Flood weekend, after the rain had fallen for 2 full days, and the power had been out for 8 hours:
Brian: You know what I've learned this weekend? Marriages thrive on love, patience, and electricity.
Jennie: (through gritted teeth) Yep.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, a huge ice storm knocked out our power for nearly a week. There was an initial panic to get back to the house in worsening weather in the middle of a school day,as road conditions quickly deteriorated. But as soon as we got home, and knew we'd be out of school, I remember being excited and happy. We had a camp stove that ran on sterno. We had a woodburning fireplace. We had winter coats and mittens and hats. We played outside as much as we could on giant sheets of thick ice. We hung blankets up to block off the rest of the house and keep all the heat in the living room. We slept in sleeping bags in front of the fireplace at night. I don't remember any worries about the refrigerator or whether there was enough food to eat. I don't remember whether we had lots of candles or flashlights. I don't remember anyone worrying about firewood running out. It's all kind of hazy in my mind, except for images of drying mittens on the hearth, and one speedy trip down a long icy hill, riding one of those orange plastic saucers.
Outside the ice storm had snapped tree branches, which then fell on power lines. I think it was a record number of trees down for that storm. We lived on the top of a mountain surrounded by trees, and it was a long windy trek to get to us. And during that week, I think each and every neighbor visited the guy across the street who worked for the power company and asked him to pull some strings. But the tree clearing crew had to come with the power crew to make it all happen.
I'm sure my parents had moments when their nerves were frayed from all that togetherness. Somehow they kept it from showing. Families weren't quite as addicted to video games and TV back then, but having to live in one room for a week with 2 girls who were quickly getting bored still must have been hard. I remember playing board games and card games to pass the time. I must have read some books, too. I don't remember having an especially early bedtime, nor sitting around a bunch of candles at night, but the sun sets around 6 pm in the winter. Maybe we did all just go to bed.
What I discovered during the flood weekend last month is that our family is not prepared for a long-term power outage. In the days when I was single, I had a ton of candles, and an apartment with a gas stove. I kept a ton of snack food on hand, and my fridge just kept cokes and beer and limes chilled.
Now, I'm down to 2 candles on the mantle, plus a pack of birthday candles in the kitchen. We have an electric stove, and a fridge full of staples and leftovers and not nearly enough beer. There is a gas grill outside, but in the driving rain, that's impossible to use. We have a gas water heater that works without power, and we have a gas fireplace that can get noticeably warm in the winter. But that's useless in the summer.
So, I panicked. Power was out and roads were blocked and houses were underwater. My cell phone didn't work. The nearby grocery store was almost flooded. There were suddenly a lot of strange people walking up and down our street to check out the flooding on either side of us. It was hot outside, and getting warmer inside. The milk was getting low, and I had no way to chill more, even if I could buy it. I don't know how to cook mac & cheese on a grill. Without food, I get cranky. Brian gets even crankier. In the summer, the sun sets around 8 pm, so I wouldn't have to worry about candles and flashlights as much, but we tried Trivial Pursuit after dinner, and Alice kept moving our game pieces to new spots on the board. We did get a game of Twister going though, and that killed about 20 minutes. I also learned my thigh muscles don't stretch any more. So, kind of a bust on the board games.
Without power, Brian can't watch sports on TV or play video games. There is no internet to surf. Without cell service, there are no calls to chat with friends. So he was getting restless. He had a book, but with 3 girls bouncing off the walls inside because it's raining outside, it's hard to read. And both of us getting increasingly worried about the rain and when it might stop and when we might have power again - we felt very disconnected from the world. And it's difficult in 2010 to be disconnected. It was like we were both going through withdrawal: edgy, panicky, nervous, and unsettled. We were well aware that we were completely unaware of what was happening all around us. I think being able to focus and handle everything would have been easier if I could have at least made a proper dinner.
I realize part of the fun of a power outage for a kid is the adventure of doing the same things in a brand-new way. Seeing it from the parents' point of view this time around, it was not nearly as fun. I lasted less than 24 hours before I bailed and left town. I packed up the kids that Monday morning, and spent 8 hours trying to get to my parents' house, which is normally about 4 hours away. Brian cleared everything out of the fridge and left to stay with his brother, and came back to check on the house. Power was back by Tuesday night, but internet took a week. Cell phone service was spotty for a while.
I bought some more candles when I got back to town. And I'm pricing a good camp stove. Brian mentioned looking into a generator that will run the TV and the router. So, we have different priorities. But both end at the same point - being able to create more fun memories for our family the next time we lose power.
PS - Priority one on the next power outage is to loot Marble Slab Creamery. I didn't even think of it until I got out of town, and I won't make that mistake again. And they can thank me later when they don't have to clean up all that melted Double Dark Chocolate in their freezers.