Monday, February 20, 2006

The big chill

I feel as if I’ve just returned from spending a night stranded on Mount Washington. My fingers are cold and stiff, my nose is dripping and I’ve lost all feeling in my toes.

A half-hour ago, the electricity finally popped back on after being off for over 10 hours. I can honestly say that they were the longest 10 hours of my life. I know that many people throughout the state had to suffer a lot longer without power than I did, and believe me, they have my complete sympathy.

I didn’t believe the weatherman when he warned everyone that winds so strong, they could knock over King Kong were on their way and that everyone should go outside and tie down anything lighter than an 18-wheeler or it would end up as a tree ornament. That’s because I’d believed the weatherman the weekend before when he’d said a snowstorm was headed our way that would dump so much snow, we’d have to build igloos…and we got barely three inches.

The wind actually woke me up on Friday morning (um, make that afternoon). I could hear things bouncing around outside and against the house, and as I lay in bed, I found myself trying to remember what I’d left outside that might have been transformed into a deadly projectile. I also hoped that one of the things bouncing around out there wasn’t my neighbor.

I finally got up, got dressed and headed outside to look. I found the lid to our big trash container, the kind that has wheels on it, lying out back near the woods. I figured that the container probably wasn’t too far from the lid, so I checked the area. There was no sign of it anywhere.

Visions of my trash container rolling like a race car down the center of the highway with cars swerving into trees to avoid it, caused me to intensify my search. Twenty minutes later, I finally found it lying in a driveway down on the corner of our street (at least I hope it was OUR trash container). I dragged it back home.

Chilled to the bone, I went back into the house, heated some water for tea and turned on the TV. The cable box popped on, then off…and stayed off. It was official. We had no power.

Not having power during the daylight hours wasn’t so bad, mainly because I still could see and even read without the benefit of artificial lighting. Also, we have a gas stove, so I still was able to heat up stuff to eat and drink.

But the minute the sun went down, things changed. The house got colder and darker…and really boring. I was forced to drag out our assortment of lanterns. Two of the three battery-operated ones had dead batteries, and both of the oil lamps were so old, the oil in them practically had disintegrated. There also was enough accumulated dust on the wicks to cause a major bonfire if I lit them.

Later, as I was trying to cook supper in virtual darkness, I made the mistake of mentioning to my husband that the house was too quiet.

“I can fix that,” he said. I thought he was going to go search for our portable radio, but instead, he belted out a chorus of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” followed by “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

“Christmas was two months ago,” I told him.

“Yeah, but I’m so cold, I feel like I’m at the North Pole.”

Before I could comment, he added, “Something smells like old tires burning.”

It was our supper, but it was so dark near the stove, I really couldn't tell if it was the meat or the squash that was burning. It turned out to be both.

Not crazy about eating cinders, I finally heated up some tomato soup and we ate that. At least it was hot. I would have made grilled-cheese sandwiches to go with it, but somehow I didn't think that producing golden, perfectly grilled sandwiches would be even remotely possible by penlight, which was about the only light source in the house that had fresh batteries in it.

“I think I’ll have a couple pieces of toast with my soup,” my husband said.

“Sure, just pop some bread in the toaster and with luck, it’ll be ready in about five hours,” I said.

Right after supper, my husband crawled into bed to keep warm. I, however, sat bundled up on the sofa, listened to my portable CD player and drank at least six cups of hot tea. I was determined to stay up until the power came back on.

The only problem with drinking six cups of tea is that sooner or later the tea has to come back out. All I can say is that I never knew the true meaning of the words “painfully cold” until I sat on that toilet seat. In fact, I may have to seek counseling just to get over the trauma of it.

Just after midnight, I held the penlight up to our indoor thermometer and saw that the temperature in the living room had dipped to 46 degrees. I decided I’d better go crawl into bed with my husband or my stiff blue body would be found lying like a giant Popsicle on the sofa in the morning.

That’s when I heard our answering machine beep and the furnace pop on. I did a few celebratory dance steps over to the thermostat (even though I barely could bend my knees by then) and cranked up the heat to 85.

But it’s still really windy outside, so I’m not taking any chances. I’m quickly writing this before the power goes off again. And if it does, I’m making a beeline for a hotel…preferably one with a hot-tub…in Miami.

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