this nor’easter bringing with it the potential for that perfect storm scenario. Laying my sleeping bag on the living room rug in front of the fireplace I was just about to settle in for a winter’s nap when I hear outside cries for help. Jumping up to look out the window but the window was covered over so I ran upstairs to the hall window and saw what seemed to be headlights piercing through snow drifts. A women was standing on top of her buried car waving for help. I kept thinking what possessed this women to drive in this weather only to get caught in snow drifts that covered her car.
Now you would think that more people would be able to respond but my house was the only one that seemed to be occupied, by me. The other houses where my neighbors stay have packed up and went to a safe haven to wait out this storm. Thinking quickly I grabbed my parka and snow shoes tying a rope to the underside of the up stairs hall window. I managed to slide down my roof and using the rope as a life line trudged about 100 feet to where she was standing atop her car. The wind was howling as the snow was making visibility very difficult but just as I was about to say hello the wind blew her off balance right into my arms. Caught off balance I knew we had to make it back to the house and up to the second floor window because the first floor was already inaccessible before we were all trapped outside.
After about ten minutes using hand over hand pulling along the rope as a lifeline we managed to make to the side of my house. The snow was already 5 feet deep. As I stared at the upstairs window where my rope was tied to I managed to climb and open the window so that I could adjust my feet to bend over and grab her arm as she put here foot against the wall she managed to climb up my rope with my assistance and low and behold she slipped into the window exhausted landing on the floor. Quickly I shut the shutters and the window just as a burst of gale force winds brushed against the house. Now, safe inside she introduce herself as Alice saying she was on her way to meet her husband who just arrived in Boston having served a six month tour of duty as a merchant marine. She left her house thinking she could beat the storm and make to the port before the storm hit.
With the power out the only way to communicate was through my computer which I had installed a wifi device to make my whole house a hotspot just in case of a power outage. Now comfortable in front of the fire in my living room Alice e-mailed her husband saying she was alright and staying with an acquaintance until it was safe to travel again. As I began cooking popcorn on in the fireplace Alice got a response from her husband where he managed to get a room at the Long Wharf Marriott until the storm passes. For two days we exchanged stories and managed to be quite comfortable. The power was restored sometime the following morning. On the third morning after the storm hit I managed to dig our her car and by 10 o’clock Alice was on her way to meet with her husband. I can truthfully say that nor’easter of that February will be one for the record books and forever remembered for me saving a damsel in distress.