Book In Common: Art imitates life as Mayor Sorensen and his conservative pals lead us out onto the open prairie in a blizzard

I woke this morning to the sound of wind scouring around my house. I looked out the window to watch the smaller trees being shaken like rag dolls. The movement of their branches made my enormous cedars look alive – like jolly big men, laughing hard over a good joke. The heater switched on and the whole thing sounded like a storm at sea.

I’m so happy to be in my snug little apartment, with the dogs all holed up down stairs, on a day like this.  Every now and then the wind hits the house like a big wave.

Of course I am reminded of the section of “The Long Winter” I read yesterday. When the blizzard hits the little town the Ingalls live in, it hits like a wave. Laura is sitting in her classroom, in the brand new school house set at the end of town, when the lights suddenly seem to go out, and all the windows turn gray. She immediately realizes, this is the standard “three day blizzard.” 

She also knows that her family is one of the few who have experienced a prairie winter. Not only the three days spent at the claim recently, but years previous as their father moved them through the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Kansas territories looking for a prosperous country to farm and live. The other families have all recently come from “the East,” never having known the terrific power of snow blowing across endless expanse of flat prairie.

The schoolhouse sits along at the end of town, the last citadel before the open prairie. It’s a sturdy new building, but there is no food and little fuel – the school board had ordered coal for the tiny stove, but most of the order had not arrived yet.  The teacher is unsure what to, telling the children to go on with their studies as though this is just an afternoon bluster.  Meanwhile, Laura sits calculating how long the tiny supply of coal with last, surmising they will have to burn the new desks the school board had just bought before the storm lets up. 

As they sit, teacher trying to figure out what to do, the door opens and a blast of snow shoots across the floor  – Mr. Foster, a man who had moved to town for Winter and has a pretty hard crush on the young school teacher, has come to take them back to town. Town isn’t that far, maybe a few hundred yards at most, but the crushing wind and driving snow make it easy to get lost and end up frozen stiff. 

Laura is scared, but has always been trained to respect adults and do what she is told.  She’s also a little panicky to get home – I’ve done dumb stuff under panic and pressure from others, I know how she felt. They follow the teacher and Mr. Foster out the door in a little knot, and as soon as the wind hits them, the panic sets in. The adults begin to stumble, unsure what direction to take. 

Laura feels they are heading the wrong way, but she struggles to keep herself and her little sister Carrie in pace with the others. She feels the air is smothering her.  She notices one of the older boys turns and heads away from the group, in the direction she feels they should be going, but she is afraid to leave the group. 

As they flounder, Laura getting behind, she suddenly stumbles and hits something hard – she knows she has hit the town hotel. She screams into the storm at the others, who turn and make their way toward safety. Inside the hotel, she realizes – if she hadn’t stumbled away from the group, if she hadn’t accidentally run into that building, they would have continued on their way out onto the prairie. As Pa says later, “that would have been like finding a needle in a haystack.” Ma and I know it would be a lot worse and we don’t want to talk about it – Ma immediately changes the subject with her standard, “all’s well that ends well.” 

The boy who had left the group had made his way to the town store, where the men holed up around the stove during the day, having nothing much else to do. Pa and the others had gone to get ropes and lanterns, and were about to set out in a grim search when Laura and Carrie made their way along the boardwalk to their house. Their shoes and socks are frozen stuck to their feet and their eye lids – the only flesh uncovered by clothing – are bleeding.  

The author does not discuss her feelings toward Mr. Foster and the teacher. I’m sure they were humiliated, but of course, forgiven. To think – all the town’s children, killed in a storm because a couple of people make a foolhardy decision. Mr. Foster wanted to be a hero, get the gal – why didn’t he think to gather the rest of the men and make an organized rescue? Why didn’t the teacher tell him, “we’ll wait for the others, they know where we are…” ?

I can relate to Laura – I remember being a teenager, wanting to buck the adults, but being a “good girl” and  doing what they said.  I learned to open my mouth and holler, like Laura did when she hit that store.

I also remember trusting an older couple we knew to take our son along with their grand-kids on a Christmas tree hunt up at De Sabla. I really respected those two, they were the parents of my husband’s childhood friend, my husband had spent a lot of time with them as a kid.  We’d traveled and camped with them, and they’d always been the leaders of the pack.

I would have never expected these people to wander so far off the road in the snow with a pack of kids. My son told us the frightening tale – “Dennis just kept seeing a better tree,” and the next thing it was getting dark, etc. They made it home, but not before I was in a total FREAK.  My kid was soaked through and he never wanted to go anywhere with them again.  After that experience I had a hard time trusting anybody to take my kid anywhere. People thought I was weird because whenever they’d invite my kid my husband and I would come along too. I’m glad to say, we still have that kid.

So you must know how I feel with elected “leaders”. Sheesh, I actually voted for Sorensen the first time around – compared to Gruendl, Holcombe, Schwab, Walker and Flynn (did I leave anybody out?), Mark Sorensen looked like St George come to take out a dragon. 

The dragon being, our “public safety” workers and management staff who have eaten all our virgins, and now they’re looking to eat the rest of us. Sorensen said he was going to get the budget straightened out – he hired Nakamura, who gutted staff while raising management salaries. We’re still in trouble. 

Did you read that front page story in the ER Friday? 

“City government employees in Chico enjoy the second-best compensation package in the Sacramento Valley, according to a research institute.

Transparent California gathered data on full-time, year-round employees for 2014, and Chico paid better benefits than any of the 30 cities surveyed.

The city’s average compensation package — total wages, plus retirement and health benefits — was $137,380 annually, according to the report, which only factored in employees who averaged about 37 hours or more weekly during the year.

That total was second-highest out of 30 cities, which account for 94 percent of the valley’s population, according to Transparent California. The highest average compensation was in Folsom, at $137,565. Elk Grove was just behind Chico, at $136,673.

Looking only at benefits for those full- time employees, Chico’s average was $ 47,670 per employee, the highest. Roseville was second with an average of $ 44,697.”

Of course, ass city mangler Chris Constantin tried to deny it and throw mud on the messenger.

“Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin said Transparent California’s figures are ‘misleading and inaccurate in portraying what full-time employees make in Chico.’”

Oh sure Chris, of course you’d say that. You’re the one that gave me that load of crap about how we needed to throw out the two week sunshine period for the cop contracts because we couldn’t afford not to start saving all that money, muy pronto!  What a load of shit that was – we’re paying our cops more than ever, you stinking liar. 

“Transparent California Research Director Robert Fellner said Chico stood out because its benefit costs for non-public safety employees were close to those for public safety employees. The contribution rate for nonpublic safety, or miscellaneous employees, in Chico was 28 percent, while that rate for police and fire department employees was 33 percent, he said.

Public safety employees typically have expensive benefits packages, Fellner said, and their jobs are not easily comparable to private- sector jobs. But the rate for non- public safety employees in Chico is high, he said.

‘What that suggests to me is that even the regular [public] employees in Chico get pretty good retirement benefits,” he said. “ You can comfortably say that is about 10 times what the average private employee gets.'”

Well, you need a paid consultant to say that, when Juanita has been hollering at the top of her lungs – “the hotel! The hotel’s over here!”







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