1998 revisited

By Tom Seymour | Jan 02, 2014

This past week’s ice storm brought back unpleasant memories of the great ice storm of 1998. It also made me realize that the 1998 storm caused me to change my habits and ways of doing things.

I see a parallel here. Many of us are old enough to have parents or grandparents who survived the Great Depression. Even decades after the depression was only a memory, these people held on to certain habits born of the tough times. For many, the boom years of the 1950s were a time to shed the bonds of frugality imposed by the depression, but for others, the fear of the depression’s return lingered. So instead of enjoying the new age of freedom and enlightenment, the old-timers continued saving little soap scraps to put in those little wire mesh baskets and use for washing dishes.

These same people always had an ample supply of candles and kerosene lamps on hand. And although electricity was cheap and plentiful, depression survivors were always quick to turn off the light switch when light was not needed, in order to save a few pennies. “You just never know,” was the theme or common thread that kept depression survivors holding on to old, simpler ways.

Never again

The aftermath of the 1998 ice storm was, for some, similar in many ways to the aftermath of the depression. Count me among those whose slogan goes, “you fooled me once, but never again.”

The summer following the ice storm saw me embarking on a campaign to put up at least enough canned goods and dry goods to live for two months. Having lost my grandma’s old-time pressure canner while moving I went out and bought a new one, along with a large collection of canning jars and lids.

My gardening efforts became more in tune with growing things that lent themselves to canning, rather than vegetables of a more transient nature. And some of my flower beds were quickly changed to vegetable beds. If a similar storm hit again, I would survive.

The reason for these efforts was that up to 1998, I mostly preserved my winter foods by freezing. A chest-type freezer, along with the freezer compartment of my refrigerator held more than enough to keep me going for a year. And since my place here in Waldo was without electricity for 13 days, all my food spoiled and I was left with a few items such as a bag of rice and some dried beans and not much more. Never again, though.

So now, as a direct result of the great ice storm, I am a consummate canner, a preserver of foodstuffs. I have also taken up fermenting, or putting up in brine, a variety of vegetables.

Snow water

During the 1998 crisis, it became difficult to procure water. No electricity meant no water pump and no pump means no water. I dug out a large enamelware canner, filled it with clean snow and put it on the woodstove. It took several canners-full of water each day to meet my water requirements.

Not trusting this snow water, I boiled it on the gas stove in order to kill any bacteria. And then, after cooling, it was safe to drink. Shaking a jar of boiled water served to introduce oxygen into it, making it taste less flat.

So having little else to do, I didn’t mind going to the trouble to render snow into potable water. If necessary, I might have gone to my well, really nothing more than a spring that I fitted with well tiles, and removed the top. This would have allowed me to drop a bucked down and haul it back with a rope. But doing so would have introduced bacteria and other kinds of impurities to my otherwise pure water and I wasn’t willing to do that.

I still toy around with dowsing another well and fitting it with a hand pump for emergency use. That may yet happen.

Having a gas stove and a wood-burning stove, I was assured of warmth and also a way to cook food and boil water.

Light sources

During the first three days of the 1998 storm, I dared not leave my house. The huge, white pines all around me were losing limbs at an alarming rate. And birch and maple trees hung low over my driveway, barring me from reaching the road.

Oddly enough, my telephone still worked. Although a downed limb had ripped my electric wires, along with the masthead, from the outside wall, the phone wire had enough stretch not to break. So I was able to talk on the phone, another boon.

And then on day three, my pal Leo Mills from Lincolnville, after making plans on the phone, drove out to the end of my driveway in order to meet me on the road at a set time and take me to town for supplies. But navigating my driveway was problematic. Limbs still posed a threat. I found a way to do it, though. I’d stand near a hanging limb and listen. If it wasn’t creaking, I’d dash past it. In this way, I hop-scotched my way down the driveway.

My meager supply of kerosene was about gone, so I looked for more. But there was no more to be found. I picked up some candles, but these were in short supply too, as were flashlight batteries. Store shelves, where these items should have lain, stood bare.

I did find some canned goods and bought what I could afford. Then Leo took me home to wait out the balance of the blackout. That, as it turned out, was nearly two weeks in the future.

I did have a large container of cooking oil at home and managed to improvise a wick and using the cooking oil, made a workable oil lamp. This smoked and didn’t give much light, but some light was better than none.

Today, I have plenty of batteries, lots of candles and also ample lamp oil. I also have, at all times, water stored in various containers. This gets changed on a regular basis.

Ice Storm 2013

So when the ice storm of 2013 hit, I was much better prepared than in 1998, with ample home-canned foods and plenty of candles and lamp oil for oil lamps. I wondered how people who had neither wood stove nor gas stove made out. I hoped and prayed that they stayed warm.

My electricity was out for four days and by day three; food in my freezer was beginning to thaw. So I packed everything up and put it outside, where temperatures, thankfully, remained below freezing. That was a good thing, because the week before I had brought a freezer lamb, intended to last the winter. Also, I had a number of vacuum-packed trout fillets from my own fish pond, some packages of smelt from the Kennebec River and several partridge and woodcock from last hunting season. It would have bothered me to lose these goodies.

And while my phone line remained intact, my electrically-operated phone was, of course, inoperative. But I had an “old fashioned” phone, the kind that doesn’t require electricity. I plugged it in and wondered why no one called me during the power outage.

On day two, Tony Wieman visited and made me get my emergency phone, a Trac Phone from my car and bring it in the house, where I promised to leave it on. I didn’t even know the phone number for this, since it rarely gets used. Tony had my number and felt better knowing he could call me. He had already gotten power back where he lives in Belmont.

That night, neighbor Jennifer Pierce walked over to check. She, too, had tried unsuccessfully to call. We had a great visit and then went outside to view the sparkling Milky Way and some constellations.

Then on the last day, my pal Dan Woodrow came to visit. Dan examined my non-working phone and saw that a little inconspicuous sliding button was set so that the phone was off. He slid it to “on,” called me with his cell phone and my phone rang. “You’re just technologically-challenged, Tom,” he said.

So when the next ice storm rolls around, I’ll know to set the old phone to on so that it functions properly. Beyond that, I’ll be prepared. As I said, I was fooled once, but never again. I’ll no doubt remain technologically-challenged, however.

Comments (2)
Posted by: ANN MILLS | Jan 09, 2014 07:10

Wonderful Tom. My word, but you are living proof that with brains, ingenuity, determination and planning, we can survive most anything. Thanks for this essay. I learned a thing or two and enjoyed every word.



Posted by: ANN MILLS | Jan 09, 2014 07:10

Wonderful Tom. My word, but you are living proof that with brains, ingenuity, determination and planning, we can survive most anything. Thanks for this essay. I learned a thing or two and enjoyed every word.



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