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The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., Daniel Patrick Sheehan column
[February 01, 2011]

The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., Daniel Patrick Sheehan column

Feb 01, 2011 (The Morning Call - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- I couldn't go out and find a new story because of this weather, so I will have to tell you an old one.

It's about a suburban ice storm, one that has never melted in nearly four decades and makes me shiver now that we're facing another.

It was a bad winter on Long Island, where I grew up. At the time I was perhaps half the size I am now, so when I stepped into deep snow it made more of an impression on me than it does today.

Nothing to object to there, of course, because the heavy snows that winter made for a couple of snow holidays from school, and we lived in a neighborhood full of kids who knew how to make a full day's diversion out of snow.

One night, though, it didn't snow. It rained, then froze.

In the morning, it was sunny. More than sunny. It wasn't just the tree branches and telephone poles and cars and mailboxes that were trapped in ice, but the sunlight itself. Your gaze couldn't settle on anything in particular. It danced across the diamond surfaces, overwhelmed.

The word dazzle is a variation of daze. Daze comes from an Old Norse term meaning "to become exhausted," and that's just what the ice-light did. It exhausted your eyes. I have never seen the likes of it since, though I have lived through other ice storms.

We were distracted enough by this light show to pay no mind to the fact that the power had failed. It would come back on in an hour or so, we reasoned. It always did.

But it didn't. Not in an hour, not in a day. By evening, the house had grown cold, and the night seemed deeper and darker because of how bright the afternoon had been.

We had a fish tank in those days, with some angel fish and tetra fish and whatever other sort of fish you got at a mall pet store. It dawned on my brother that the tank must be getting awfully cold. The fish were sluggish.

My parents didn't seem unduly concerned about the fish. I came to understand much later that they were probably distracted by the possibility of pipes bursting and icy branches crashing through the roof, but at the time I thought they were being a bit callous toward the little fellows.

All of these things -- the dark, the cold, the dying fish -- grew up in my mind into something else, a lumpy dread that made me raw-nerved and anxious. I suppose it was the first time I sensed the flimsiness of the world, and how our needs and comforts depend on a network of terribly vulnerable mechanized things that a cold spell and a bit of rain can knock sideways.

I couldn't have put it in those terms then, of course. All I knew is that we couldn't cook, we couldn't talk on the telephone, we couldn't see in the dark and the poor fish were dying.

My sister said the hobos of the Great Depression would insulate themselves with newspapers in winter. Maybe wrapping newspapers around the tank would warm the fish up? It wasn't the first time Newsday had been used to wrap fish. We layered the tank in a week's worth. I'd like to tell you it worked, that we had taken something as simple as a newspaper and thwarted nature right there in the family room, but no, the fish died.

After that, until the power returned -- it took nearly three days -- I looked into the dazzle with the sense of a sword dangling overhead.

That sense returns to me now, with the weather radar pink with ice. Our house has old pipes, and a big, handsome maple that's been showing its age, and wouldn't it be just like this winter to stick it to us that way? 610-820-6598 To see more of The Morning Call, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2011, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.

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