Seasonal Disasters at Smith
By Trinity Peacock-Broyles '03
A chilly night last fall may prove to be one of the most memorable moments of my life at Smith. No, I wasn't completing an honors thesis or celebrating my 21st birthday or skinny-dipping in Paradise Pond. This historic event involved two simple ingredients: apples and caramels. You wouldn't think that these basic items could cause such commotion. But if you'd been there with me, standing in the cold on the Tyler House lawn, waiting restlessly for the fire department to arrive, you might have a better idea of what I experienced.
The evening had started
out quietly enough. Plodding through a 200-page account of the
Spanish conquest in Yucatan, I had just reached the part about
a significant battle and was already a bit tense when the fire
alarm blared. Feeling a draft from my window, I grabbed my jacket
and bolted down the three flights of stairs to the door. My friend
Rachel called me a "wimpy Californian" for needing
a coat. She, a native Minnesotan, was standing calmly in the
New England night in a sweatshirt and jeans, while I jumped about
madly, despite my layers, trying to keep my blood flowing. In
between calisthenics, I smiled to see some of my housemates dressed,
like me, in their
As it turned out, the fire had seasonal origins. One of my friends had tried to melt caramel to make caramel apples. Being from the East Coast, she'd had experience making caramel apples; however she wasn't so adept at using a microwave. Failing to read the directions, she ended up heating the caramel for more than three times the recommended zap. We were amused and slightly embarrassed when a Public Safety officer later showed us the end product: a hard, burned, black lump. Needless to say, that bowl won't ever be used again.
Public Safety and the firefighters departed after patiently instructing us on the proper way to make caramel apples-and once back inside, we proceeded for 20 minutes without incident. Running upstairs to grab my camera so I could send pictures back to my California college friends who aren't likely to experience such autumnal excitement, I found my hallway filled with smoke that smelled, not too surprisingly, like caramel flambé. Apparently, another housemate had missed the caramel cautions and ignited another bowl. I had just enough time to snatch my camera before hearing the blast of the alarm, which was beginning to sound familiar. This time the firefighters didn't look quite as impressive with their oxygen tanks, and they threatened us with a $200 fine if we had any other "incidents."
Just five days later, our next little disaster occurred. Luckily the firefighters weren't needed; only a plumber could stop the water cascading from the fourth-floor bathroom into the third-floor bathroom right below. The ominous, spreading puddle on our floor was disgusting, as was the soggy ceiling tile that had been unable to resist the force of the water and now lay broken on the floor.
As luck would have it, my room was right next to the bathroom. For caution's sake, I moved my computer and resumed my reading. But I was unable to concentrate due to the noise of my housemates-turned-spectators. As my mind wandered, I began thinking about the "disasters" at Smith as compared to the ones I've witnessed growing up in Southern California. The differences are largely of scale, I concluded. At Smith, microwave fires are usually as bad as it gets and the occasional bathtub overflow causes waterfalls, but at home I've seen houses slide into the ocean and worried about approaching forest fires.
In two years at Smith, I've come to realize that New England has its fair share of natural disasters, but they rarely wreak havoc. Even if there is a blizzard, we still have classes. In fact, and much to my chagrin, classes at Smith are never canceled, except on Mountain Day and Otelia Cromwell Day. (The latter I respect, but having a special day with the word "mountain," in New England well, that still seems a bit of a stretch to a girl raised in the shadow of the Santa Monica Mountains.)
Natural disasters are
not the only challenges that a native Californian faces on a
day-to-day basis. When I first arrived at Smith, I was on the
same ground as all the other first-years: expectant, a bit nervous
and sometimes lost. But being from Southern California presented
a few added challenges. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I was
anxious to go home; however, unlike my friend from Connecticut,
my home-for-the-holidays trek involved three airports, eight
hours in a plane and peeling off layers of flannel and wool on
arrival. Of course, none of
Winter presented its own challenges. One thing I learned: long underwear is great for sledding down Hospital Hill or skating on Paradise Pond but is not advisable classroom attire just because the calendar says February. Until I realized this, I spent many class hours feeling like I was in a sauna, wearing 17 layers of clothing instead of a towel. In both Seelye and Tyler, winter temperatures stayed a toasty 76 degrees; I've found that shorts and a T-shirt-of which I have many-serve just fine as indoor winter attire.
It's too soon to say whether the East Coast or the West Coast will win my heart after graduation. I'll probably stay in New England, at least for a while, because I've come to love this opposite coast: its dramatic seasons, its intimate scale, its small disasters. I'd always hoped to become a journalist or a writer-but I'm now considering a back-up plan as well. After all, from what I can tell, there seems to be a steady need for plumbers and firefight-ers, especially on New England college campuses.
is published by the Smith College Office of College Relations
for alumnae, staff, students and friends.
Copyright © 2001, Smith College. Portions of this publication may be reproduced with the permission of the Office
of College Relations, Garrison Hall, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts 01063. Last update: 1/22/2001.
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