The Storm That Stole My Food

by Connie Weadon, Greensboro, North Carolina

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Fall 2000 issue of DIALOGUE. It was the last of Connie’s popular series of columns, written only a short time before she passed away. Although much about our world has changed in the decade since it was written, its message remains as up-to-date as today’s weather forecast.

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Thursday, May 26, began like any other late spring day in North Carolina. It was hot and humid with no breeze stirring. Thunderstorms were in the forecast, but no one really thought much about that.

My husband and I were at home together that morning. He was packing, preparing to go to the National Blind Bowling Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was at my desk writing. My desk faces a window, and around 12 noon I looked up to see that the sky was the blackest black I had ever seen. Quickly, I moved away from the window, just as rain, hail, and thunder came all at once. Then everything was quiet. It took me a few minutes to realize that the silence meant the air conditioner had stopped running.

Steve left for Arkansas around midnight. I went back to sleep thinking that when I awoke, the power would be restored and all would be well. Around eight in the morning of the 27th when I awoke, there was no reassuring hum of the air conditioner. I took out a diet Pepsi and realized that although it wasn’t running, the inside of the refrigerator was still cold. Then it hit me–the refrigerator and freezer were filled with food, very perishable food.

I bathed quickly, knowing our supply of hot water would not last long. The access ride I had arranged two days before picked me up around 10 AM to take me to a nearby shopping center where I had to pick up some prescriptions. It was on this short ride that I began to get a picture of the damage the storm had caused. Huge old trees had fallen across roads and onto houses, pulling down power lines as they fell. A storm that had lasted less than ten minutes had left thousands of homes without electricity. The shopping center, usually bustling with business, was like a ghost town. My pharmacy was the only place that was fully operational. Other stores were trying to conduct business in the dark, using pens and paper instead of computerized cash registers. On the way home the van driver took carefully planned detours, avoiding roads still blocked by fallen trees. I came home to a very hot house, grateful that I had been able to get out and get the few things I needed.

In the evening I took a short walk with my dog. One of my neighbors stopped and invited me to a neighborhood cookout that would give people a chance to use some of their food before it spoiled. I declined, still thinking that surely the power would be restored at any moment. Evening faded into night as I tried to cope with the increasing heat and darkness. Around 10 PM my son brought me a roast beef sandwich which I devoured. I fell asleep wishing I had remembered to buy a flashlight while I was out.

On Saturday, the 28th, my friend Delores took me to the grocery store. Until then I had not realized that chicken and tuna are available in a three pack of three-ounce cans with pull-off lids. I bought canned chicken, bread, mayonnaise, baking soda, a cooler, and ice. That night my sister-in-law and her husband, who live about 40 miles away, came to take me to dinner. After a tasty meal at the Cracker Barrel, we went to a Super K, where I bought tomatoes, bananas, batteries, and a big flashlight.

On Sunday morning I took a very quick, very cold shower and went to church with Delores, who gently led me to the realization that it was time to face the task of emptying my freezer.

After lunch we came back to my house ready to tackle the job. I tried to prepare myself for the worst as we opened the freezer. My favorite Mississippi Mud ice cream sandwiches were now a brown puddle. Until then I had clung to the hope that an unopened freezer will maintain its cool temperature. So much for that idea!

Together Delores and I filled big plastic garbage bags with pounds of meat and seafood. Then we cleaned the inside of the freezer with lemon-scented Fantastic and placed an open box of baking soda inside to absorb the odors.

Then we moved on to the refrigerator. Wilted salad greens went into the garbage, and I cringed as we poured a half gallon of milk down the drain. We threw away all the old mayonnaise and lunch meat. My butter, cheese, and eggs were still cold, and in the days to come we did not suffer any ill effects from eating them. The jar of mayonnaise I had bought the day before had not been opened, so it was still safe to use.

Delores and I were washing our hands when the unmistakable hum of the refrigerator signaled the return of electricity to the neighborhood.

What did I learn from all this? Well, I learned never to underestimate the power of a storm. I also learned that a natural disaster draws people together in a way that nothing else can.

My next-door neighbor is 85 and lives alone. Throughout that long weekend we kept each other company, sharing our bananas and tomatoes. I also learned that it is a good idea always to have a few non-perishables on hand. These might include canned meat, peanut butter, crackers, and dried fruit.

Our water supply is not dependent on electricity, but in some areas bottled water would be appropriate. Since this storm came in late May, I could have used a battery-operated fan.

Domestic animals like cats and dogs usually can maintain their internal temperature, but you can make a cat or dog more comfortable in extreme heat by rubbing a cool cloth over their fur.

On May 30 the Schwan man came, and we began to replace the food supply we had lost. In the days to come, as I learned that many people had lost cars, homes, and some even their lives, I realized that losing food was just an inconvenience.

About ten days after the storm I was involved in a car accident in which my right wrist was broken. So, dear Reader, you must forgive me for the reduced number of recipes and cooking tips in this article. Thanks to my friends, however, I do have two recipes to share with you. The first was emailed to me by Sue Burdyshaw in Washington state.

HAM ROLLUPS

1/4 pound cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 T finely chopped green onion

3 T finely chopped green pepper

1/2 T horseradish

9 slices ham

Combine cream cheese, celery, green onion, green pepper, and horseradish. Spread mixture evenly onto ham slices. Roll up tightly, secure with toothpicks, and chill well. Slice into 1-inch pieces and serve. Makes 36 appetizers.

While I was in Kentucky at the ACB convention, one of the volunteers shared her recipe for Derby Pie. My friend, Donna Permar, was kind enough to read this recipe to me after the convention.

DERBY PIE

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 stick butter (no substitutions) melted and cooled

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup coarsely chopped English walnuts

1 tsp vanilla or bourbon

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell, not pricked

Mix sugar and flour. Add beaten eggs, butter, nuts, chocolate chips, and vanilla or bourbon. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Filling should be set. Serve warm with whipped cream.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to Louise Kimbrough for her assistance in getting this article into print for me.