Broadway in South Portland is closed to traffic as power lines fell across the heavily traveled roadway. David A. Rodgers/Press Herald

When the ice storm hit, I was living in Nashua (which never lost power), but my elderly parents were hunkered down in their home in Orono. Power went out early in Orono, and snow and ice blocked their driveway and had drifted against the doors, leaving them stuck. Phone service stayed on, so I checked in with them often. By the evening of the second day, they were really cold and almost out of firewood for the fireplace – their only source of heat. By the third day, I knew they were in trouble. With no quick end in sight, I loaded my pickup with a generator, some gas, a bunch of electrical stuff, some warm clothes and my L.L. Bean boots, and headed north.

The trip was bizarre. First was the big sign near Kittery, saying “Maine Turnpike closed.”

“How can the turnpike be closed?” I thought. “The turnpike authority has lots of plows and equipment.” So I kept going. The full scope of the storm hit me when I saw the sign outside Kennebunk saying “No gas north of Portland.” I suddenly realized that the stations had gas but couldn’t run the pumps without power. If I ran out of gas on the closed turnpike, I would be in trouble. I estimated that I had enough gas to get to Orono, but not enough to get back, and realized I might have to stay for a while.

The turnpike wasn’t fully closed, but it was down to one icy lane. I saw no other vehicles except for an occasional plow struggling to keep that one lane passable for emergency vehicles. What a sight! On both sides of the turnpike, thousands of big trees were down. While the birches weren’t broken, they were bowed down to the ground, forming a tunnel alongside the road. Ice covered everything.

I got to Orono, worked my truck down the unplowed driveway to the house and got inside. My mom was shivering badly under a pile of blankets and quilts. My dad was running a couple of propane torches and had burned some old furniture, but it was still in the 40s inside. I went out to the garage, found the electrical supply cable to the furnace and cut it. I installed a plug on the end going into the furnace, ran an extension cord out to the generator in my truck and fired it up. My mom said that the sweetest sound she ever heard was that noisy furnace kicking on and hot water gurgling into the radiators.

Later that day, I took the generator to a neighbor’s house, along with an electric heater that Dad had stashed in the garage. Many years ago, Robert Frost coined the phrase: “Good fences make good neighbors.” As I left that day, those neighbors told me that sometimes good neighbors make warm houses, too. It’s what we do in Maine.

I recall a couple of remarkable things. First, without power, the radio stations in the area were silent. The one exception was WVOM, the Voice of Maine. They were broadcasting storm updates, of course, but also a continuous stream of personal messages among stranded and desperate folks in range of their signal. Even for those of us with no messages to send, that voice coming out of our little battery-powered radios was a boost to the spirits. We were enormously grateful to the DJs and engineers who were taking turns at the mike, all of them stranded by the storm, eating from vending machines and sleeping on the floor.

The other thing I recall so clearly was that Pat’s Pizza on Mill Street in Orono was open and cooking! They had several big propane tanks out back and a small generator to keep a few dim lights on. Pat Farnsworth was moving fast, carrying hot pizzas to hordes of hungry folks, some of whom had been stranded without the cash to pay for them. His son Bruce, my age, was doing the same thing, but took a couple minutes to talk to me, ask about my folks and give me two pizzas to take to them. Perhaps Robert Frost should have mentioned pizza, too.

When it was over and the sun came out, my experiences in the ice storm of ’98 made me proud to be a Mainer. I still am.

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