We live, most of us who aren’t farmers, aloof from the natural elements. Who among us can say whether cyclones turn clockwise or counterclockwise? Who can recite the colors of the rainbow?
Yet, like migrating birds and emerging butterflies, we humans remain subject to the weather’s cues and whims.
We in the Inland Northwest learned that lesson again during Ice Storm ‘96. Recently, The Spokesman-Review asked readers to tell us about the long-lasting consequences of the storm in their lives. We received a shower of mail.
When the lights went out, speculation was that we might see a miniature baby boom nine months later. Some forecasters said August would bring battalions of little “storm troopers,” forever reminding their moms and “Popsicles” of the sparks in those dark hours.
It’s too early to say for sure whether those predictions will come true. But at least a couple of obstetrics clinics report increases in August-September due dates.
“That happened with Mount St. Helens, too,” said Sandee Janie, office manager of the Women’s Clinic of North Idaho in Coeur d’Alene. She said the clinic expects to deliver 20 percent more babies than normal in both August and September.
If an artist were to paint a group portrait titled “Ice Storm Survivors,” most of the faces would sparkle with smirks of irony and jutted chins of determination.
Some faces, though, would be streaked with tears.
Colbert resident Debbie Carlson lost her 29-year-old husband when a tree snapped in the night.
The large pine crashed into the recreational vehicle in which Gregory Carlson was sleeping during a hunting trip. Debbie’s husband of seven years, the father of her two young children, was crushed to death Nov. 19 around 3:30 a.m.
“Every time I look at our beautiful children, I see their father,” Debbie wrote. “I try not to cry in front of the kids. I cry a lot.”
Some days are better than others. Greg’s family gathered on April 16, which would have been his 30th birthday. With a photo of Greg on the table - a photo taken on his last birthday - the family ate his favorite dinner, pork-fried rice.
“We didn’t cry as much as we expected to. We remembered and laughed and enjoyed being together….
“It will take a long time for all of us to heal. I’ll never love another. Greg is in my heart and soul forever.
“And so, every time winter comes, I know I will have a hard time. I’ll always remember Ice Storm ‘96 as the storm that took away my best friend, my love, my soul mate. And I’ll eagerly await the arrival of spring.”
Scott Hammock of Spokane also will always remember Ice Storm. He wrote about what happened when he cleaned up storm debris Feb. 23 without protective goggles:
“One of the last limbs I threw to the top of the stack was curved at the end and struck me in the right eye on its way up. The result was a ruptured eye and subsequent blindness.”
Despite several surgeries, Hammock still has extremely blurred vision in his right eye. He urges others to protect their eyes.
“I wear goggles now to get the mail,” he said. “I’m one accident away from total blindness.”
In our hypothetical Ice Storm portrait, Margaret Underwood of Wilbur would be one of the slyly smirking faces.
Acknowledging that her problems, comparatively, were “somewhere between small and non-existent,” she told about a miniature avalanche that destroyed a shed.
More disconcerting to Margaret was her husband’s decision to build a new shed in the middle of her garden, “right where I fall-planted spinach, onions and strawberry plants.”
Howard, her 81-year-old husband, built the shed with “a lot of grumping. He kept saying, ‘Why didn’t this happen 10 years ago when I was young?”’
For her part, Margaret can’t stop thinking about her lost seedlings.
“When I go into that new shed, I think I can hear the sound of those poor little plants trying to find sunlight.”
Betty Von Heydrich found the storm strengthened her relationship with Karl, her husband of 17 years. Strengthened, that is, the way shoveling a driveway of snow strengthens one’s back - through pain and suffering.
“I thought before Ice Storm I would have made a good pioneer,” she said. “Forget it! No lights, heat, hot water! Now I know why those pioneer ladies died at an early age!
“I always had makeup on, not a hair out of place, so when the lady across the street brought hot coffee and food, I scared her silly. My husband thrived on this week of disaster. He chopped wood, heated water, kept the candles going, always whistling, singing, while I plotted to end his life.
“Now, when the lights flicker, I have a panic attack. My heart pounds. And I watch my macho man’s eyes light up and brag that John Wayne doesn’t have as much strength as he has.”
Ice Storm robbed 14-year-old Eric Malm of the title of state junior high math champion. We noticed his story in the St. George’s School newsletter and thought it worth noting for posterity.
Because the weather closed his school on the official exam day, Eric and other St. George’s students took the American Junior High School Mathematics Examination on a different day.
Eric missed only one problem, giving him the state’s highest score, except it didn’t count because he didn’t take the test on the “official” day.
“It’s too bad it wasn’t official,” Eric said. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t feel that bad about it.”
He feels worse about his one error. “I would’ve had a perfect score, but I made a stupid little mistake.”
The storm inspired creativity in John and De Holland, who still sing a song they wrote by candlelight. It goes, in part, like this:
“Three days later and still no power
What I’d do for a hot-hot shower!
Darkness abounds, the fire is out
It feels to us, it’s time to shout.
(Chorus) It’s cold tonight! It’s cold tonight!”
MEMO: Former Spokesman-Review staff writer Carla K. Johnson is a free-lance writer, parent and school volunteer living in Spokane.
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