Why Crozet: Neighbors Offer Kindness, Practical Advice for Weathering Winter’s Challenges

Diana Williams with Paisley and Harley. Photo: Theresa Curry.

It’s been quite a winter already, and many of you have proven during the January storms that there is plenty of generosity, compassion and practical assistance locally. Others have offered ingenious ideas for weathering extreme traffic delays and extended periods with no heat or light.

In Crozet, Diana Williams faced a dilemma. At 75, she was willing to tackle a bit of shoveling to spare her husband, Jim, 80, who has a bad back. The trouble was, she had a broken wrist from a fall in December and was scheduled for surgery a couple of days after the January 6 snowfall, which made her already complicated situation more challenging. It took only a mention of her situation online to bring help to her home in the Highlands, resulting in a path for the couple to come and go.

Then she lost power, but Diana, a retired realtor who moved to Crozet from Colorado a few years ago, was prepared. She had four camping lanterns to light her main level. “They really helped!” she said, “but they just didn’t keep us warm.” That took a pile of blankets and some extra layers. “We were quite toasty under the covers,” she reported, but she was worried about her two dogs, Paisley and Harley, who were terrified of darkness. 

She had a plan, though. She left her dark, cold home for surgery as scheduled to arrive at the surgical center, which had just regained power. The surgery was successful, and she checked into a Charlottesville hotel for the night, along with Jim and the two dogs, plenty of dog food, and sandwiches for dinner. “Not the most restful night,” she said, “but warm and with power!”   

She gave more thought to preparing for the second storm, with the focus on improving the selection of food that could be made ahead and eaten at room temperature. One of her ideas was to bake a meatloaf, which could be sliced and eaten in sandwiches. For breakfast, she baked breakfast cookies, made with oatmeal, orange juice, dried milk, nuts and raisins, a finger food that would keep on the counter for several breakfasts over several days.

Williams said she was raised by her mother and grandmother to be independent and fend for herself. “They had all lived through the depression,” she said, “so they weren’t afraid of hardship.” It’s a family trait that continues with her and her daughter, Jackie, who provides the aging couple with support when needed. 

Cleaning up after the second storm was never a problem. Before she was even fully awake the next morning, her next-door neighbor had shoveled her driveway and walkway. 

“I know I’m new here,” Williams said, “but it didn’t take long for me to see what a good choice this was. I love Crozet.”

Up in Sugar Hollow, Christen Yates was invited to stay in the warm home of a neighbor with a generator, a generous offer considering her family of six, who’d been without power for two nights and three days. They gladly accepted.

Cashel Yates travels by downhill skis in Sugar Hollow. To keep warm, the Yates family moved in temporarily with a neighbor who had a generator.

To add to her challenges, a few days later she got stuck in the snow on Brown’s Gap Turnpike. “Within five minutes, Yates said, “two men in two trucks stopped, jumped out and pushed me out. I’m so grateful!”

Tori Duke of Wickham Pond lost power for three days, but she knew some other neighborhoods had been without power for longer. She and her daughter put together some bags for those families with drinks, snacks, and glow sticks, adding coloring kits, puzzles and game bags for those with children. They offered the bags to anyone who wanted them through a couple of Facebook groups.

Duke shared her own tips for getting through the long days without power. Knowing the storms were coming, her family made homemade breads, muffins and meals that could last in coolers or on the counter. “We also made sure we had plenty of candles, batteries, flashlights and headlamps,” she said. The headlamps were especially helpful: “They made it really easy to read at night in the dark or to do simple tasks around the house that require two hands.” She especially liked the sense of safety the headlamps gave her on the steps, allowing everyone to see where they were going while also holding onto the railing. 

Luckily, one of her daughter’s Christmas presents was a vintage radio and a supply of cassettes. “We used this to keep ourselves entertained and it allowed us to hear the radio for any possible updates,” she said.

In Western Ridge, Pete Ekstrand looked out to see that an anonymous snow blower had completely cleared his driveway. He wanted to pay or at least thank the man, but he disappeared too quickly and remains anonymous.

In North Garden, Robin Eastham had some extra wood and teamed up with Liz Layman of the Batesville United Methodist Church to get it to a cold and deserving family.

Waynesboro cobbler David “Duffy” Young, “There are angels on earth.”

Waynesboro cobbler David Young was frustrated by the huge icy pile at the end of his driveway that prevented him from going to work at his downtown shoe shop for a couple of days. Young said it was frozen so solid that his shovel couldn’t even penetrate it. After giving up for the day, he looked outside and saw someone plowing his driveway. He didn’t know the man, he said, but offered him money. “He would not take any! There are angels on earth.”

In Afton, neighbors welcome the upbeat and helpful Nextdoor posts of Raymond Glass, so they paid attention when he gave them some ideas for safe driving in a storm. Glass drove a truck for 49 years, traveling 5 million miles through 48 states and Canada. He learned to be prepared especially when driving out west, where there might be mild weather in a valley and a blizzard above. 

Raymond Glass of Afton drove a truck for 49 years. He has some advice for those driving in winter weather. Submitted photo.

Glass said commercial vehicles are required to have a shovel, cat litter for traction, reflective triangles, a fire extinguisher, a reflective safety vest, leather gloves, insulated coveralls and a first aid kit. He added some practical choices of his own in what he called his “winter box”: matches, an unscented candle for heat, an empty can for the candle, protein and candy bars, an extra flashlight and batteries, a space blanket, hand warmers and a spare phone charger. 

“You’d be surprised how much heat a candle in a metal can can generate in a car,” he said. He noted that motorists should be extra careful about deer when there’s snow on the ground, as they tend to go towards patches of grass near roads that have been cleared. “And it’s a good idea, and often overlooked, to clean the snow off the tail lights every so often when driving in snow.”

According to Chris Rowland, Crozet Volunteer Fire Department battalion chief, the fire department has snow chains for every vehicle and puts them on several vehicles as a storm approaches, adding more if necessary. The department also has a 4-wheel drive Polaris with a small plow that enables the vehicles to get safely out of the building. Depending on the nature of the storm, there can be a large spike in calls. The first heavy snow caused many trees to fall and also caused a number of accidents, he said. The second snowstorm resulted in only one call. Rowland said it’s possible that people listened to local recommendations to stay off the road. Also, he said, the snow was not as heavy. 

Crozet Volunteer Fire Department Battalion Chief clears the snow in front of the building. The Fire Department posts useful information online during the winter storm season. Submitted photo.

Rowland has some advice for people whose power has gone off. “First and foremost, stay away from downed power lines,” he said. “Just because the power lines are damaged doesn’t mean they are dead.” Every power line is potentially energized and dangerous until utility crews arrive to make sure the power is off. 

It’s not only the lines themselves that can deliver a fatal shock: Stray wires and debris in contact with them can all be deadly. And “do not drive over power lines,” he said.

Generators can also be deadly. “Always read and follow all manufacturer’s operating instructions,” Rowland said. “Operate generators in well-ventilated, outdoor, dry areas.”

He advises against using a gas stove or oven for heat, both of which can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Finally, he cautions everyone to have a plan for potentially dangerous situations, like medicines that need refrigeration and medical devices that need electricity to operate. 

Ryan Martin was able to get to his early shift in the Emergency Room, thanks to the help of his neighbors. Submitted photo.

In Nelson County, Ryan Martin worried about how he would get to his early-morning shift as an emergency department nurse at Carilion Hospital in Lexington. He also works at the medical ICU and special pathogen unit at U.Va., so his ability to travel was important for the stressed hospitals. Both his cars were stuck, but one was close enough to the road that he knew, with help, he could pull it out. He posted his dilemma late one night on a Nelson County Facebook group and within minutes, he received many offers of help. He was also flooded with expressions of gratitude for his service during these difficult times. The first ones to get there were the Van family, who would not accept any payment.

“This just shows me there are still kind people in the world,” he said. “Some of them are even our neighbors.” 


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