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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sub-zero Surprises

Pushing back against my chair, I thanked Carroll for a delicious bowl of steaming venison stew. We’d had a harrowing day on the road; the meal filled more than our stomachs.

“You’re welcome, Dar. What a dramatic story of deliverance! I’m glad we could be here when your father drove up with Jamie* and Deni*. They told us how your car flew off the road near the forest.”

“God really lifted us to safety, Carroll. Not only that, He sent a Highway Patrolman to get us away from the still-running engine. With the exhaust pipe backed against the hill, we could have been delivered from the crash, only to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

“Maybe we should go start the furnace, Dar,” Dad suggested. “It’s going to take awhile to warm the house for the kids.”

“You two go on,” Carroll said. “Leave the kids and your mother here with us. No point anyone else needs to be in that sub-zero cold.”

Dad and I stood, reaching for our winter gear as I spoke. “Thanks! It shouldn’t take too long. John said they’d keep the furnace going over the weekend, so he put coal in the furnace this morning. Shouldn’t take long to bring the temp up for the night.”

Tugging at my gloves, I turned to my mother. “You okay here, Mom?” Only then did I notice Susie* had fallen asleep in her arms.

“We’re fine, Honey. Just be careful driving on those streets.”

As the rolling tires crunched the icy ground next to the house, I wondered just how cold it’d be inside the old building. Hopefully, the drafty spots hadn’t been big enough to allow critters.

“Careful on the steps, Dad. Each one has a thick sheet of ice.”

With both of us on the slippery landing, Dad held on to the stiffly frozen screen door. I struggled to dig the ice out of the keyhole, the bitter wind chilling me to the bone. At last, the metal broke through.

I turned the key, using moderate pressure. Click. The old metal hinges creaked as I pushed the wooden door open. My right foot slid out in front of me with my first step into the house.

“Whoa! Watch your step, Dad,” I said, noticing a puff of frosted breath exit with each word. “It’s as bad in here as out there.”

“Maybe we should begin downstairs with the fur--,” Dad said, interrupted by my gasp. “Punkin? What’s wrong?”

“Daddy! Look at the sink.” Still dressed for outside, I pointed my gloved finger at the opposite wall.

My father entered the kitchen, inching one foot ahead of the other in a deliberate skating motion. Once next to me, he followed my stare.

“Well, that explains why your floor feels like a skating rink,” Daddy said, puffs of frosty air hitting the sides of my face as he spoke. I felt his hand grab my arm as I took a step forward. “Don’t turn off the water, if that’s what you’re planning.”

Twisting to look at him, I tilted my head and arched my eyebrows. “Not yet,” my father continued. “We need to warm up the pipes first. Didn’t you leave that trickle so your pipes wouldn’t freeze and break?”

“But, Daddy, look at that? The water did freeze. I can’t imagine why that water’s still dripping through the pipe and down that frozen stream.”

Both of us stood, staring at the clear evidence that John hadn’t been in the house that day, at least. A solid tube of frozen water stretched from tap to bowl. The accumulated water had produced a miniature skating rink. But that wasn’t all.

The tenacious icy trickle continued squeezing through the pipe and over the frozen tube. The thin line ran across the “rink”, spilling over the edge and onto the kitchen floor.

Apparently the water in the bowl hadn’t hardened uniformly because a number of impressive icicles clung to the edge of the sink. Not all of them had completed the connection to the floor, but several had. The steady flow down those ice-formed stalactites fed the floor-size skating rink on which we stood.

My natural inclination had been to slide over and turn the tiny stream off. “You’re right, Daddy. I’ll slide over to the cupboard and get a saucepan to catch the water.”

“I’ll get the furnace going, and soon you’ll be able to turn it off. Those pipes didn’t freeze after all this time, so let’s give them a little heat before stopping the stream. What about the bathroom? Did you leave the water running in there, too?”

We slid gingerly back to the bathroom. Sure enough; the sight mirrored the kitchen plumbing—with a couple of additions.

“Hmm? At least, they froze to death,” Daddy said, holding the two mice by the tail.

“Ugh! I’ll get a garbage sack and search around for family members or friends while you work on the furnace. Jamie would freak if she found a dead mouse anywhere.”

“What about Deni? Or, is an almost-five-year-old not bothered by critters with long tails?”

“Ha, that girl loves any animal she sees. The two years she has on her sister doesn’t make any difference. She’s a total animal lover, Dad. In fact, it’s a good thing we can get rid of them before she sees the mice. She’d want to try to see if any could be revived.”

As Dad turned toward the kitchen on his way to the basement, he called back to me. “Why don’t you give your mother a ring over at Carroll’s. It’d be better if the kids could bathe at Carroll’s before we bring them over here for bed. I didn’t lock the pickup shell. Mom can get the suitcase for the kids’ clean clothing.”

So, while the kids enjoyed warm baths, Dad stoked the coals to a burning heat, and I collected rodent bodies of all sizes.

I shuttered to think what would have happened if that granddaddy of the lot had emerged from his frozen state as I stretched out to grab him from under Jamie’s bed. Then, I realized it would have been a lot worse had Jamie discovered him when she made her routine middle-of-the-night sleeping position change from in the bed to under the bed.

Maybe the freezing temperature of the floor would keep her in the bed tonight? I made a note to stretch a blanket on the floor under her bed, just in case.

Once the icicles began to drip, I snapped them off. The sink-rink slid out in one large chunk. I needed to be careful I didn’t break the tap off in the process.

The sheet of ice covering the kitchen floor proved more of a challenge. It remained slippery as I dealt with the breaking sections.

After securely plugging the hole in the basement that let the critters in, Dad grabbed a mop. The two of us had the house looking fairly normal in a relatively short time. Whatever the frozen mess, I gave thanks that none of the pipes had broken.

When all of us snuggled down into our beds that night, the furnace provided our regular warm environment. Only Dad and I ever knew the condition of the big yellow house that evening. Good thing, too. Mom would’ve panicked and tried to get me to move back home for the winter. The girls would have wanted to try to make icicles in their bathroom sink.

I sighed with grateful relief, as I pulled the warm quilt over my shoulders.  We’d made it safely through the harrowing day. Dropping off to sleep, I believed we’d seen the end of that trial. In reality, the wheels of an even worse trial had just been set in motion.


*Name changed.

For the first part of the above story, click the following link: Hallelujah Flight

The story thread begins at this link: With Just One Phone Call