Watching the mess in Atlanta unfold on television and reading life-threatening accounts of cars and trucks sliding off roads as soon as the snow turned to ice, I truly empathized with those trapped in their cars, only to find their home without power when they returned, 10 hours later, from only a few miles away.
The coldest I’ve ever been was for five days beginning Jan. 7, 1973, when the rain that was falling throughout north Georgia began to freeze and the thick layer of ice that accumulated on everything brought down trees and power lines with the roads being far too treacherous for anyone to negotiate. We were without electricity for nearly a week.
It may simply be that time has erased all the worst parts, but I do remember having an awful lot of fun.
“No school!” was my first thought upon waking the following morning, followed by, “I can see my breath!” as I became aware of how frigid it was within my own bedroom. My father had a roaring fire going on in the den, and my mother, who was the epitome of responsible parenting when it came to planning the weekly menu of balanced and nutritional meals, was warming a pot of baked beans over the flames.
Beans! With hot dogs! Not fish with asparagus and a salad, beans! This was a woman who, once a year, on her children’s birthdays, allowed us to choose our own dinner and when we cried out, “McDonald’s!” in a sort of anticipatory processed food rapture, she grimly doled out the cherished hamburgers, still in their wrappers, hunkered woefully next to ... asparagus and a salad.
But as long as the power was out, it would be beans, an occasional chicken noodle soup, and more beans.
As long as we stayed next to the fireplace, in the den, both doors closed to the rest of the house, we could be relatively comfortable. When you’re 13 and accustomed to being outside, however, you begin to itch at the thought of being cooped up longer than five minutes, so it was decided that my brother, the neighborhood kids and I would haul out our sleds (which hadn’t seen the light of day in years) and tackle our icy street.
“Don’t go too far,” my mother called out. We dutifully ignored her as a flash of inspiration ignited in one kid’s head to try a golf course, some four miles away.
“Are you kidding?” I cried, “If we get caught, we’ll get killed. I remember a kid’s pony got loose and galloped over it, and they sent her dad a bill for $25 a hoof print!”
“Nobody’s gonna know,” my brother countered, “and the ice is so thick we’re not going to touch the grass, anyway.”
And with that we were off in what served as Georgia winter wear: a couple of sweaters, medium-weight coats and Keds, with a thick pair of gym socks.
To this day, I remember being pushed down the first hill of the golf course. The undulating ground gave me a ride that went on, it seemed, for a half hour – a sheet of ice so smooth there was nothing to slow the sled as it mounted the next hill, flew down the other side, slid through a sand trap, across the rough, past the ninth and 10th greens. It wasn’t until we began a steep descent somewhere near the end of the course, that I met my Waterloo: A narrow creek that gurgled along in a tiny, man-made valley at the bottom of the hill loomed into my sight. Hoping I could skim over it and make my unfazed ascent on the other side, my sled had other ideas as it ground to a stop as soon as its runners hit the icy waters, a moment before I did.
There are few things less appealing than finding yourself with soaking gloves, arms and feet in temperatures not even attempting to struggle out of the 20s on a cloudy January afternoon. Shivering like a refugee, I turned for the dismal trudge home, shoelaces already crusted with ice, sled bumping behind me, past the opulent homes of the wealthy, on my way back to our middle-class neighborhood.
Once home, a couple of hours later, teeth chattering, and receiving the obligatory, “If you get the flu, don’t come running to me!” my soaking gloves, shoes and soaks were laid across the brick hearth to be baked dry within minutes as I climbed into a pair of flannel pajamas layered beneath a pair of jeans and a sweater.
And so I watched the news last week, nodding understandably at all those stuck in their cars overnight throughout the deep South. I even understood the desire to abandoned their vehicles as they tried to make their way home or to any sort of shelter. I would have done the very same thing – less for the warm embrace of a welcoming family, mind you, but more for a pot of beans.