Some cold, hard lessons

My family learned several lessons this week.

I live in the eastern edge of Barrow County, just a stone's throw from Athens, which was ground zero for Sunday's snowstorm. I don't know what the final official snowfall was, but we had every bit of nine and maybe 10 inches.

What we did not have, after 6 p.m. Sunday, was electricity. More on this later.

First, let's back up six hours. The sleet and freezing rain quickly turned the roads in my neck of the woods into a slick, slushy mess. I know this firsthand because I had to venture out into it.

I had no gas in my truck and what little firewood I had was waterlogged with the previous two days' worth of rain. I knew the likelihood of needing both before the storm was over was high, so I made a beeline for the gas station. By the time I got there, my truck was already sliding on the road. But I made it back home with a tank of gas and four bags of firewood. (More on firewood later, too.)

So, first lesson, and it's one I learned a long time ago in the Boy Scouts, but apparently not well enough: Be prepared. I was not.

By afternoon, the sleet had turned to snow. And boy did it snow. And snow. And snow. I've never seen snow like that, not even in the "blizzard" of '93. (And yeah, I know all you transplanted Yankees thought it was nothing, but you're the same people who die off in droves every time the thermometer hits 80.)

Anyway, it was fun for awhile. We built the requisite snowman and took pictures, then went back in to watch a "The Golden Girls" marathon - at least until the race came on - but that didn't pan out because of lesson No. 2: In a heavy snowfall, the satellite dish will fill up with snow about every 20 minutes.

Addendum to lesson No. 2: My limit on trips outside to climb up on a pile of bricks and clean the dish off with a broom before I give up on watching TV is three.

With the TV out, my wife started cooking dinner and I built a fire. Both were very timely occurrences because as soon as we finished eating, the electricity went out.

Once it was apparent the power wasn't coming back, we made plans to spend the night in the living room. We gathered up blankets, got the fire roaring and settled in.

At first, it wasn't so bad. But cabin fever comes quickly. Two of three cell phones died (see lesson No. 1) and of course, couldn't be recharged. So now, along with television and video games, my stepson had lost the ability to text. It was touch and go there for awhile, but he did manage to live.

With no electronic entertainment, no microwave to heat up the junk food we all feel obligated to eat during winter storms, no ability to take a shower (my water heater is electric) and the fun of family talk fading, the kids and wife went to sleep. Being a night owl, I broke out my book light and read for awhile. Then I found a pair of headphones and a radio and listened to the Hawks lose. About midnight, I went to sleep.

About 2 a.m., I woke up cold. The ambient heat in the house was gone and the fire was out. Pioneer time.

Now I have spent nights in my life in places where the only source of heat was a fire. My kids have not.

Lesson No. 3: It's amazing how quickly you forget about the economy, the bills, work and everything else when your one and only concern is keeping the fire going so your family will stay warm.

It's also amazing just how tiring that task can be. You get almost asleep, and then you have to stoke the fire. Rest becomes an impossibility when you have to sleep in shifts. But between us, my wife and I kept the fire going.

Until 5 a.m.

Lesson No. 4: You can never have too much firewood.

I trudged out in the snow to get the aforementioned waterlogged wood, which I brought in to dry out in front of the fire. The I went in the garage and busted up some lumber I had left over from a project.

Long story short, we made it. The next day we went to my sister's to take showers and have a hot meal. By the evening, the power was back on and all was well. But we were left with this:

One night of minor hardship does not qualify as hard living. I have a very close friend who as a kid had to bust up furniture to burn for heat while snow came in through the cracks in the walls of his house. So I'm not sure we can claim hard times status at the McCullough household for one powerless night. But we can learn not to take modern conveniences for granted.

More importantly, we can be reminded that cold, hard truths can always get a lot colder and a lot harder.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.