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In Our Own Backyard...'Pa! Pa! I need you!'

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It felt like a scene out of “Little House on the Prairie.” The two of us — camped on a sleeping pad and bundled in long underwear and down vests, throwing a log on the fire every couple of hours as the chilly fingers of cold threatened to engulf us in their icy grasp and the wolves howled in the distance…

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But this wasn’t the 1800s, and our living room was a far cry from the Ingalls’ rustic dwelling on the prairies of Walnut Grove.

The electric heat in two zones of our house had gone out in the midst of last weekend’s frigid cold. We had space heaters scattered throughout the room to try to keep the water lines from freezing. And the reason we were camped in the living room was that we were nervous about leaving the space heaters unattended all night, worried about the possibility of fire. 

It was one of those domino-affect type incidents, where one thing just kind of led to the next with horrifying inevitability. 

That very morning, we had taken advantage of a post-holiday day off to plan a vacation somewhere warm and tropical. We gradually became aware of a certain chill in the air, however, and when we felt the heat registers we realized there was no heat coming into our kitchen or living room area. The sun porch, the bedroom at the end of the hall and the bedrooms upstairs all had heat, so we knew something had frozen up in that particular zone. 

We cranked up two hair dryers to target some of the more likely areas and immediately blew a fuse. Then my husband dashed into town to buy the aforementioned space heaters. 

But alas, it was a matter of too little, too late. When he turned the faucet in the kitchen sink that night, nothing came out. We knew had even bigger problems ahead of us.

The rest of the next day — and night — we kept a fire going in both fireplaces, the space heaters roaring and the heat cranked up in other areas of the house to help warm up the living area. And when it came time to go to bed that night, we were reluctant to turn the heaters off for fear something worse might go wrong. Hence, the “campout” in the living room. It was actually kind of an adventure, and we weren’t all that cold after we got settled into our blankets in front of the fire. In fact, it almost seemed kind of romantic. 

Almost. 

Only moments after I got up to use the bathroom at 2 a.m., I heard a sharp CRACK! followed by a loud rushing sound. I shook Ken’s shoulder and said, “Honey, I hear a…a….noise!” I could almost imagine the eye roll behind his closed eyes. 

“What?” he mumbled. 

“I hear a noise, and I don’t think it’s good.”

He thrust himself out of the blankets and shook the sleep out of his head. We both rushed over to the corner bathroom just inside the front door where the noise was coming from. Sure enough, we could hear gushing water from somewhere beneath the floorboards. Ken dashed to the utility room to shut off the water, and we knew the worst had happened — a water pipe had burst (and we still didn’t have any heat in the living room!). 

Needless to say, we didn’t sleep well the rest of the night. I laid there and listened to the howling of the sled dogs across the lake, wondering what it must be like to be out there in the cold and dark. I wondered what would happen if the rest of our heat went out and one by one the water lines froze up. I wondered how in the world I was going to wash dishes in the morning without any water in the house.

Fortunately, my husband was far more lucid than I by the time morning rolled around. He set up “Command Central” at the dining room table. He called the insurance company, he called the plumber, and he called a contractor he’d done a favor for one time and asked if he’d be willing to come out and do some work on a weekend. 

The rest of the day was something of a blur. I made a trip into town to buy bottled water, a second fire extinguisher and a plastic dishpan. By the time I got home, the plumber had capped off the broken segment of water line and turned on the water to the rest of the house. The contractor and his brothers had built a wooden framework around the vulnerable area of the water leak and draped it with plastic and insulated blankets until repairs could be made beneath the house in milder weather.

By that night we were as warm and cozy as could be. The only problem was there still wasn’t any water in the kitchen. And so, I have been washing dishes by hand in the bathtub ever since. 

I’m guessing Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been proud. 

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