Remembering Irene

Its easy to forget how reliant we are on our modern technologies.

It’s another brilliant day of sunshine in the aftermath of Irene, and I’m happily sitting at my computer, with blow-dried hair, and a cold yogurt and iced tea by my side.

Last week, they were comforts that I never thought twice about, but today, what a difference.  I spent only two and a half days without power, and yet I feel like I revisited the 19th century again, living the life of  Laura Ingalls Wilder, on Little House on the Prairie.  

Well, maybe just a little.  I wasn’t exactly wringing out clothes, or making home-made biscuits to cook in a wood-fired oven. But, I did spend a few hours buying ice bags, trying to keep meat and milk from spoiling.  And for two evenings, I actually read a few pages of a book by candlelight.  My eyes were squinting after a few minutes, so I didn’t prolong the experience, but it did conjure up images of an old history lesson I remember from elementary school, in which Abraham Lincoln read by candlelight in bed.

It all started Sunday, mid morning, when the rain started to pound, the wind began to howl, and the lights started to flicker.  Hurricane Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm, swept through the east coast, and left most in the area without power.

We had been intermittently looking out the window, watching the tops of trees sway, and watching television.  A news reporter appeared “live” from Marion Harbor, framed against boats that were tossing and turning through white caps.  A wind gauge at the bottom of the television screen went from 10 - 20 miles an hour (what a dud, I thought), but then shot up to 60 something. Suddenly, it seemed things might get serious.

They did, at least serious enough for us to be inconvenienced for a few days.  The lights went out, the dishwasher stopped, and the phone lines seemed to collapse at the same time.  After a few feeble attempts at coming back on, the power went out completely late morning, and we were left to scramble.

I gathered all the candles and flashlights (we have about ten, and two that actually worked), and lectured my two sons to make very brief visits to the refrigerator. Then, we hoped the storm would be quick, and the power would soon come back.

Unfortunately, the wind kept up.  We tried taking a walk in the afternoon, after the rain stopped, but retreated after a giant Oak tree started seriously swaying.  Back we went to our house,  tracking in leaves, raindrops, and grime.

My husband and I tried reading next to the windows, and watched our sons, who can’t seem to read anything if it’s not on a screen, pace around the house.  Soon, out of boredom, I decided to start dinner.  Since we have a gas stove, I was able to make a decent dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, which we finished at about 6 p.m.  Now what?

Out came the flashlights, candles and a Scrabble Game that we hadn’t played since 1995.  We played twice, talked for a while, and called it a night at 9:00. 

That night, we opened our windows to listen to the glorious sound of the dwindling wind, and the dreadful grind of a nearby generator.  It was eerie to look at the dull blackness of the outdoors, but our eyes adjusted to light, and we could eventually see the outline of the windows.  Could we actually go back to having no night light in the adjoining bathroom at night? 

I lulled myself to sleep with that complex thought, and before I knew it, I awoke to a dim light outside my window.  It was early morning I guessed, but there was no indication of power.  No beeping of the fire alarm had occurred during the night, and the digital clock remained dark.  This could be a problem. 

Soon the sun starting to glow in our windows, and I started to get practical.  The milk for our cereal was only slightly cool, and didn’t taste too good.  We read in the Boston Globe that the power outages could last throughout the weekend.  You can’t be serious, I thought, and I went out and bought four bags of ice for all our refrigerated food.

That night, after repeatedly sniffing chicken breasts to make sure they hadn’t gone bad, we cooked chicken on the grill – again much earlier than our usual dinner time.  As the sunlight dimmed I quickly ran to the shower, with a candle.  Somehow we still had hot water – I have no idea why – so I enjoyed rinsing off, after feeling clammy all day in a humid house.  Then, another game of Scrabble with scintillating conversation about whom we had to thank for our modern-day conveniences.  Let’s see -- Ben Franklin, uh… Thomas Edison.  I’m sure there were a lot more, but all I could recall was Ben Franklin flying a kite in an electric storm, and Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb.

The next day, I decided I had enough.  I had just enough juice in my cell phone to call my mother, who had had her power restored. Equipped with cell phones, Ipods and connectors, dirty laundry, and my hair dryer, I drove to her house in Dartmouth, about 40 miles away.  I charged up the gadgets, checked my emails, took a shower, and washed and blow-dried my hair.  I washed some laundry, and returned home in the late afternoon, stopping at to get four more bags of ice.

The rest of the story is a sweet ending to a few days of turmoil.  We went out to dinner at the , and I got a call on my newly-charged cell phone from our next door neighbor.  “We have lights!” she cried.  

We stopped into visit them on their way home, and celebrated our resumed life of luxury.  Watching the Red Sox on a large screen television, we commiserated about our droopy pony tails, the grinding sound of nearby generators, and the depressing darkness that surrounded us each night.

Then home, to a dishwasher that had just completed its cycle, and was filled with clean dishes.  We quickly turned off lights all around the house (we had subconsciously been flicking on light switches everywhere during outage), and went to bed at ripe hour of 11:00. 

In hindsight, it wasn’t a horrible three days.  There was plenty to complain about, but we weren’t exactly suffering. Though we went without electricity, we had flushing toilets, water, and plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures during the days.  We’ll spend this weekend raking up the rest of the leaves and sticks, and we’ll say good-bye to our questionable perishables when the garbage collector comes on Friday. 

After that, we’ll just have memories, but maybe a few habits will linger.  Just this morning, I surprised myself by flicking on a light switch, expecting nothing to happen, and then being shocked that the light went on.  Weird, I know, but it provided another chuckle, and yet another reminder of Irene.


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