Tales from the Ice Storm of 1998 — Part Two


The Day Conan O’Brien Saved My Life

There are times in your life when all the day-to-day bullshit is stripped away. When nothing else matters anymore. Maybe it was my body’s refusal to give in to hypothermia as I laid trapped on the frozen driveway. Maybe it was my stubborn inner will to survive no matter the odds.

Maybe it was the fact my mother and brother stood in the window of a warm house just feet away, sucking down my cup of hot coffee.

“Dammit!” I groaned as I rolled onto my knees, still gripping the handle on top of my cat Conan O’Brien’s carrier. “We’ve got to get up this hill!” I cried, my voice muffled by the eerie sound of icy tree limbs cracking in the distance.

I put my entire weight on top of the carrier, using it for support as I struggled to my feet.  I slid one foot forward only to slip and fall to my knees again. “Well, Conan,” I whispered to the orange tufts of fur poking through the vents, “I guess walking is out.”


“Ywwwwoooooar,” he said.

I quickly decided the only way up the steep hill was to traverse in a zigzag pattern.

On my stomach.

How long would this journey take? My guess was at least a half hour. That’s if I didn’t slide back down. If only I had something that wasn’t covered in ice. Something that would dig into the glazed hill like a mountain climber’s crampon.

“MEOW! MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!” Conan protested.

“Sorry, bub. But mama needs her java.”

I heaved Conan’s carrier in front of me a few feet to gain some traction and dragged my body across the ice. It’s working! I plodded on, the promise of a cup of piping hot coffee swirling in my mind.


With each climb we slipped back down a few feet, but I was certain we were gaining at least a few inches with every attempt. My mom still stood in the window, offering me a frown and a slow half-hearted wave of her hand for encouragement.

I imagined how my death would be reported on the local news that night:



Our grueling ascent up the hill continued as I repeated the process for another 20 minutes, growing weaker with each cat-toss. I’d allow myself to rest only if I reached the grove of white birch trees in the center of the lawn. Inch-worming a path up the hill on my knees, I soon developed a rhythm: Cat. Crawl. Slide. Cat. Crawl. Slide.

Finally, we reached the front steps. My brother reached out to haul us both to safety.

“Hey! You made it!” he said, knocking back a slug of coffee from his mug.

“Yeah, thanks for your concern,” I said between slurps, already two cups of cold coffee settling in my stomach. My mom’s power had gone out almost as soon as I arrived.

We stood out on the back deck looking at the dark forest in silence. Every few minutes a heavy tree limb in the distance cracked, booming like a shotgun blast as it crashed to the ground.

“How the hell you get here?” I asked. He had finished his shift at L.L. Bean’s distribution center down the road and walked to my mom’s house the night before.

“Oh, I was stuck on the ground for over an hour on the soccer field. Had to crawl most of the way. Might have blacked out a few times. At one point, I thought death was near. But whaddya gonna do?” he shrugged in the typical Mainer way.

Eventually, more family members arrived and we spent a few chilly nights sleeping on the living room floor inhaling toxic kerosene heater fumes. Soon a rumor spread through town that a place not too far from us had power. Not only did they have power, but food. Hot food. And running toilets. It was risky, but we were determined to make the trek.

But nothing prepared us for what we would witness once we arrived at the restaurant:

The zombie apocalypse.

A long line of people snaked out the front door of Friendly’s, all of them hunched over, their hollowed faces weary from an ice storm that was now dragging people into their second week with no power in sub-freezing temperatures.

“Unga bunga ugga….” mumbled an old man with a scruffy beard as he shoved past me to get in line for a cup of broccoli and cheese soup, maybe a Caesar salad if he was lucky.

Civilization was finally breaking down. In horror, I surveyed the line of people in front of me to find a sea of disheveled unwashed clothes and dirty matted hair. A pungent cloud of collective body odor hung over the crowd. Women young and old had abandoned their make-up routines, their faces revealing dark under eye circles and pasty white skin. It was chaos.

Revlon - Because She's Worth It
L’Oriel- Because She’s Worth It

But we survived. Us hearty Mainers conquered the Badass Ice Storm of 1998 and lived to tell about it. It’s taken me 16 years to break my silence as I still suffer from nightmares. But I managed to learn a thing or two.

Things the Ice Storm Taught Me:

  • Winter sucks.
  • Power is good.
  • Don’t feed your cat a steady diet of cheeseburgers and milkshakes because you might have to haul his ass up an icy mountain one day.
  • Maintaining good hygiene is the most important thing in life.



Eventually, power was restored across the state of Maine.

Darla did get to eat her grilled cheese and bacon that day at Friendly’s.

Darla’s mother lost power for 5 days.

Darla’s apartment had no power for almost 2 weeks.

Darla’s toilet was replaced by her landlord.

Conan O’Brien lived a good happy cat life for the next four years and was never used as a crampon again.


Tales from the Ice Storm of 1998 — Part One (click this link if the above story made no sense)

84 thoughts on “Tales from the Ice Storm of 1998 — Part Two

  1. Okay. You win. Florida summers suck, but not THAT bad… unless a hurricane comes through. Even while worrying that my roof will blow off or my neighbor’s huge, old, oak tree will fall on my house in a hurricane, I do not have to worry about crawling on my stomach anywhere or my toilet cracking from frozen water. Or using my pets to climb hills. I nod in reverence.

    1. I don’t know, hurricanes are pretty bad, Kim. I suppose every part of the country has something.

      I think the main thing that bothered me about the ice storm was the lack of showers and flushing toilets. Oh and hot food and coffee and electricity. And the fact that I was working at Yankee Candle and they STILL expected me to come into work with no power. I think I scared the customers with my rat’s nest hair and makeup-free face.

      1. In 2012 we had a tornado come out of the clouds right above our house. It hit the ground right on the other side of the fenced in dogs and proceeded to take out the woods for several miles. Our house was not touched but part of the barn ended up in a tree.

  2. A cat crampon. I think you’re on to something…
    Hilarious! Ice is the worst. I was caught in the Ice Storm of 76. The movie Ice Storm was based on this particular storm. I had to stay at my boyfriend’s house when I was a senior in high school. Dang!.It was profoundly beautiful! The ice Darla! The ice!

    1. I’ll have to goggle this ice storm, I don’t remember it as I was only 6 years old. Nothing strikes fear in my heart more than those two words. Really, it was a traumatizing time, even though I can laugh about it now.

  3. Part II was well worth the agonizing wait, Darla. Because I had to know if you survived. I wasn’t sure …

    Loss of power is so awful. We too have well water, which means no power no water. No flushing, no showering, no drinking. I would say it sucks but when the power is out, I have not enough saliva to suck …

      1. Or COFFEE!!! That’s the worst for most people.

        My son has a pavlovian reaction to oncoming storms. He hears thunder and fills a tub! Because his mom really needs to flush …

  4. Oh, no, I missed part 1. Gotta go back and read it. We had a HUGE ice storm in Lexington, KY in 2003 and were without power for 6 days. But then in Haiti we were without electric most days and there was NO ice!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  5. Ha! Oh, god, as I’m reading this in the midst of an ice storm in NJ (in a part of the state where we often lose power), I’m starting to wish I’d bought a pair of crampons when we were at LL Bean.

    “…growing weaker with each cat-toss.” I cannot stop giggling at that line.

  6. Cats always save the day, D! So does coffee, cold or hot.

    We Massholes feel the same way about ice and winter weather: “I almost froze to death, but I didn’t. So whatever.”

  7. I don’t think I’m going to forget the image of you riding a cat up the icy mountain anytime soon.
    P.S. If your mother still lives in the same house, I hhink she should invest in 100 feet of rope.

  8. Pingback: Why Cats Are Better Than Dogs « Unlikely Explanations

  9. The restaurant scene reminded me of the scene at my local Starbucks after we had a big wind storm a couple years ago. Everyone was haggard and freezing and zombie-like because the power was out for nearly 48 hours and temperatures dipped into the 40s overnight. We may be just a tiny bit less hardy here in southern California.

  10. Not to create a giant family drama, but why didn’t your mom or brother ever throw a rope down to you and pull you up?

    Also, I love that you understand that the best thing to order at Friendly’s is a grilled cheese (with a chocolate fribble, obviously).

  11. I see a great business opportunity here. To wit, marketing a new combination cat carrier/mountain climbing cleat! There has to be a big segment of the mountain climbing community who would love to take their cats with them, but heretofore haven’t figured out how to do that. Does a 50/50 split sound fair?

  12. Unbelievable. 2 weeks? Wow. We lost our power this morning for 4 and a half hours because of OUR ice storm, and I thought I was going to die because I couldn’t brush my teeth! I mean, it was ALMOST as bad as your story, anyway. Let’s just call it a tie, shall we?

  13. You used my Zombie photo of preference for my blog. Great Maine minds think alike! I miss Friendly’s…there used to be one five minutes away. So glad I missed that Ice Storm…

  14. Heck of an image, crawling up like that. Goodness, I have nothing half so memorable to report, but I tell you, I’d slog though a lava flow to get a decent espresso. Dopio please.

  15. ermigal

    Suspenseful ending, but I think I would have been ticked off that nobody tried to help and just watched from the window. They could have thrown you a rope, y’know. I think “serpentine” is the term for your climbing strategy (from a movie–can’t remember the name.)Funny tale!

    1. You’d think they would have done something, but no. My guess is they were afraid of falling down and sliding down the hill as well? I do faintly remember my mom standing in the open doorway yelling at me stuff like “Darla! Just get up here!”

  16. Snoring Dog Studio

    I spent about a half hour in bed the other night thinking about how your ordeal might – MIGHT – have been made easier had your brother had some initiative and imagination. Are you sure you’re related? My idea was this – your industrious brother would throw a rope down to you and drag the both of you up. Yes, you’d be on your stomach, holding onto the cat carrier, but it would have taken less time. I don’t like ice on the ground – but you convinced me that I could manage it. You’re an inspiration, girl!

  17. I read that last line as “Conan O’Brien… was never used as a TAMPON again” (caps added for emphasis by commenter)and screamed “Oh, God, the humanity!!”. Then I reread it and calmed down.

    Thank you for sharing this pivotal, life-altering experience. Winter = bad. Summer = good. Except when it’s really hot and buggy.

  18. I just loved your past two posts. God that must have sucked! I hope Conan O’Brien’s ego didn’t get too inflated after he helped save your life. You know how cats are, so self-engrossed and dismissive of those around them. It really was you who did all the work!

      1. The rain in washington is way more brutal than it is here. I lived in Seattle for over 4 years, and that was the worst rain I’ve ever endured. In Portland we get rain, but it isn’t as constant as it is there. Of course, I say this while there is about 4 inches of snow on my deck…

  19. I went searching for this in my backlog, so glad I found it. This was so good, so sorry I laughed through it. Was I supposed to do that? I hope so.

    I don’t do cold, don’t do ice (unless it is in a glass of Tea). Poor kitty, tossed about that way.

  20. Pingback: The Cat Who Thinks She’s a Dog – She's a Maineiac

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