Thawing the Pipes

With the looming of the “Polar Vortex” staring us all in the eye on television, social media and the like, most of us shiver in remembering at least one episode in our lives not so fondly known as ” the thawing of the pipes.”

There was more than one episode on the farm in Maine. At the time, we had a tiny room, which housed the cupboards and a little black iron sink, known as the “pantry”. Our water was gravity fed from the hill in back of the farm. In other words, it was a perfect set-up for frozen pipes.

The temperature dropped several times to the below zero mark every winter, but usually if we let a faucet drip overnight, we seemed to make it through the coldest part of the season unscathed. Everything good comes to an end. …and especially if  you have four “kids” and you are 23 years old and floundering at the edge of hysteria. Hysteria re-produced itself every morning in late January with kids of assorted sizes tripping over pajama bottoms and fighting for that secret prize in the bottom of the cereal box. All I needed was frozen pipes. I got them.

One morning I turned the faucet for water to cool my own hysteria and there was nothing.   No. It could not be. The husband had to leave for work and that left me to morph into Josephine the Plumber. I grabbed a bucket and gloves. I knew that I did not want matches, open fires  under my sink. I also knew that the Ashley wood heater in the kitchen might warm the area by late afternoon..if then. What produced warmth but looked safe? AH ha my hair dryer! With four little ones, who had time to work on hair styles, so it may as well be put to good use. I found two blocks of wood and a long ( I mean very long) extension cord. Propped the hair dryer on the wood and angled it toward a mean very cold looking elbow.

Time went on; dirty cereal bowls accumulated on the sideboard. Nary a drip from the faucet. The heat provided by this dryer was equivalent to my breath after chasing a cow in a hundred yard dash. Something had to be done and soon. Patience had fled the scene and at this point, there was no describing my hatred for cold and snow.

Desperation set in and I searched through the husband’s pile of tools. There it was..the answer…a blow torch! I hasten to say right now, this is NOT the way to thaw pipes. I knew it then and I know it now, but I had five barn cats, one dog and  four “ankle biters” wanting water. One would have thought they had trudged in a desert for four day with each tongue hanging out.

I cleared the area of all four legged and two legged beings before I scratched the match to get this brightly burning flame. No I did not get on my stomach and use it in an enclosed place . With the hair dryer blowing below, I inched toward the upper part of the pipes, blow torch in hand. I let the flame lick at the upper pipes and slowly there was a drip and then a drip.drip.drip. and then success! We had water once more..actual flowing water.

Blow torch was extinguished; hair dryer put away and now I could walk around the pantry praising myself for actually bringing water back into the farm.  With almost a swagger to my step, I found the four little ones and offered them each a glass of water only to find “they weren’t thirsty anymore.”  That rather marred the joys of victory.

So here it is almost sixty years later and the Polar Vortex is threatening again. Somewhere tonight there are going to be frozen pipes, thirsty kids in the morning and desperate measures to get the precious water flowing again.

Whatever you do, leave the blow torch out of your thawing methods.  Remember, I was young, desperate and only owned one hair dryer.  As time and technology has marched on, surely there is an “app” somewhere that thaws pipes.  I don’t own a smart phone or I’d research the subject and report it.

When it gets really cold, there is only one thing to do: hunker down because there is not one thing you or I can do about it. We can think spring if that makes it easier.



January Jottings

I am sincerely trying to find something good about the month of January .  If I were in good health, I would like to be cross country skiing..meaning just my big back yard. If I go into the woods, I am lost unless I leave a trail of bread crumbs behind. With the hoard of gray squirrels around here, they would be eating my life saving trail as soon as I tossed it behind me.

January days are for digging into old boxes, old trunks and ripped up the side paper bags to unearth some of the “treasures” I have carried along through the seven moves in my life. There are the “rank cards” as we called them…now who is going to want these things after I swoosh upward? ( I assume I am going to swoosh, but on January days, it is more like yanking on a cord to start a dead snow blower).  Anyway, back to the “rank card”. The pictured card was when I was in Grade 3 with Ruth Ring as my teacher. What patience she had! I figure I was about 7 years old at the time and my seat got very hard before day’s end and my mind wandered. Now these are the thoughts that crop up on a miserable January day.

I hated January back then. Christmas had gone and it was weeks before we would start making the crepe paper Valentine box. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to look forward to, except cold and ice.

There was one holiday in January that I looked forward to each year and that was my Gram Martin’s birthday . Ma always selected something worthy, wrapped it and Dad delivered it over the field to Gram. It was usually a pretty apron, towels or some writing paper. There was no official birthday party, but  I was very excited watching Ma wrap and top it off with a pretty birthday card.

Of course, when one ages, things change. One tries to accept and adapt , I suspect, with a bit of muttered cursings. I would love to be ice skating somewhere because , in my mind, I am still Dorothy Hamill and spinning gloriously. I block out the memories of lopped , weak ankles and walking on the ice instead of gliding.

I do find things to help me tolerate the month. The tiny song birds coming to the feeder outside my window; the many kinds of woodpeckers vying for a spot on the suet cakes. When an evergreen is encased with ice glistening in the early sun, I feel there is hope for us all…just think, another two months and we will be watching for patches of green and maybe a tiny crocus hidden just below the surface.

Then there are mornings such as this.  Pea soup fog over us like a shroud after a night of rain leaving surfaces iced…no sun. This is when we have to fight to get through this seemingly endless month. It is like biting into a cement block with no headway at all.

For the outdoor enthusiasts, I am happy. There are the skiiers, skaters, ice fishermen, snowmobilers and all that. There was a day when I would join them and oh , how fast the winter seemed to speed by. I can’t do that now…so instead  I will find comfort in looking at memorabilia , thinking about the “old ” days, and thanking God that I have been given another day….albeit gnawing on cement.




No matter how hard I try to forget January’s cold in Greenwood Center, it persists. After Christmas, the rest of the winter looked bleak and felt more than bleak. Cold greeted me in my attic bed each morning, with the frost on the nails through the roof and the one window completely covered with frost. It was a prison and no way to escape!  When I was ten years old, I tried to talk my mother into letting me free of the long, brown ugly cotton stockings she insisted upon my wearing. There was no compromise coming. The stockings would stay. I actually would rather be cold than to wiggle those things on every morning. Instead, I took to wearing slacks or a pair of my older brother’s pants to school. Nobody looked and pointed. Nobody cared. It was every kid for himself , I guess, back in the late forties and early fifties.

There seemed to be an abundance of snow…always. Dad left his car by the road as plows were non-existent then and the distance to the house to long to shovel. Uncle Louie, clad in his dark green wool pants, flannel shirt and heavy coat shoveled Gram’s driveway with not a flake left in the shoveled path. Dad was the hurry up and lets get this stuff out of the way kind of man and it showed! He had a flannel shirt like Uncle Louie wore, thanks to Gram Martin’s Christmas gifts, but that was the only similarity when it came to shoveling.

By the time the kitchen wood stove produced a little heat, Ma and Dad were on their way to work and we four kids just danced around the kitchen, eating breakfast and trying to make sure we were ready for Cass Howe’s van to come pick us up for school. We were still cold when we hurried to the main road. We were cold in the van. What welcome relief to enter the school with the warmth radiating off our cheeks as we put our lunch boxes down and shed our coats.

The only way we managed to tolerate this long cold month was to participate in any form of fun one could find in the snowy tundra. Dragging our sleds to the top of my Grandmother’s pasture, pushing, grunting, running and flopping on the sled to make our way to the bottom of the hill was an activity that made us forget for awhile just how cold it was. Skating on Twitchell Pond to the old tires burning ( and smelling) we forgot the cold…until our cheeks started tingling.

I hated January because I couldn’t walk the roads and visit neighbors as I did in the summer. Bundled up like a monster, one had to remove boots, shoes, coats and all the outer garments and by that time, it was time to put them all on again and go home.  Instead I busied myself at the kitchen table with my Gram’s old wallpaper catalogs and her Sears and Montgomery Ward Catalogs, which she parted with after the holidays. The dolls came from the latter and the wallpaper catalog provided me with pretty prints to cut out for dresses. It was a treasure trove!  We were warm in the kitchen with the wet mittens drying and providing quite an aroma  at the same time.

I loved to read but the attic was a bit chilly, so I tried to find a spot in the kitchen where it was warm to curl up with my Nancy Drew books. Ma always cooked on weekends so I tried to stay out of her way. My favorite memory is being with her as she made her “Finnan Haddie” as she called it ..I am not sure if that is the right name or not. She took fresh fish and doctored it up with milk and seasonings and put it in the oven..and oh that smelled so good and tasted even better.

The warmth and the oven smells seemed to soothe me into a mood to take on the next week of the cold which I hated so much.

Now I have all the warmth I want; the space I want ..but still some mornings I feel January’s cold creeping into my bones. It could be my imagination, but just looking at a frosted window will do it. 

I look at the picture of Dad’s car parked by the main road in all that snow and I shiver…but I’d like to live just one of those days one more time.