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Storm Journals Trees, Tempers Continue To Snap

Tue., Nov. 26, 1996

Editor’s note: We asked three people in the community to keep “journals of the ice days.” Here is the fifth installment. More installments will follow.

By Kathleen Corkery Spencer Special to The Spokesman-Review

I read in the paper what my heart already suspected - the area we live in is one that may be without power for another week. The weather forecast predicts 35 mph winds will hit the area later tonight.

What that means in personal terms is that there are seven enormous trees whose fragile hold to the earth may be severed today. In their fall they can take our house, and much of what we have spent the last 10 years building together, with them. I do not know I am crying until I feel wet drops fall from my chin. For the first time I am really scared. Nature, the power that drew us here, may also destroy the home we’ve built in its shadow. I feel frantic and helpless all at once. I want to scream or hit someone. My house feels like a prison.

We thought our brief brush with disaster would not outlast our goodwill. We were wrong. We snap at each other for breathing too loudly. We look for someone to blame. We become each other’s easiest target.

In the middle of a shouting match about the relative merits of lamp oil versus kerosene a tree falls and smashes into our house. Within seconds another tree breaks off and crashes into the fence we built last summer with our neighbors. The fence holds. We don’t.

We keep our sanity by keeping busy. Separately. My husband calls his father. We have always looked to him for courage. He has it to spare and gives it willingly. Soon a crew of men - friends and relatives - begin to make order out of chaos. They pull the trees out of our house.

I clean out the refrigerator, throwing away everything but ketchup and green olives. The smell of decaying food is sickening. The stench reinforces my feelings of despair. I trudge out to the garage and fill another garbage can with spoiled food.

I go inside and make the bed. Slowly, deliberately. The ordinariness of it calms me.

The snow falls steadily burying everything in a soft, white shroud. It is deceptively peaceful. Another day, it might seem as friendly as a greeting card. Today, its beauty brings a terrible foreboding. The weight of its silence falls on us. What cannot bend will break.

Corkery Spencer, 42, is a Spokane free-lance writer.

Then there was light, and it was good

By Marilyn Hart Special to The Spokesman-Review

Mandy has been doggedly admonished for nine years to turn off the faucet after washing. Now she is peppered with reminders to leave it dripping. At least she has a reprieve from being told to turn off the light in her room. For the most part, Mandy hasn’t been upset by the circumstances. She gets to eat peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, hallelujah! She doesn’t have to take a bath.

Mandy covered her Barbies with a fuzzed-out patchwork quilt I made for my older daughter 20 years ago. I thought about what has come and gone in my life since the time I made that quilt. A husband. A child. Two homes. Things seem discouraging now, but this too shall pass.

If hell does freeze over (and NOW I believe that’s possible), Spokane will be prepared. When the electrical transformers went out, the spiritual transformers kicked in. Everywhere I looked, the storm generated enough love that one Bible saying became visibly true: Love endures all things.

I had pretty much forgotten that this is Thanksgiving week. At that first Thanksgiving, the only way people survived was through interdependence. We sometimes forget that now in our hurried and separate lives. This storm helped us remember.

Just now, as I was contemplating the logistics of roasting a turkey over a campstove and baking pies over snoozing cats, a miracle happened. There was light! My neighbor swears she is responsible. She went out and bought a caseload of candles. Damn. Wish I’d thought of that!

As I was jumping around the kitchen screaming with joy, the light suddenly went out. The look on my face frightened a confession out of Mandy. “Mom, I just wanted to surprise you,” she said. It’s astonishing how fast children move when they are motivated. All I could see was a blur as she dashed out the door.

Hart, 43, is a Spokane single mom.

Shelter on the move

By Gleyn Bledsoe Special to The Spokesman-Review

Stay or go. For hours, that was the dilemma. We had just 24 people left at the Libby Center shelter. More and more people were getting electricity and leaving us.

And so the big question: Where do the rest go? I personally wanted us to either go to the shelter at the convention center or find a church. I was prepared to walk around the neighborhood, knock on church doors, and ask for shelter space. But the decision was not mine to make.

This school belongs to the school district, and they’ve been great. Their janitors have been here cleaning 24 hours a day, but school’s starting up, they need the space.

People are edgy all around me. I’ve been asked 100 times the same question: “When will my power be back on?” They know I don’t know the answer, but they ask me anyway. It’s a nervous thing. They see me as an authority figure here, but I don’t have the answers. Or the power. Some also ask my permission when they want to leave the building. They don’t need permission.

I’ve been trained to deal with this. And with my military experience, I’m used to the adage: “Hurry up and wait.”

The only thing that frustrates me are the weather reports. One night last week, they said expect 6 to 8 inches. I walked out in the middle of the night and saw stars. So much for the weather reports.

At least one thing got resolved. By the end of the day, we did move - to United Methodist Church.

Bledsoe, 32, is a Red Cross shelter manager.

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