Tuesday, March 9, 2010


If there's one thing I learned last week during our nearly six days without power following the terrible windstorm, it was how unprepared we were.

We had only two flashlights, one of which had to be recharged by plugging it into an electrical outlet. We also had only two small candles and an oil lamp that was so old, the wick disintegrated when I tried to light it.

And we had two battery-operated lanterns that had batteries in them that were so corroded, they looked as if they'd been rolled in green powder.

So, in other words, we were doomed to sit in the dark and freeze.

It didn't take long for the house to get cold. I tried to warm up by wrapping myself in a blanket and drinking hot tea. Making the tea, however, which required lighting the gas stove with a match, was pretty intimidating. I had a bad habit of turning on the burner and then trying to light the match. Unfortunately, lighting matches is not something I do very well. By the time I actually saw a flame and held it next to the burner, there was enough gas in the air to blow me into the next room. I eventually got used to the smell of roasted arm hairs.

As we grew chillier, I glared at our fake fireplace, wishing it were real. It burns a Sterno type of alcohol-based gel fuel. I'd just sent away for 12 cans of the stuff, so I was eager to light one and see if it might throw some heat. The instructions said to remove the label from the can before lighting it.

"I can't get this label off!" I complained to my husband after I'd practically worn off my fingernails trying.

"Oh, well," he said, "If worse comes to worse, instead of lighting it, I suppose we can always drink the Sterno like the drunks down in Hobo Jungle do!"

I had no idea what he was talking about, but at that point, I was so chilled, I probably would have taken a swig of the Sterno and then sent a lit match down after it, just to thaw myself out.

The problem with drinking a lot of tea to keep warm, I soon discovered, is that tea has the tendency to head straight for the bladder, which isn't a good thing when the electric pump in your well has no power so you have no water for the toilet.

To make matters worse, my husband's doctor has him taking enough diuretics to drain an elephant, so he's usually in the bathroom every 20 minutes.

"Why don't you go outside and do that?" I snapped at him after his 11th trip to the bathroom. It had been only six hours since we'd lost our power, and already I was feeling irritable. I knew there were a lot of people much worse off than we were, but still, I felt really grumpy. "You're a man. Men can 'go' outside a lot easier than women can!"

He looked genuinely appalled. "You want to send me out there in the howling wind, with big broken branches dangling dangerously overhead at every turn, and risk me being killed while embarrassing body parts are exposed?"

"If you were killed, you wouldn't be alive to feel embarrassed about your body parts anyway!" I (alias Grumpy Woman) shot back.

I grabbed a bucket, took it outside and solidly packed it with snow. Then I waited for it to melt so we could use it for flushing. I soon learned that a bucket of snow in a 50-degree house takes about 18 days to thaw. I began to feel as if we were living in a public restroom.

"Why don't you just melt the snow on the stove?" my husband suggested.

"Because we could be without power for a week…or even longer." Just saying the words made me wonder how to tie the scarf I was wearing into a noose so I could hang myself. "I don't know how much gas we have left so I'd rather use it for eating than for flushing. The snow in the bucket will melt on its own. It will just take a little while."

Adding to my irritability was the fact that every time I opened the door to let the dogs out, I could hear the chugga-chugga sounds of all of the neighbors' generators. I envisioned the families in their nice warm houses, flushing their water-filled toilets and reading or playing games by an actual light instead of a flickering candle that didn’t provide enough light to even find a book, never mind read one…and I muttered not-so-nice things under my breath. Not that I was jealous, but I found myself wishing that all of the houses within earshot would run out of gas…after every gas station within a 50-mile radius had closed for the night.

My aunt and uncle finally came to our rescue by sharing their generator with us. Every morning they'd show up with it, hook it up, and let us use it for a couple hours. The minute the generator kicked into operation, I'd run around flushing toilets, filling jugs with water and washing dishes that were so dried up with food because I couldn't soak them, I nearly needed to use sandpaper on them.

And best of all, for those two wonderful hours we'd finally have heat, glorious heat. I'd crank up the thermostat until my husband's face turned red and he began to peel off a couple layers of shirts. That's when I knew the house was hot enough.

When we finally did get our power back, five-and-a-half days later, one of the first things I did was fill the bathtub with really hot water and jump in. I was craving a long, hot soak to thaw myself out.

I think the water was a little too hot because soon my skin was neon pink, I was sweating and began to feel lightheaded. I even had visions of cannibals slicing carrots and potatoes and tossing them into the tub as I slowly cooked.

I didn't cool off until the next day.

I think that's also when my bucket of snow finally thawed out.