Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Power outage: The conclusion

“Wow, this is totally a family bonding moment,” Tim observed with the jaded attitude of a 13-year-old.

One could argue that the “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” rule applies here: If your young teen pauses mid-action to identify what you are doing as family bonding, it doesn’t exactly count. Perhaps it wasn’t the noblest of family bonding experiences – we hadn’t just scaled an Adirondack peak or sailed across the Bering Straits together -- but as the four of us crumpled our tax records from 1995 page by page and threw them into the fire, it definitely qualified as one of those rare times when we were all positioned shoulder to shoulder engaged in one common activity: namely, heating our house.

As the power outage affecting most of our town wrapped up its third day yesterday, I had to admit I was a little weary of it all, but I also acknowledged we’d gotten off easy: with my parents just three miles away and with no power outages of their own, we’d been able to enjoy hot showers, hot meals, Internet connections, indoor plumbing and all the other benefits of living on the grid simply by driving over to their house every day.

Still, despite their urging us to spend the night, all four of us felt like sleeping in our own house, so we bundled off together after dinner on Monday to start up a fire. Happy with the good that finally came out of our 16-year-old tax records, we admired the blazing hearth and then went to sleep by its warmth.

In the morning, though, the lack of creature comforts was starting to take its toll. We all awoke cold and grumpy. Tim found that he couldn’t get his contact lenses in by candlelight. Holly couldn’t locate her bookbag or lunchbox. Rick packed up his tie and jacket and trundled off to my parents’ house to take a shower before work, only to call me a half-hour later and ask if I could please bring him his shoes and socks. And the dog looked just plain furious with all of us, unable to understand why we were forcing her to live in a house heated to 45 degrees.

Yet still, when I checked the NStar website later in the day from the comfort of the library and discovered that our power was projected to be back on by late afternoon, I felt strangely ambivalent. Chilly and oppressive as the house had been that morning, I realized there was a lot of work to do once I no longer had the excuse not to do it. The fridge would need to be cleaned out. There was a sink full of dishes to wash, and of course I wouldn’t feel back to normal until I’d cleaned all the bathrooms. A hamper overflowing with dirty clothes awaited. Plus with power returned to my kitchen, I had no more reasons not to cook a multi-course dinner for my family. Out the window went all thoughts of take-out from the Whole Foods hot bar.

Indeed, the power went back on yesterday afternoon as projected. But of course, it will all be worth it, once I’ve cleaned up a little. It will be good to relax in our own home tonight, with the heat on and the appliances humming. Camping is good for vacations, but my family is clearly not eager to move off the grid just yet.

Besides, it’s not even winter yet, and we’ve heard that our new neighborhood loses power a lot. So I’ll have another couple of years of mid-1990s tax records stacked by the heart and ready to go, and we’ll look forward to hours more of family bonding once winter begins.

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