In our house, all occasions lead to food. During a recent forecast of impending cold weather in December, I, along with 99 percent of the Houston population, wasted no time to get to the store for necessities.
Chips? Check. Bread? Check. Lunchmeat? Check. Cookies? Check. And so on. Those were normal items. Things that would be used eventually, even if the snow forecasted never showed up. But when it came to finding the most necessary items, I forgot to look for them – fire logs. Not the real wooden kind that come from someone chopping down a tree. No, I wanted the fake kind. The kind that come six to a box. Four-hour “burns cleaner than wood” fire logs.
As I walked out of the store, there they were, piled up on top of each other in front of the entrance. Do I go back in, or try another store? I asked myself. I hate reentry.
I walked back in and explained to the cashier that I’d forgotten to get fire logs.
“Oh, we don’t have any more,” the convincing lady said.
“I saw some outside. In boxes. Aren’t those fire logs?”
“No. Those are fire starters.”
“They look like logs.”
“No. They’re just starters.”
“For $14.99? That’s a lot of money to start a fire. I could do it for free with a rolled up newspaper.”
“We had some logs before. They were in little packs, four logs for $20.”
“Four for $20? I can get six for $18 at Walmart. Thanks anyway.”
I left the store, once again, and examined the boxes outside. They were not, in fact, starters, but were the logs I needed. Obviously, the cashier was not well versed in fake logs. Maybe she thought I’d meant real wooden logs. Maybe she needs to go to fire log classes.
I could’ve turned around. I could’ve gone to a different cashier, one with more experience in the area of pyro products.
Instead, I got in my car to leave.
Why it seemed more time-efficient to go to a Second Store, rather than going back into the First Store yet again, is beyond me. But, since I thought of something I needed at the Second Store, it only made sense to wait. And I wouldn’t run the risk of feeling compelled to tell the cashier she’d been wrong.
I stopped at a Second Store on my way to visit Mom, but that store was completely sold out of fire logs. Of course. Because everyone in town had heard the same brutal forecast; there had been a run on fake wood everywhere, except at the First Store. Even logs advertised to “crackle like real wood” were gone from the shelves. And, dear reader, they don’t crackle very loudly, and getting close enough to hear it can result in third degree burns on your ear lobe. Please don’t try that at home.
I rued the day I’d gone to that fire-ignorant cashier at the First Store.
I left Mom’s place three hours after my first attempt to save my family from frostbite. The tension mounted. In my mind, I saw throngs of people rushing to that First Store to buy out all the logs. With the resilient spirit of Laura Ingalls Wilder coursing through my veins, I prayed God would provide fake logs to get my family through the approaching harsh 48-hour winter.
Desperate, I sped back to that First Store, begging God to turn every traffic light green for me. When I drove up to the store and saw all the boxes still there, I wondered what was wrong with everybody else. Don’t they know about these? Are they all looking for logs in all the wrong places?
It was then I realized, I knew the best kept secret in town.
Of course, I went to a different cashier than the first time, and explained to Cashier Two that there were, in fact, fire logs out front if anyone needed some. I shared The Secret with my neighbor, Vanessa, who thought everyone in town was sold out.
We made it through our four-inches-of-snow day, thanks to my perseverance in the face of adversity.
Then came The Big Chill in January. Forecasters predicted icy roads for two days. With renewed vigor and a sense of survival, I braved the elements at Walmart to stock up on everything we could possibly need for the hibernation. Okay, I ordered my groceries on line so I wouldn’t have to go into the store. But still, it took some effort, and it was cold in the parking lot while I watched that young man load my car.
I got home and put my groceries away, a service for which there is nobody to hire. And why is that? I would pay just as much for someone to unload my car and put away my items as I would for them to shop for me. They need to start that. They could call it Walmart Put Away.
The wind blew hard, and the sun was going down. I felt the temperature drop quickly in my living room. Flash had come home early, due to ice forming on overpasses, so we were all cozy and ready for the long haul. As I put a log in the fireplace, I realized I had only four logs left. Four for two days wasn’t nearly enough. To support my habit, I was up to six logs per day. When I heard a newscaster predict that our Ice Age could last three days, my panic grew. Oh Tara, my Tara, what is to become of us? I thought. As God is my witness, I’ll never go fireless again.
Turning to my shivering Rhett Butler from Jersey, as he came through the front door after wrapping pipes with an extra layer of towels, I said, “Oh Flash, we don’t have enough wood for the next three days of winter. Can you run to the store?”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Everything’s frozen out there. Let it go, let it go.” Then he turned away and slammed the door.
“But Flash,” I whined, “if you don’t go, where shall I go to find more? What shall I do?”
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a…”
Just then, a light bulb came on over my head. Vanessa. Vanessa, my savior throughout the years, my true blue friend who has so many times come to my aid in times of trouble. Vanessa, who works at a local HEB store and was, at that moment, still at work.
Feeling the pioneer spirit surge again, I tapped out “SOS” in Morse code on my oak dining room table.
“A cell phone would be quicker,” unadventurous Flash said.
Quickly, I texted Vanessa. If you are still at work, and there are some left, can you please buy some fire logs for me? I will pay you when you get home.
Yes, I will, she texted back.
Just call me when you get home, and I’ll come out and get them, I replied.
Temperatures dropped. Businesses were closing down everywhere. Schools were going to be closed for a second day. It was like…winter. Strangely, I, a Summer Person, was enjoying the thrill of it all. Bobbie Sue, on the other hand, was not so thrilled; she set a new world record in Backyard Peeing. I’d never seen her run back in through the doggie door that fast.
Two hours later, after having to get help into her car because the doors were frozen shut, Vanessa drove up in front of our house. The sleet was coming down hard as I braved the elements to watch Flash carry our two boxes of fire logs into the house. Everything in our yard was covered with beautiful icicles. It was a post-Christmas, post-New Year’s Day, post-Martin Luther King Day miracle.
Time stopped as we holed up in our little cocoon, away from the world and its scheduled demands. We played board games. We listened to music. We prayed for people driving on the roads, and that homeless people would find shelter. We prayed for our pipes after forgetting to turn the water off our first night on the tundra. And we ate, and ate, and ate, storing up extra fat cells in case we were iced in for months rather than days. For Flash, experiencing 18-degree weather in the afternoon eased his homesickness for Jersey winters. On the third day, when the city went back to work, we still had ice on our walkway and icicles on my rose bushes. I was sad to see everything thaw out the next day.
With a constant fire blazing, plenty of hot soup, tons of movies, the Christmas tree still up, and all of us home safely, I understood a little better why some people like winter. It’s quite fun when you don’t have to go anywhere. I could get used to it, as long as my loyal fireplace is less than ten yards away. Groceries could be delivered to my door, and I’d hire a college student to endure the sub-zero temperatures of my garage, to do my laundry. We’d watch church on line, and Face Time with friends. We’d have everything we needed to make it through.
In anticipation of more cold weather, I’m stockpiling fake fire logs and chocolate chip cookies. If Jack Frost returns soon, I’ll stay indoors until February 2. Then, I’ll emerge from my house, and neighbors will gather around to see if I’ll see my shadow. If I see it, I’m signing up for that grocery delivery service. If no shadow is present, I’ll begrudgingly take down the Christmas decorations and force myself to be a vital part of society again. Either way, I'll long remember the week that Houston, and possibly hell, froze over.