Thanks to all for the suggestetions and advice. When I first saw those words, the sentence seemed oddly jarring and it took me a few readings to realize that the "was" truly bothered me. Since the rest of the book is so well-constructed, I thought perhaps this might be a rule exception I'd missed in The Chicago Manual of Style.
The sentence comes from one of the most beautiful and evocative novels I've read in a very long time, Mary Dowing Hahn's The Old Willis Place: A Ghost Story, page 17. (Yes, to cheer myself up after reading about the Clinton years, I read a book about ghosts.)
The writing is not going well and I'm not sleeping well; the two are probably connected. It's been a long time since I had any chocolate, so perhaps a quick supply run would be beneficial.
I'm also worried about the latest storm - and how much gas the folks who left Houston used to fuel their SUVs and Hummers - but no amount of chocolate can fix that.