One cold, grey January day in 1997, I planned to paint the master bedroom at our house on the Chain-O-Lakes in northern Illinois. Our home at that time was a two story river house that had itself grown over the decades by way of several large construction projects. By the time we bought it, it spanned over 3,000 square feet, complete with three upstairs bedrooms, two fireplaces and a den with bar and pool table making entertainment a mainstay for us. Our master bedroom was quite large, so it was a full day painting effort. I decided to open the sliding glass door a bit to air out the room and manage the wet paint odor. That is when I realized it had begun to snow. With a fresh midwinter snow falling I could see the frozen river quietly collecting snow. It looked like an amazing winter wonderland.
Several long hours later I had finished painting the bedroom. My wife had returned home from a full day of running errands. And after a quick conversation about our day, we set out to prepare dinner at home. Earlier, I set out steaks to season and rest. A side salad and a nice Italian penne pasta side dish would complete the dinner plate. Because my wife is so wonderful, she offered to prepare the meal while insisting I get out of my messy paint clothes and into a hot shower to comfort my aching bones. As I stepped out of the shower, I reached for my winter robe and slippers. The thought of my wife going in and out of the house to grill steaks in the freezing cold bothered me. Plus, the back porch had not been yet shoveled from the day’s snowfall. I would simply run down stairs and check on the progress then return upstairs to dress for the evening.
Our two cats were playing on the staircase when I past them to find my way downstairs to the kitchen. Indeed, the meal preparation was in full swing. Salted water was boiling on the stove and through the kitchen window I could see the grill was hot and smoking. Maybe I could just pop outside and check on the grilling progress and then back upstairs to get ready for dinner. I mentioned this to my wife and we began a playful debate on whether I should be bothering with the grill in just my robe. She had explained to me that she had everything under control. We found ourselves walking out the door onto the back porch together. I had insisted on checking the steaks. She had insisted on checking the steaks. We arrived at the grill at the same time only to discover that the steaks were doing just fine. Time to turn them. However, snow had been falling all afternoon and it came to my attention rather quickly since I was now standing in three inches of the fresh stuff wearing bedroom slippers.
As we turned to return to the warm comforts of our river home, we could see our older male cat, Gabriel inside the house sitting up in curious attention to his human parents standing outside in the snow, me in nothing more than a robe. Since he bores quickly he returned to cleaning himself. Next, I reached out to grab the door handle of the sliding glass door only to find it locked…
My mind raced through a series of questions and answers on this situation. How had the door locked? How can we get back in? Not even a cat could (would) help. Carrie was cold. No coat or sweater for protection and I was not able to share my robe. We decided to double check all doors and windows, so while she went left, I went right. Kicking and jumping through January snow, my feet froze as tried every door and window only to find them all locked and secured. We doubled back to the porch and assessed our situation. Gabriel was still cleaning himself, not yet concerned over our plight. Boiling water on the stove, steaks finishing on the grill, and my clothes upstairs in our bedroom nice and warm awaiting me. Things did not look good. Then I had an idea. Maybe I had left the upstairs balcony door to our bedroom still ajar. If I could get up there, I could regain entry into our humble abode.
Unfortunately all my ladders were locked away securely in the garage, so getting to the second floor balcony was a serious obstacle. By now my feet were very frozen. Time was not on our side. The lower back porch did provide a short railing. By climbing on it, I was able to just reach the floor board of the upper balcony. Not enough height to pull myself up. My wife offered her shoulders to support me and giving me another two feet of leverage. I didn’t want to do it, but found no choice. I don’t know how she supported me, but she did. And with the greatest of effort, I left one of her shoulders and got a foothold on the upper balcony floor board. Slowly, I was able to hoist myself up high enough to grab the top of the railing with my right hand. I will admit that the robe was not necessarily covering much of my body and its freezing parts. With the greatest of effort I pulled myself up and over the railing and fell inside onto the fresh snow that lay atop the balcony floor rails. Snow fell through the cracks onto my wife below. I had made it upstairs. We both smiled and congratulated each other. I sprang to my frozen feet and went for the door handle. It was locked.
The last few minutes had not done anything to save ourselves. In fact, all I had done was render myself useless and void of any possible entry into the house. Gabe had completed his post dinner cleaning and was becoming quite tired of his parents playing around outside. So, he rose up and gingerly left the kitchen area, most likely in search of a good place for a nap.
Carrie and I talked it out. The steaks were burning, the water on the stove was into a full rolling boil now. And we had made no gains on house entry. It was time for more radical ideas. There was an old stone ashtray on the porch railing fulfilling no useful purpose. It was decided that it would serve a better impetus as a projectile through one of the kitchen windows. Carrie lifted it and knocked off the snow. The third rectangular window from the corner of the house had no screen on it, so it was decided to be the best target. On the first two attempts, the rock ashtray merely bounced off and away from the window. Carrie raised the ashtray once again, and on her third attempt she threw it harder than before. Suddenly there was a massive noise followed by glass shards flying into a million directions as the ashtray landed on our dinner plates resting on the counter inside. The side salad that was already on the plates was now garbage littering the floor below amongst glass fragments. Cats flew through the house and upstairs to hide. From my useless position above, I encouraged Carrie to carefully open the window now that she had inside access to the handle. Next she climbed into the house, turned off the boiling water on the stove and leaving extra well-done steaks cooling behind on an open grill.
Moments later, my brave wife appeared at the upstairs bedroom door to unlock it and let her frozen, naked husband in. We both agreed that the new color in the bedroom looked rather nice. Dinner conversation that evening was rather quiet. In fact, we have rarely discussed this event over the years. Next day, we gave our neighbors a house key.
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