Of Winter Storms, Pandemic, and WWII: Unprepared

I flip on the light over my bed at five o’clock Saturday morning and unplug my phone and scroll through the icons. No email; a couple comments on a Facebook post from last night; same shit show news that was there when I went to bed; 28º and snowing here and in Seattle, raining in Asheville.

Lena, who doesn’t sleep with me when the family isn’t here and the whole house is her fiefdom, drops by for a five-minute conversation and scratch and then jumps down so I get up and feed her and head upstairs. When the family goes home, I’m eager to return to my parents’, aunts’ and uncles’ lives in 1945.


My father, waiting for his turn to leave Germany and start the long process to ship home, attended a day of the Nürnberg Trials. As I watched the [first] impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, I read his account.


I override the six o’clock timer on the coffee pot and put a mug of water in the microwave to warm the cold mug, then turn on outside lights to check the snow situation. Maybe eight inches! Maybe more. Unlike Friday when it was completely still, the wind blew all night, snow dumping off the Douglas fir branches and crash landing on the ground, smaller bombs hurtling onto the roof. There are drifts. I take my computer to the study and turn on the electric fireplace and the desk lamp, and light my candle, then return to the kitchen for coffee. The pot finishes gurgling and snap, the power flickers and goes out.


Last January, the possible epidemic in parts of the world was beginning to become known. Then there was a single case of the novel coronavirus left off in Seattle, and taken home to North Carolina. “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China” (D.T.). I learn to wash my hands like operating room staff and carry sanitizer in the car. I use gloves to pump gas.


I flip on my phone flashlight—the battery not fully charged, thanks to my scrolling—and go in search of light. My camping lantern, which I usually put in the house in the winter for this very possibility, is in the shed, beyond the drifts. The flashlight in the broom closet is dead and the AA battery supply was marauded for Christmas morning toys. Of course the flattened solar lanterns are in a drawer, uncharged, and my candle supply is woefully low, thanks to this long winter in need of cozy and the cessation of trips to Jo-Ann Fabric, my candle source. Unprepared.


They start calling the epidemic a pandemic. School closes for two weeks. We have no idea what lies ahead. “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear” (D.T.). There had been a task force for such possibilities, but it was disbanded when the new administration took office. It is a terrible time to have a terrible president.


I have, with seven-year-old Elliot’s good help, a full firewood rack at the deck door in preparation for this hoped for winter storm. We don’t get many winter storms in the PNW, so they are a welcome diversion from boring rain. I’m excited! I start a fire with wood I brought in the night before then slide the deck door open, a small snow drift falling inside, and fill the carrier before wrapping up next to the fire with hot coffee. The second cup is luke warm, but good enough. Weak light from a rechargeable night light along with the fire lights my book until I remember I have a head lamp! I check the impeachment trial on my phone, hoping to catch Jamie Raskin’s closing statement and find they have decided to call witnesses. That’s a turn of events.


I stay home as long as I can, but I finally have to go to the grocery store where I get one of the last packages of toilet paper (I’m not hoarding; I’m really out). There is no Covid-approved disinfectant; I just get what they have to clean the Airbnb. I hold my breath when I pass someone in the aisle, knowing that’s stupid, but it’s all I can do. “If we have thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better” (D.T.).


The power is still out as dim light rises out the windows revealing the blowing snow. The phone weather app says it’s snowing, but it’s impossible to tell what is new and what is recycling. A flock of juncos take turns at the wildly swinging feeders, undeterred by Lena’s cackling frenzy to get at them. I eat half a Luna bar the boys left behind to hold me over until I can make oatmeal, which seems like a cozy breakfast on a snowy morning.


School closes for another month even before the two week closure is up. This might be serious now. Some people have died. “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down…a tremendous job at keeping it down….We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus” (D.T.). I drag out fabric scraps and make masks to wear in the one-way grocery store aisles where they don’t even bother to put paper towels on the shelves now, leaving them on carts they fly off of. I attend my yoga class on Zoom. Airbnb guests start cancelling.


My sister reports that her power is out too, but a downtown friend says hers is not. Good, not a tree across a line on my hill; perhaps it will be back soon. At 8:40 it comes back on downtown. I put another log on the fire. An hour later it is off again all over town and in the neighboring town. It’s a substation outage, my neighbor reports; it’s Bonneville Power, my sister learns, and the whole area is out. They will bring it back a bit at time to avoid overload. My hill outside the city limits is not at the top of any utility company’s priority list. I had thought about bringing my camp stove from the shed to the deck, but I didn’t do it. Unprepared. I eat cold yogurt and granola and settle in for a long haul.


“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrats Party, is doing everything in its semi-considerable power to inflame the Coronavirus situation” (D.T.). All my reservations have canceled and I block the calendar through the spring. I go to the grocery early in the day every couple weeks, one of a couple handfuls of people wearing a mask.


I check the trial again. They’ve compromised and will put my district’s Republican legislative representative’s statement into the record rather than call her as a witness. Closing statements are underway. My devices are getting low on power.


“My advisors recommend now, that we all wear masks. You can if you want to. I won’t be” (D.T.). There are senior hours at the grocery story and plexiglass sneeze guards at the checkout. I haven’t seen my family in six weeks.


I bring in another load of firewood and check my phone for an update. D.T.’s personal injury lawyer is insulting everyone. I turn it off and finish reading my book next to the fire while it snows on and on outside the window.


Limited occupancy and masks are enforced in Olympia grocery stores. Trader Joe’s has tape every six feet on the sidewalk outside. It feels safer there than in my small town, so even though I’m not traveling up I-5 to yoga, I return to grocery shopping there. School closes for the rest of the year and I get pretty good at jigsaw puzzles. By the end of March, a national emergency has been declared; there are 85,200 cases in the U.S. and over 2,000 deaths.


I return to my war letters project. I’ve gotten them all into the manuscript that will one day be a book. With no internet, I can’t do my planned tasks of researching historical interest stories, but I look through documents I’ve found in a basement cabinet in a box of memorabilia marked “War.”

There are pages clipped out of Time Magazine, December 10, 1945, about the Nürnberg Trials.


In October, I cancelled my annual visit to North Carolina to see my older grandsons. By February, I’ve hosted my Seattle family four days a week for five and a half months so I can help with Pandemic School. The children haven’t been in a classroom for eleven months. I’m mostly ordering groceries online and wearing two masks, as recommended, when I do go inside. There have been 27.6 million cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and 484,000 Americans have died. I’ve had my first vaccine injection; #2 is next Sunday. But it’s no guarantee against the mutant strains that have cropped up, in part thanks to the lack of leadership and the mishandling of the original virus.


The power comes back on, nine hours after it went out. I bring the last load of firewood from the deck, the rack is empty. The heat hasn’t come back on. I turn on the news. Donald J. Trump, witnessed on national television inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 in a last effort to overturn the election he lost, has been acquitted again.

This morning the heat still isn’t on. It’s 50º inside. The heating company’s off hours answering service mailbox is full. I scan dozens of online troubleshooting articles until I finally figure out the problem and what to do about it: the fan blades are blocked by snow—the auto defrost obviously unable to do its job because the power was out. I throw eleven buckets of water on it to clear it. Next time there is a winter storm, I will be better prepared with knowledge. Including turning on the A/C rather than heat to force warmer air out through the unit.


When it was founded in 1920, the German National Socialist Workers’ Party was only a small party. But Hitler used his oratory talent to attract more and more members. The party was characterized by extreme nationalism and antisemitism. In November 1923, Hitler even led a coup attempt. It was a complete failure. Hitler ended up behind bars and the court banned the NSDAP. At the end of 1924, Hitler was released after serving a relatively short sentence. However, his political career was not over. In prison he had written Mein Kampf, setting out his plans for Germany (AnneFrank.org).


I pray some new laws are passed by this Congress to keep democracy in the United States from becoming a thing of the past. Why can a twice impeached president run for office again, anyway, indicted or not? As I heard on MSNBC last night: “We are a young country; democracy is not necessarily a forever state of being.” We can’t take it for granted. We have to prepare, we must protect.

Take good care!

8 thoughts on “Of Winter Storms, Pandemic, and WWII: Unprepared

  1. This kind of braiding is one of your great skills! It really carries me along and provides so much space for the reader: if they are interested in only one thing–how to get the heat pump to work–you inform them of many things! This is seducere (to lead in) and educare (to lead out) that is masterful in your hands. I can hardly wait to see the compilation of your letters project. And I’m going to screenshot the Nuremberg quote and put it in my journal along with several other writings that mark history in the midst of personal musings.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You are so masterful at this style of writing ! Really impressive. To see the different timelines woven together is brilliant. The fact that it’s all from your personal perspective makes me really want to dig in and know your experience. 

    I know I comment often and it’s because I really want to validate what you do with your writing. As a blogger (and I am only a blogger because of your inspiration) I know how many people will read a post but never share their thoughts. I hope everyone chooses to take the time to share with you. (It’s so easy !,) 

    Thank you for writing down the story, Gretchen. I see you and I always look forward to what you share. 

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Bonnie Rae. I appreciate your comments (and all comments) always. As a masterful writer yourself, I value your words. I’m sorry I don’t always leave thoughtful comments on your posts; being overwhelmed these days, I understand when people don’t leave lines on mine! But I am always impressed with your words and your photos. Thank you for joining me on the page.

      Like

    2. This is a great post Gretchen—powerful and thought-provoking. Great braiding. I’m so glad you wrote it, too—I believe strongly that we need to remain vigilant and clear and fighting to keep our democracy intact. Well done!

      Liked by 1 person

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