Saturday, November 10, 2007

power down, part II

Monday morning we woke up with no power.

The sun was shining, the air was frosty, and in the distance we could hear the low hum of our neighbors using generators. We had porridge like we do each morning, but no radio in the background, and washing the dishes was a bit more time-consuming: heating water, or at least waiting for the gravity-fed trickle from the tap -- cold water, of course -- to fill each bowl so we could scrub it. Then we both did our best to make ourselves presentable with washcloths and combs and deodorant, and headed into the village for appointments and errands.

However, all was not well: Mum was starting to worry about our freezers. We rely on two deep-freezes to keep summer garden produce, meats, berries, sauces and soups frozen until we need them. They can sit unopened for 24 hours and stay frozen, but the top layer of each freezer was starting to thaw, so Mum took Monty up on his offer to bring his generator over and give some "juice" to the freezers. When we got back from town there was a rumbling hum coming from the other side of the house, and the freezers under their insulating blankets were working again. Hurrah! A generator, as you probably know, works on fuel, and converts that to electricity, and so it sounds like a souped-up lawnmower.

Monty gave us the news that apparently, the problem had been located on the power grid, and it happened to be right behind his house, in the woods. However, it was a complicated problem involving a new pole and some special wires not readily available, and there were no local crews available either! So it would take some more time before linemen from New England arrived and it could be fixed. The power company people were saying "power will be restored maybe late tonight," but we weren't holding our breath.

It began to cloud over again around one. While we prepared a lunch of onions fried with the leftover mashed potatoes, and cold cuts of chicken on the side, Mum cleaned out the fridge and moved most of the items to the covered porch, where it's colder, especially at night. We were starting to get testy: Mum griped, "I didn't ask for this job!" I stayed silent, knowing that for me to be snarky just now was to get on both of our nerves, which we didn't need. Lunch, however, was delicious. "As long as there's the smell of frying onions," Mum said, "it feels like a home."

Later I called the library to renew some books, as the phone lines still worked. The librarian lives near us and she was dismayed to hear that the power down our way was still off. "Oh ... that upsets me very much," she said in her trademark soft, quiet voice that never sounds upset at all, and didn't now. "I'm sorry!" I said, "Please don't shoot the messenger!" "I won't," she said, laughing. But her household, like many others, has an electric stove, so they couldn't cook food or heat water at all, making the power outage that much more uncomfortable to endure.

An hour or so before darkness fell, we went over to Monty's to take him up on another offer -- hot showers. Using his generator, he got his water heater going, and even though I had only been two days without a shower, it felt remarkably good to under the nice hot water. I went, then Mum did, and while she showered, I blow-dried my hair at the kitchen table, by the light of a bare bulb on a lamp that Monty had rigged up for me. It reminded me a bit of the days when I was a small child, when my parents were together and we lived in the cabin in the woods. During the winter, after a bath, my brother and I would wrap our towels around our small bodies and stand, wriggling with pleasure, by the wood stove, allowing its heat to bake our skin. Roughly 400 square feet contained the wood stove, bathtub and the rest of the house, and the warmth and intimacy of those evenings remain a fond memory.

That evening I called Janice.

"Hi," I said, "I'm calling from the 19th Century!" She laughed, then said, "What?"

"I'm using a kerosene lamp to see, and I'm boiling water on the stove to do my dishes!"

"Oh ... well, I'm using the Internet," She replied, cheekily. Later I thought that this conversation is the closest I'll ever get to time traveling.

That night we again sat around the kerosene lamp, playing cribbage. Monty's generator was again working hard keeping our freezers going, doing double duty and being moved back and forth between his home and ours, an 8-km drive, every few hours. As well, it provided a constant hum in the background. We were all tired and kept miscounting our crib hands, to the point that we started light-heartedly accusing each other of being stoned, two fifty-somethings and me.

When I went to bed that night, again in long-johns and wool socks, I fell asleep even with the generator going in the room next to me. At that moment, I didn't much care if there might be electricity the next day -- the only thing I was interested in was the cozy confines of my bed.

To be continued...

(Photo by Marlo)

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