It was December 23, 1982, and we had just seen the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Holding my dad’s hand, skipping down the sidewalk along Central Avenue and looking up at the stars, my eight-year-old mind was filled with wonder.
We arrived home to our Christmas tree and the excitement of the holiday ahead. My father took my six-year-old brother and I downstairs to burn off some energy in the unfinished basement room that we had taken over as a playroom while upstairs my mom showered.
As if seeing E.T. wasn’t enough to seer this night into my memory, while we were downstairs, Santa came early to our house. Be jealous, friends, because the Man in Red picked our house for a pop in visit without milk, cookies or anything. Surprise! My mom stood at the top of the stairs and made the announcement. I think she even had her bathrobe on and her hair tied up in a towel.
We excitedly opened presents and giggled at the goodies in our stockings and played with our new toys. All the while, my parents exchanged looks that didn’t make sense then, but do now. After the happiness was over, my mom told us that dad had to leave and go to work. He might be gone a few days. Our family owned an underground utility construction company with a lot of heavy machinery and my dad was needed in the next town over. A tornado had hit Malvern, Arkansas, sometime while we had been in the theater. Looking at the data now, it was an F3, stronger than the F1, which had touched the town just 21 days earlier.
I am certain that my dad was just one of hundreds of people who worked for days to help Malvern dig out from a horrible disaster. And I was reminded of the sacrifice of 1982, this past Christmas when on December 25, 2012, much of Central Arkansas was hit by a blizzard. That’s right, folks, a blizzard in the Deep South.
Parts of Arkansas received up to 15 inches of snow. Against the stillness of the dark cold night, you could hear power lines snapping and trees exploding. Three days after the storm, streets in our Little Rock neighborhood that had been familiar for 14 years suddenly seemed foreign with gnarly branches dangling from decapitated trees and carports crushed like tin cans under giant pines.
Entergy Arkansas says at the peak of the storm, 194,000 customers were without power and more than 5,000 workers were called in to help get it restored. 5,000+ people on Christmas Day were getting a call to stand by, leaving their lunches with families early and suiting up for the cold. Dads and moms were leaving to go into dangerous situations or stand by at call centers where angry customers were going to bite their heads off about being inconvenienced. Think about it: That’s over 5,000 people who aren’t putting together toys with kids, watching football games or out shopping the sales during the holidays; That’s more than 5,000 people putting themselves in harms way and giving up their holidays to restore normalcy in the lives of families they’ll never meet. To all of you heroes who helped in this effort, I extend our thanks.
Arkansas’ Blizzard of 2012 marked the first white Christmas in the state since 1926. Venturing out with my little boy the day after, beauty was everywhere. He embraced the adventure with the childlike wonder expected of a nine-year-old and it was delightful to see. Online, through social media, I saw people reaching out and offering their homes to friends and neighbors in need. I heard tales of people bringing hot coffee and baked goods to linemen and witnessed them giving the crews thumbs up as they passed on the roadways. In the middle of destruction and discomfort, there was also kindness, community and beauty; and for a family in Hot Springs, a reminder of an earlier Christmas in 1982, when their dad was one of the heroes.