Iowa’s Great New Year’s Deep Freeze generated memories of brutal winters of my youth. Winter has never been my favorite season, but I found comfort in the fact winters of recent years seemed to be moderating.
The most recent cold snap snapped us back to reality.
Julie and I spent New Year’s Eve with one of my high school friends and his wife back home in Hamilton County. At our ages we no longer make a big deal about partying past midnight so shortly after 10 p.m. I started our car and let it run for a few minutes.
When we left for home about 15 minutes later the car’s heat gauge had barely moved. As we drove away from our friends’ farm home the dashboard thermometer showed the outside temperature at -22º. I hadn’t experience that kind of cold for a long time.
Somewhere near Ames the temperature had crept up to -14º but by the time we reached our home in West Des Moines it was -17º.
It was nearly midnight when we reached home. I was tired, glad to be home and ready for bed. When I stepped into the kitchen, however, my plan for swift slumber was delayed. “We have a problem,” Julie announced, “we don’t have water.”
Our water pipes had frozen.
You don’t call plumbers at midnight on New Year’s Eve, so we made plans for “survival” and went to bed. On New Year’s Day morning, I began calling plumbers – first those we knew and then those I found on the Internet.
After several calls I found a company that was already booked for most of the day but would try to work us in by Tuesday morning. Later in the day the plumber’s scheduler called and advised that a plumber would be at our home no later than 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Sure enough, right on time, I heard a vehicle pull into our driveway. It was still bitterly cold outside so I went to the door when I heard footsteps on the deck. I opened the door before I could see who was approaching and shouted, “Come on in guys!”
Imagine my surprise when the “guys” was a young woman. With her insulated bib overalls and stocking cap the plumber’s gender wasn’t readily apparent but her pretty and non-bearded smile gave her away.
Maddie, we came to realize, was a personable young woman and a proficient plumber. She explained her plan of action, discussed prices and went to work.
I had out-of-town appointments Tuesday afternoon but just four hours after Maddie arrived, Julie sent me a text declaring, “We have water.”
Surviving in suburbia without water is no easy task. Monday morning, after securing a plumber, I drove to the nearest supermarket and purchased 12 gallons of bottled water. (I also bought some pastries. Baked goods have medicinal value; they reduce stress.)
The bottled water worked for cooking, making coffee, washing, drinking, brushing teeth and flushing toilets. (And the pastries helped relieve my stress.) Later in the day, I went back and purchased 12 more gallons of water (but no more pastries.)
Bottled water is, of course, not conducive to showering. I had skipped a shower on Monday but by Tuesday morning I needed to “freshen up.” I heated some bottled water and shampooed in a bathroom sink. Then I heated up some more water and took a “sponge bath.”
My family didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was 5-years-old and one of the houses we occupied later during my youth had only cold running water. I learned to bathe with a wash basin and minimal water. I had not forgotten the technique but I have a lot more body to wash nowadays.
The wash basin shampoo and sponge bath worked but I thoroughly enjoyed my morning shower the next day, still grateful for a plumber named Maddie.
I learned a few things from our no-water experience. Philosophically, I have always preferred a cold streak to a blizzard because cold is not as limiting as snow and ice. I learned I no longer believe that as strongly as before.
I learned another thing during the recent cold snap: water is the most essential element of life because without water you cannot make coffee.
(Arvid Huisman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. ©2018 by Huisman Communications.)