My narrative starts on Thursday night, the night our power went out.
After being sick (again) during the long Thanksgiving weekend, Tennisfiend and I were looking forward to a three day weekend and some rest. He was exhausted by the deadlines he’d had to make plus being sick. I still recovering from the flu (the real thing!) I got last week. Rest and relaxation was all we talked about Thursday evening. Heh. Thursday night was less than restful.
Staggering home from work regular time, Tennisfiend was dazzled by the storm. He related how his car had become encased in ice prior to leaving work and how the wind and ice pellets bombarded him on the way home. I don’t even recall our dinner or bedtime, but the air felt electric. It was a dreadful night for sleeping, with thundering wind and rolling power outages. This in itself was not so bad, but the battery back up on the computer would screech every time power dropped off, jolting us awake. After the third power drop off, I drug myself into the computer room to switch off the power outage alarm. Twenty minutes later I was back again, since I managed to press a wrong button first time.
Sometime around 2am, the power went off for real. We were alerted to the situation by Tyoma’s squalls. He woke without his nightlight, panicked and wailed. I took stock of our power outage supplies: we had two flashlights, and no candles. One flashlight had no batteries and we had no replacements. Talk about being unprepared.
However, we did have a bit of luck. I wanted candeliers for the windows to make our house festive for the holidays, but I was too cheap to drop $65 for nine “electric candles”. Instead, I bought a bunch of battery powered candeliers for $16. Let me tell you, being cheap was propitious. We used the heck out of those candles! They were perfect nightlights for Tyoma and a quite suitable tiny flashlight for walking around.
Anyway, back to our drama. At 3:00 a.m., a quantity of our six smoke alarms started chirping. Although they are directly wired into the house’s electricity, these things blast a piercing tone every three to five minutes when their back up battery is low. The only way to quiet them is to replace or remove the battery. I was puzzled. Why were they chirping now? And which ones were chirping? With a candelier in one hand and a battery in another , I stood on a kitchen chair under an alarm waiting for it to chirp only to hear one chirp somewhere else. I spent fifteen minutes chasing detector beeps before I could locate a chirping detector, since they chirped at different times and the acoustics of the house obscured locations. Confounding the situation, I also had a limited number (3!) of fresh batteries. This was fine, except the damn detectors chirped even without a battery–something that didn’t happen when the power was on! So, between educated guesses and trial and error, I managed to quiet all of the offending smoke detectors and went back to sleep.
If you could call it sleep. It was a strange half-awake sensation, hypnogogic. Did I dream the barrage of crackles, hisses and pops or were the walls beneath us splintering and collapsing? I lapsed into one of those eternal falling dreams, where the terror of the fall thrusts you in and out of sleep; you wake to the safety of your bedroom and slip back into the falling house nightmare only to wake again. It seemed like no sleep at all.
We stumbled out of bed at six thirty. I turned up the hot water heater and lamented not replenishing our supplies of propane for our camp stove or lantern. A morning without tea! Horrors! Tennisfiend noticed that a small tree fell in the back went outside to investigate. I called the power company. In retrospect, it was amazing that the phones were still working. After a brief hold, a recorded voice informed me that “damage was widespread” and that we could be without power “for several days.” I was in too much shock to be alarmed. E returned from outside, a few small trees fell and a multitude of sizable branches were strewn about. I quickly dressed and headed out to the store. I was uncertain if anything was open, but if the power was out for a few days, a single flashlight and a handful of candeliers was not going to make it.
The roads were icy, but passable. However, the fallen trees made driving tricky. I counted three trees down on the way to our closest store, which, miraculously, was open. I was soooo happy to see the brave folks at our local Shaw’s fueling generators and running their store. My heart soared! If they were open, Home Depot would be open too. I just might be able to buy some propane canisters! I swiftly scooped up a horde of D and AA batteries. I didn’t even look at the prices! Dura logs, overpriced firewood, butane lighters, and a smattering of canned goods rounded out my purchases.
In line I kidded a red haired fellow in line in front of me about the quantity of bagged ice he was buying. Dressed in heavy plaid flannel, he was slight, fortyish, and furtive looking; his red beard was just starting to go gnarly. I regretted my teasing immediately. He was one of those unusually earnest folks who don’t get jokes easily. With intense seriousness, he said that he would need it to keep his refrigerated goods cold. I made some stupid comment about ice being everywhere. He frowned, reiterated his comment and looked at me with such sobriety that it wiped the smile off my face. He could have been a dick and been rude to me, ignored me or gotten offended, instead he was dead serious—and even concerned for me. I was struck dumb. His composure and solemnity was infectious. While he focused all his grim energy onto loading ice onto the checkout carousel, I pulled out of line and started loading my cart with ice. The assemblage of other shoppers present eyed me vigilantly. I looked like an aging soccer mom, not a survivalist, so they followed suit. As I left, I heard a Shaw’s employee stating, “Sorry, this is the last of the ice.”
I felt quite proud of my cache, imagining that Home Depot would be a frenzy of activity. Certainly, I was the sole purchaser of the last available D batteries in New Hampshire. I even threw a blanket over my cache to hide it from jealous eyes. Dodging downed trees and inauspiciously strewn branches, I chugged the three miles to the Depot. The mostly empty parking lot surprised me. Only a few scattered shoppers were picking up supplies—power cords and the last of the electric generators. I grabbed a handful of flashlights and all but two remaining propane tanks and hustled to the check out. While I stood in line, the power came back on. I was flooded with disappointment. A power outage, how romantic!!! I left one propane tank behind as a courtesy to the fellow at the end of line and called Tennisfiend. No, the power was not back on, yes, I would I pick up coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.
The day passed swiftly from then. Frantic phone calls to my mom in Las Cruces revealed that a cold snap was coming our way and that the power outage was quite serious, might take up to a week to resolve. The house became quite cold, quite fast. Half the Dura logs were consumed during the day. A dozen tea candles would have warmed us more. With temperatures dropping to near 9 degrees at night, we moved Tyoma’s crib into our room. I taped blankets and quilts over the windows and repeatedly filled our tub with hot water to warm up our room. Despite these efforts, at seven p.m. our bedroom temperature was barely 50 degrees.
To make matters worse, Tennisfiend discovered that our basement was inexplicably beginning to flood. We were deluged by rains over the summer and our damn sump pump never clicked on. Now, wet fingers of concrete crept across the basement. Before turning in for the evening, I took a final paranoid trip down the basement, not really expecting anything. I was shocked to find that the oozing moisture was turning into small puddles. I charged up the stairs, alerting Tennisfiend. Warm and toasty in bed, he didn’t want to bother, but I reminded him that ten minutes of moving stuff around now was much better than doing the same in the middle of the night. ‘Cause you know one of us (me) would wake up and check.
To be continued…