When fuel oil was retailing for around 35-cents a gallon, back in the late Fifties, nobody cared about insulating their houses against the boisterous Minnesota winter. Least of all my dad.
We ran out of fuel oil a few times over the years, and when mom informed dad of the disaster he told her to turn the oven on and keep the oven door open and he would attend to the matter in due course. “Due course” for my dad usually meant “i morgen” (tomorrow). We would huddle around the oven door like Eskimos around a seal oil heater until the old man grew tired of the pinochle game he was in and go over to Olsen’s Oil Company on Larpenteur to plunk down a twenty dollar bill.
That did the trick; the greasy Olsen truck would show up, pump the green metal tank in our basement full, and soon the house was warm and toasty again. And the snow would melt off the uninsulated roof about as quickly as it fell.
One of the consequences of this heedless fossil fuel profligacy and the general neglect my dad bestowed on our house was that the gutters, which were already choked with leaves, refused to do their duty until large icicles formed along the roof line. They were picturesque in the extreme, and when they came crashing down they often brought patches of shingles with them.
For reasons that a climatologist might explain, but which remained a mystery to me as a boy, the southeast corner of the roof always grew the largest, thickest icicle. It was an icicle that did not choose to plummet to the earth when all the other small fry obeyed the dictates of gravity. It held on like an arctic limpet. At the top it was as thick as a tree trunk, slimming down to a deadly point just beyond my eager grasp.
My mother was at pains to warn me frequently that if I threw snowballs at it, it would undoubtedly detach itself to impale my impudent body in the cruel snowdrifts underneath. This was all the motivation I needed, and I and my pals spent many a frigid afternoon in January and February using it for target practice. Our snowballs glanced off it with absolutely no effect.
About the middle of March there would be a warm spell when the temperature would actually climb above freezing for a few days, turning the landscape around our house into a slushy swamp. And Big Ike, as I called the gigantic icicle, would come crashing down in the middle of the night.
The crash inevitably awoke my father and confused him.
“It’s those damn Rooskies at last!” he would yell excitedly at my mother, and then jump into his pants and run downstairs to turn on the radio, which was always tuned to WCCO, to find out when the troops from Moscow would be landing. All he got was the mellow voice of Cedric Adams, and this would upset him even more.
“They’ve already taken over the airwaves” he’d cackle as he looked for my brother Bill’s shotgun – which my brother wisely kept hidden in the footlocker by his bed.
“Get back to bed, you tosker!” my mother would holler down the stairs at him. “It’s just ice falling off the roof! And don’t you sneak a drink before coming back up, neither!”
By now I was up and looking down the stairwell to see what the hullabaloo was all about. Mom bundled me back to bed with a none-too-gentle swat on the behind. The next morning when I went outside I would find the shattered remains of Big Ike scattered around the southeast corner of the house.
When the OPEC oil embargo hit in the early Seventies, sending fuel prices into orbit, my folks finally had insulation blown into the attic, and that put a stop to Big Ike.
But after a big snow storm I still like to amble along looking for icicles hanging off garage roofs, so I can knock them down with a stick and enjoy their tinkling death throes. The neighbors think I’m a crank, but so what? At least now we’re safe from the Rooskies, right?