November 22, 1996 in City

Amidst A Lot Gone Wrong, There Are Blessings To Count

M.P. Aleman Special To Staff writer

I was teaching Language Arts at Chase Middle School about 2:10 Tuesday afternoon when my fifth-period eighth graders broke into cheers and applause. The applause was not for my scintillating discussion of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ short story, “A Mother in Mannville,” but because the lights had just gone out.

Assistant Principal Gary Neal announced that students were to remain in their classrooms. Shortly, however, eighth-grade students were sent to their lockers for backpacks and coats and then to their sixth-period classes. Seventh graders followed suit.

“Will they close the schools?” the excited students were asking. “Will we get to go early?” To maintain some semblance of order, I taught the short story lesson in the semi-darkness. Most students were attentive, answering questions, making comments. Some were preoccupied with looking out the window at the graying skies, the white hillside and the row of icy teeth that had formed on the rail just outside the window.

Walking students and those with immediate rides were released at 3:15. Bus riders had to wait until their buses arrived. The final one didn’t leave Chase until about 4.

Fortunately, Chase has a generator to keep electricity in the halls and the restrooms. Although the heat went off and the classrooms were growing darker and colder, light from the halls provided ample light while students and teachers waited.

My eerie drive home, about seven miles south of Chase, was like a scene from a ‘50s nuclear war movie. A power line lay coiled at the base of a pole on Havana, just off 37th. Near Glenrose I had to skirt a tree that blocked the left lane of Havana. No lights shined in homes and farmhouses along the Old Palouse Highway.

By the time I arrived home, my wife, a teacher at Adams Elementary School, was already there. Her car was sitting in front of the garage, with its useless electric door openers. Inside, candles and a paraffin lamp cast romantic light into the rapidly cooling rooms. Our propane stove gave flickering light and heat, and it wasn’t long before the family room was comfortable.

I took a ladder into the garage and released the springs of the garage doors so I could put both cars away. Inside, Cheryl warmed white bean chili with chicken on the propane stove. We warmed bread and water for coffee and listened to a transistor radio. Last Thursday, the propane dealer had filled the tank. We knew we were fortunate - both home safely, enough heat, and hot food.

As we listened to a talk radio program, we realized the damage, the danger, the extent of the storm. We checked with two neighbors to see if they had heat and food. We called other friends and eventually learned schools would be closed Wednesday. Cheryl helped notify other teachers by phone.

We slept that night in sleeping bags in the family room. The water bed was cold and by all indications would remain so for three to four days.

Morning broke cold and overcast, but the sun soon began to warm the house. Sleeping on futons alerted us to body parts that don’t usually ache, but we’d been warm and had no complaints. We heated last night’s coffee and fresh water on the propane stove, and cooked breakfast on the propane barbecue outside. We grilled hamburgers for later in the day, along with a potato dish and hard-boiled eggs.

We listened again for the news on the transistor, and spent some pleasant time reading by the stove. I pulled out my old Smith-Corona Clipper to type this piece, knowing that spell check and cut-and-paste were not options. I was reminded that many of our conveniences are just that, and not necessities.

We are thankful, too, for God’s many blessings - health, a house to live in, the food we eat, the many workers who labored through the night to restore power, the emergency care people who met the needs of the aged, the ill, those in various kinds of needs.

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