The following piece was written by Linda Anne Burtis and published in the Oct. 14, 1987 edition of The Spotlight. Titled “A storm diary,” it perfectly captures the struggle of one family going through the aftermath of the freak snowstorm that slammed the region on Sunday, Oct. 4, 1987. Then-editor Tom McPheeters must have felt the same way. He published the story top-left on the front page of that edition.
Burtis’ words reminded me of those days. I was a freshman at Bethlehem Central High School at the time. As I read it today, I enjoy the memories of stores that are no longer here in town and pop culture references dropped throughout the piece.
— Michael Hallisey
A storm diary
By Linda Anne Burtis
Sunday, 8:30 a.m.
Children woke up with shouts about snow. My husband got out of bed and whistled, “Holy smokes, wait’ll you see this.” I ask if he thought my tennis date would have to be called off and was surprised to hear such an unambivalent, “yes.”
Children make many trips down to the basement in search of trunk-stowed winter clothes.
Learn that we have no electricity. Buried under the blankets in bed. I plan a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts for my beloved cup of coffee.
Awake enough to notice the cracking sound made by tree limbs. One sounds as if it fell very close to the living room window. This gets me out of bed. Amazed at the sight of huge branches full of green leaves lying fallen up and down the street.
Decide that a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts is too risky since tree limbs continue to crash down. It hasn’t occurred to me that they might also be a victim of this freak snowstorm.
The wind is chilling the house since it’s so early in the season, we have no storm windows up for have we turned on the heat. The temperature inside drops quickly to 56 degrees.
Bring in wood for a fire in the fireplace. Enough to hold us over until afternoon, when electricity will surely come on.
A roaring fire warms us all up. Figure out a way to boil water in the fireplace and make a pot of coffee. Heat up leftover lasagna in one of those wedding fonts that never got used; a fireplace popcorn popper.
Slowly, the storm takes on aura of adventure. We imagine that we are visiting Laura from “Little House on the Prairie.”
Put batteries in our portable radio and learn how life fares beyond our neighborhood. WGY is the best guide with their live commentary on the snowstorm. A disc jockey describes it as the “Great Fall Snowfall.” There is a strong sense that we are all in this together.
It doesn’t seem as if our power will be restored until Monday. Supper is canned tuna fish and tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market. Candles make the living room cozy.
I tell the children stories about hurricanes and blizzards and scarlet fever quarantines that happened to me from the 50s when I was their age.
The living room is turned into a campsite. There are sleeping bags and blankets for all of us. Candles are blown out by 9 p.m. It is hours before my normal bedtime.
Monday, 7:30 p.m.
We awake to a wintery chill. The fire died during the night. My nine-year-old builds the first fire of her life. Soon, water is boiling for coffee and the children happily eat cold cereal. A WGY DJ announces that school is closed. The children are in snow day heaven.
First sign that this adventure is becoming an ordeal. As I fold a pile of blankets, a whiff of smoke from the fireplace makes me shiver. Discover the first casualty of the storm; chocolate ice cream leaking from the freezer onto the floor.
Cancel a meeting planned for this morning.
A house full of children on vacation, playing “camp” in the living room.
The melting snow means that I Need to bail water from the sump pump pit or the basement will flood. I do this for six minutes, just staying ahead of the spill line. Hope that the electricity will be turned on before my next trip to the pit.
Lunch is tuna fish, again. Don’t know if the Grand Union is open and feel proud of my ignorance. Thinking lots about pioneers.
Unable to work because my computer is down. Instead, finish a paint job that had been incomplete for two years; an unexpected perk from this disaster.
Hauling sump pump water again. Up to ten-minute spells. The latest gossip is that Elsmere will get its power soon because NiMo has identified McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts as community providers. Adelle Davis would roll over in her grave.
Storm has schizophrenic air. — I see a child in snow pants and a scarf, carrying a sled past a man in summer clothes.
Dine at McDonald’s in Colonie, where everything works. Hard to imagine half our days spent in the 19th century.
Lights are on in Delmar when we return home. I cheer and the children chant hopefully “no lights, no lights.” I am sure that our house will be lit up when we pull in the driveway. The children win. It’s a dark house, for the second night. The romance has worn off this adventure, I decide as I rush to the basement to bail water.
Bed the children down in our living room “dormitory.” Radio reports have been filled with warnings about freezer food spoiling.
Friends are people with electricity. One of mine, Judy Languish, offers me the extra space in her freezer, so I unload my half·thawed turkey and scallops at her house.
Driving at night is bizarre – like being in a jungle, but with a paved road between the brush.
Tuesday, 7:30 a.m.
My daughter starts the fire again. She is learning fast. The house doesn’t feel so cold this morning, probably because of yesterday’s balmy weather.
Good news: the sump pump pit didn’t overflow during the night and the children get another holiday.
Bad news: The refrigerator is beginning to smell funny. Heard this morning that the town was loaning out a generator to sump pump owners, but that turned out to be another rumor.
Canceled Monday’s rescheduled meeting. George called and I set up an afternoon tennis match. Life goes on.
An exquisite, Indian summer day. A teenager offers to clear the debris from my yard for $50. Talked him down to $25, on the condition that I clear the small debris.
See a young man with a bandaged arm and head at Delaware Plaza. It seems as if we are living out a mild version of “The Day After.”
Another boring, cold lunch. Minus a dishwasher, decide to go off stainless and ceramic and onto paper cups and plates.
Home from the town tennis courts. Traded war stories with other players about coping without electricity. George has power, so I almost feel sorry for him. He couldn’t play Delmar’s latest game, “My Ordeal Tops Your Ordeal.”
Getting weary of the nightly wood ritual: making sure there’s enough in the house to last until morning. Wondering if there are any thieves around. Check the sump pump. It’s okay. Notice how obnoxious the constant clean-up noises are – chain saws and town trucks – grinding roadside limbs.
Hear an ironic story about someone who lives in a home full.of antiques, yet is totally irritable about this blackout.
Waiting in line for dinner at Friendly’s. It is crowded with families. I feel like shouting any one with power must leave and make room for us victims. Rumors among strangers at the restaurant are that Delmar’s power is sure to be restored by midnight.
Wednesday, 7:30 a.m.
When my husband opened the refrigerator, I could smell the rotting food from my makeshift bed in the living room.
No school today, and I’ve run out of ways to entertain the children.
Friends are beginning to sound irritable. One pounced on me, asking, “Do you have power yet?” She acted as if things were only hard for her.
Lots of sibling rivalry throughout the morning. I am becoming forgetful. Today I missed a dentist appointment, despite receiving a reminder phone call.
Today’s rumors forecast power return for the weekend. I no longer expect it to come on any hour, so this extended projection seems believable.
Tonight it’s Chinese food in front of the fireplace.
Visited a friend in Altamont. It’s unfair that they have power and so much of Delmar is still living a blackout nightmare. The hardy, rural folks should have been at the end of the pile, not us soft suburbanites.
Thursday, 7:30 a.m.
Today, my daughter turns 10. WGY announces that Bethlehem students start back to school, one hour late. Yippee. The children are as excited as I am. Their school wardrobes are rather scummy looking since I haven’t done a wash in 10 days.
Teach a tennis class and bring the birthday girl along. We return home, planning a family party in front of the fireplace. At first, I don’t take it quite right. The hallway light is on. I go further into the house – now I hear the radio. “It’s over – the electricity is back,” I scream. We grab some apples and dash out to buy some birthday gifts at Toys R Us. Life in the fast lane returns too easily.
A strange thing happens. We can’t resist a nostalgic, last night together, in the living room, with a fire. This time we don’t need to do it. We choose to do it.