Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Powerless

We’ve had a great many heavy rainstorms lately, and while I normally enjoy rain, this was not the kind I could watch wistfully or offhandedly from my perch on the couch and daydream about hot soup and giggling children stomping in puddles. It’s been the kind of rain where the dog clamps his body to my feet, shivering in terror while the wind blows branches off trees and shingles off roofs, the lights flicker on and off, and the children get sent home early because of tornado warnings.

We lost power on Thursday night, along with several thousand other people, and made it through to Friday morning, when we listened to the car radio to find out if the kids were still supposed to go to school, which they were. It wasn’t raining at the time, and I had hopes of being electrified again, so to speak, within a few hours. Just like the last couple of weeks, it was a 90-degree sauna outside, so the dog and I decided to hang out in the coolest room in the house, the living room, for a while.

The school sent the kids home just ahead of the next big storm, and man, oh, man did it rain! My husband was out checking on some clients who’d had lightening strike their home directly, so we knew he’d be late, and since the water supply was dicey with the pump out of commission, I started instructing the children on how to preserve the potable water.

“Don’t flush the toilets!” I urged, “The water in the tank is presumably potable!” Having seen the inside of the toilet tanks, I figured we could all manage on Kool-Aid and soda pop and give the tank water to the dog, if it got that bad. “Use hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands, we’ve got Stridex pads for all for sweaty faces, and nobody open the fridge!”

The kids gave me a look like I had just announced we were going to live in a bog and feed off of swamp critters for the remainder of their lives.

“Don’t flush?” they exclaimed, “That’s yucky!”

“You get one flush, guys, if you do, and then you’ll have used up the majority of our water supply,” I responded. Naturally, that made everyone have to pee, and, of course, ten minutes later, out of habit and sheer absentmindedness, there was a flush.

“AAARGH!” I yelled at the flusher, “What were you thinking?”

“Dang… Oops,” he replied. I handed him a bucket. Then I handed buckets to the other children. “It’s time to learn about manual flushing,” I said, “go get a bucket of water from the swimming pool.”

Bunny looked at her bucket and then looked at me in dismay. “You’re kidding, right, Mom? You don’t actually mean this, do you?” she asked.

I looked at her, raised my eyebrow and said, “Fortunately, it’s chlorinated, too. That’s an added boon. Shoo!” The kids trooped out to the pool like a fire brigade, returning with filled buckets. I showed them the technique. They decided it was icky. I told them it would be a lot ickier if we didn’t use that method, and had a bucket of water stationed in each bathroom. I decided against regaling them with tales from my youthful vacations to country relatives of outhouses, snake warnings, used catalogs and combining all three in the dark.

And that was only the first of the lessons in living without power. I’d have had to be more assertive and knowledgeable and really resourceful if my husband hadn’t come home. I think he was born under a lucky star in some ways. Cars that clank and thump and wheeze when I drive them run like Formula One race winners as soon as he gets behind the wheel – he doesn’t have to do anything other than exude mechanical competence at cars for them to run at peak performance. He has the same kind of luck with electrical stuff, which we found out about when he got home.

He walked in, carrying two cases of bottled water, given to him by the grateful lightening-struck clients, and said, “We’ve got power in the barn.”

“Hurray!” we all yelled, “does that mean we’ll have power back here soon?”

“Probably not,” he replied, “the barn is on a different transformer, but I can run an extension cord from there to here, and we can run the phone and maybe the refrigerator, and I’ll see what else I can figure out.”

“Holy crap,” I said, at a loss, “Well, welcome home, hero!” He replied with a smart aleck grin.

He managed to run two heavy duty extension cords, linked to smaller extension cords, over and over again into the house, and he set up the things that were important to him – One cord ran the phone and the frig and had an outlet left over for use on either the coffee maker or the electric skillet, which, with an all electric house, was going to be the only way we were going to get a meal that wasn’t straight out of a can or smeared on bread. He used the other cord to turn the living room back into his personal Man Cave – he plugged in his big screen TV, the satellite box, the VCR, a lamp, and an upright fan. “I’m fine now,” he said, “I’ve got light, moving air, and entertainment. I’m a happy camper.”

I looked at him, feeling vaguely annoyed, and said, “Well, you’ll be glad to know there’s a filled bucket in the bathroom, too.”

“Oh, good,” he said as he lay down on the couch and yawned, “I was wondering what we were going to do about that. Any dinner ideas?”

When I called the power company, so many people were suffering outages that I got an automated response telling me we wouldn’t even have an estimate for repairs until late Sunday night, so I wound up teaching the kids how to brush their teeth with mouthwash, dine cheerfully by candlelight on foods that can be cooked in an electric skillet, and take sponge baths with a minimum of water.

They were a little grumpy about having to watch Dad’s bang-clank TV choices and not having the Internet available to them, but we’re all big readers, so it wasn’t too much different for us during the daylight hours. When the power was restored late Saturday afternoon, we let out a cheer, turned on the air conditioning, and coiled up the extension cords.

All in all, it was a lot like camping only somewhat better. Lots of people in our area were not so lucky – our county has been declared a disaster area by the governor due to flash flooding that occurred, and many people are still cleaning out their manky, flooded basements. I’ve complained in the past about my nasty, sandy soil which makes it hard to grow flowers and vegetables, but I was awfully glad for it this past weekend – no leaks, no drips, no mildew, mold or mustiness.

And, no, I don’t want to buy a generator. In the 11 years we’ve lived here, we’ve only had one other significant power outage, and that only lasted 12 hours. I don’t think we’d really get our money’s worth out of it.

Now, if only my husband’s lucky star covered plumbing, too, I’d never have to worry about the septic tank ever again!

2 comments:

Brigitte said...

Isn't the water pump electric? Hubby could have plugged it in when he WASN'T watching TV!

After Hurricane Gloria, my parents were out of power for 10 days. I was only there for a few of them, being able to escape to college, but I thought learning the manual flush technique was COOL. Guess I'm a hopeless geek.

BoS said...

It turned out that the water pump was wired at 220 whereas the electrical feed would have been at 110. I'm pretty sure I should remember what that means specifically, but I don't. I do remember that it means it either wouldn't work, wouldn't work well, or things would crackle and spark.

I'm a hopeless geek, too. I thought we were lucky to have pre-chlorinated water!