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The Ice Storm


Twenty-eight years ago today was, of course, another Valentine's Day. It was also the day that a great ice storm swept through Champaign County, laying waste to the urban centers of Champaign-Urbana. I was a resident of Champaign at the time, and remember it (mostly) well, though certain exact details are now lost to memory.

February of 1990 saw me living on the north side of town. Mom and I (and her then-partner and step-kids) had moved over to a house in north Champaign. My maternal grandmother, Gummy, having recently moved back to town from Wisconsin, rented a small, cozy house in Urbana. My father still lived in Champaign, in a condo in the south part of town.

February 14th arrived, bringing with it freezing temps and ice. Lots and lots of ice. Our abode on the north end of town lost power fairly quickly. I'm pretty sure school was canceled, though, I honestly don't remember. What I do remember are the first couple of nights, being huddled downstairs in the basement. It was a large, spacious basement, running the length of the house. One big room. The floors were a red and white laminate, and the walls were a faux-knotty pine. We had small tables and candles set-up, and we sat in some chairs and listened to a battery-powered radio. We talked and told stories, conversing so that we didn't have to think about the creeping cold.

After a couple days, and no improvement in sight for the situation, mom sent me to Gummy's house in Urbana. She had power, and you didn't have to ask me twice about going to grandma's. She usually cooked something whenever I was over, and fixed me up nice and cozy on the sofa bed in the living room. Before she went to bed, she turned the channel on the living room television set to the local PBS station. It was 10:00pm, and a vintage British comedy called Are You Being Served? was coming on. "I really like this show, Gummy said. Why don't you watch it and see what you think?"  I've been a fan ever since.

After yet another couple of days, it was time to move on to my dad's little condo in the south part of Champaign. Still no power at my mom's house. Dad and his (then) new wife welcomed me there, and I really don't remember much about my time at their place. Most importantly, it was a refuge from the cold and ice. I stayed there for at least a day or two, then finally came home to the house on the north side of Champaign, when power had (finally) been restored.

That was my own little bubble of experience for what came to be known as the Valentine's Day Ice Storm. Others no doubt had better and worse experiences. The community infrastructure endured a heavy hit. Downed power lines, felled trees and limbs, ubiquitous potholes, and so many things -- save emergency services -- at a standstill. Eventually, life resumed as it always does, but wow, what a week.


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