The following I offer as a needed break from tonight’s election mania. You can thank me later.
The year was 1983. I think. We’re going to say it was 1983 and January. Could have been December but January of ’83 sounds about right.
Anyway it was cold. Very cold especially for east-central Mississippi. For the sake of my happy memories let’s also assume this frozen spell closely followed the white Christmas of that age. If you know otherwise, keep it to yourself, Zippy.
Snow began to fall. Actually it was ice. Maybe with freezing rain. Whatever it was that came from the sky the ground was soon completely iced over. Ice on the trees. Ice on the bushes. Ice was everywhere.
It was as beautiful as it was cold. And it was eerie. It all fell for a good long while. The roads became glazed over and utterly impassible. Everything became still and quiet. We didn’t have a heap of vehicular traffic anyways. My parents insisted on building a house on the extreme outskirts of town, about as far from Starkville as one could go and still call it civilization (if one stooped that low). That decision turned out to be fateful and fortunate.
Ice is heavy. As it accumulates, gravity goes to work. Tree limbs sag. Then they snap. They fall on power lines. The lines fall and snap the poles. Transformers explode with both a flash and a bang. This happened town-wide. Everyone lost electrical power. Everyone except the Lovett’s on the extreme outskirts of town.
It seems we tapped into our own grid out there. It must have been new, maybe built just for us. Whatever it was and however it happened we had power. Never so much as a flicker.
We learned of the general neighborhood outage from the pilgrims. Our lot was of greater size. The front yard (side yard really) was an acre or two. It slopped from our house down into a shallow valley formed by a creek. From the creek it rose another acre or two to the Wilsons’ house. The creek was lined with trees, small but numerous, mostly hardwood. Pines and a few ornamentals dotted the approaching properties.
It all looked so picturesque during The Great Ice Storm of ’83. Into that white picture drudged the Wilsons. I can’t remember who spotted them first but we all gathered and watched their coming from the huge window in the kitchen. Bundled up like the inhabitants of Siberia they came on, small uncomfortable figures.
It was just the two of them, Jim and Betty, and their dogs, Pumpkin and Fella. The creek was crossed by a small bridge constructed once upon a time by Dr. Wilson and my father. We first sighted their approach as they passed over it, dogs in tow. After a few minutes they reached our door – the back door under the carport.
It seems they had a premonition about the electrification situation and had come to seek warmth. My parents insisted they stay the duration. In addition to regular heat we also had a huge wood stove that was independently sufficient to heat the house (or most of it).
There was a vague fear our line would go down and we’d lose the juice. We never did. The Wilsons were very much like grandparents to me so I found their extended visit joyful. We all had a great time. Until the second day.
I think it was the morning. Everyone was gathered in the kitchen and enjoyed coffee and cocoa. We made small talk and watched one of our three channels on television (no cable in no-man’s land then).
Suddenly there was a boom like a cannon and the whole house shook. It seemed to have come from the carport, from just outside the door the Wilsons had entered through the day before. We ventured out to find a most unpleasant surprise.
A large, very large pine tree, laden with ice, had collapsed. It fell, luckily, on the corner of the carport. Pines trees, it is said, are good for two things: making cheap furniture and falling on houses. I can attest to both being true. No vehicles or supports were damaged but the roof and eves suffered dramatically. My father immediately searched the attic. Things like that can cause fires. From that we were safe. Safe from fire but not from ice.
A glance around the house revealed an ominous sight. Two dozen older, larger pines were covered and coated thick with ice. They all learned over the house, a silent frozen menace. Now and again one would creak. A little ice would fall. A branch. It was a bit disconcerting.
In modern times, lesser folks would have stupidly posted pictures to Instagram, moaned, and called out for deliverance from FEMA. Ours was a different time and place. The men quickly formulated a battle strategy. Mother Nature started it. They ended it.
My dad and Dr. Wilson, armed with shotguns and high performance #8 (?) birdshot, ventured into the unknown. Both were veterans but neither had experience battling trees or winter precipitation. Undeterred they commenced a short, successful war.
Round and round the house they went, blasting away into the air. Each shot produced a shower of ice, bark, and falling limbs. After a few rounds the subject tree would convulse. All the accumulated ice would cascade down in thunderous ruin. The tree, so dramatically lightened, would spring upright. A few treacherous sways and it would settle in place just as it had been for the days and years before.
I followed them with the dogs. My job, I suppose, was to keep our canine companions from being buried in an avalanche. They, for their part, were genuinely curious but a tad gun shy. Excited one second and cowed the next, they soon gave up and returned to the porch. I followed on.
The men slowed in their work. Look, point, shoot, discuss, and then laugh. The job turned mostly into laughter. They’d blast away and then cackle with delight. Soon it was a purely comical affair. Two grown men made their way through a frigid candy store … with shotguns. I was granted a single shot but that seemed to dampen their fun. They took my gun back, I went back to the dogs, and they hee-hawed away for what seemed like hours.
Eventually the shots died down and the victorious combatants returned for more coffee. All the trees were clear, including a good number nowhere near the house.
Mrs. Wilson, always as witty and sweet as could possibly be, remarked to me that I would always remember the winter when my dad and Dr. Wilson shot trees. I certainly have.
If there is a moral here it is to always have a plan. Always accept and help the neighbors. Keep a stove and some coffee. And beware of trees and ice. And shotguns! Nothing saves a house from being crushed in a winter storm like a shotgun. These marvels of firearms engineering can defeat even the most uncanny of intruders. And men. Men can be silly, courageous, and industrious all at once.
I’ll leave you with this: Ice storms are like elections. They come on hard and make little sense. Always have some birdshot handy.
Ammunition To Go.