Thursday, November 17, 2011

October Snow—Oh NO!

October Snow—Oh NO!      November 2nd
            “Welcome to Little House on the Prairie,” I greeted my son when he came home.           
“No it’s worse,” he said. “They had either a smaller room to heat or fireplaces in each room.”
It was Tuesday—the fourth day after the snowstorm—day five without electricity and heat.
The power had gone off at 4:30 pm on October 29th. We had been warned on radio and TV by weather gurus and public utility reps that an early snowstorm could bring down trees with the extra weight landing on the colorful–not yet fallen leaves.
            Sure, a snowstorm, I thought. How bad can it be? The ground’s still warm; it won’t stick. Predicting doom and gloom helps the ratings.
            But I was wrong—they were right.
            So, during a lull in the storm, while I was shoveling the wet, heavy snow, we lost power. As the dull daylight got even dimmer, I lit candles—half a dozen on the dining room table framed by an aluminum tray for reflection, two in wall sconces, two over the mantle, several over the kitchen sink, and one in the bathroom. To say I’m fond of candles is, of course, an understatement.
            “It’ll get cold in here when the temperature drops outside,” my husband warned.
            “Why?” I asked. “Isn’t the pilot light on the gas burner still lit?”
            “Yes. But the mechanism that tells it to turn on is electric.”
 So we sent our son to the garage to retrieve wood for the fireplace. Luckily we had scarcely used the half cord my brother-in-law had gifted us several years ago, having lit fires only for our annual Christmas Caroling party and on Christmas Day itself.
My husband declared he’d make dinner by memory—and by 3-candlelight.

During dinner the lights across the street went back on. No problems for them; they’d have light, heat, phone service, computers and TVs. I washed dishes by candlelight, grateful that we at least had hot water. I knew in other parts of the state, no electricity means water can not be pumped.

The next few days, when I awoke, the temperature was 51o. I felt like a pioneer—at least, I thought a great deal about those who had settled in New Jersey before there was central heating and electricity. When I worked in the school system we took our 2nd graders to visit the Lenni Lenape area of Waterloo Village each fall.  In winter the Lenape community lived in long houses—sleeping, bundled in furs, on bunk-like platforms within the perimeter of the lodge. We were told it became quite warm with the central fire and all the people there.
Seeing the long house each year, all I could think of was how cold it must have been to trudge out into the snow whenever nature called. I found myself wondering the same thing when my husband and I visited Clifton’s historic Hamilton House a few weeks ago. Out houses must have been frigid in winter.
This morning, trying to heat up some bread on top of our thank-goodness-not-electric stove, I was reminded of that historic Hamilton House. Living then and there, I’d have had to add wood and stir up the fire in the huge kitchen fireplace and pump water by hand to make my morning tea. Today I only needed a match to light the stove. However, Hamilton House had one device I could have used—the iron platform that held two slices o bread upright. You placed it on the floor in front of the open fire and, when one side was browned, you pushed a knob on it with your toe so the other side of the bread faced the fire. You stirred the bread by toe—a toe-stir. Today I was quite unable to brown my toast evenly on the gas stove.
My son had worked on his computer last night until the battery ran out. Of course the Internet was down. So today he had left early to spend the day at Starbucks and with a power-ful friend.  The PSE&G spokesperson said—via battery-powered radio—that some customers would not have electricity until Wednesday or Thursday. I gathered more wood from the garage.
At one historic house I had learned that the 2nd most common cause of death among colonial women—after childbirth—was death by fire, when their long woolen dresses caught a spark from their walk-in fireplaces. I also thought of the stories of Lincoln reading by firelight. Well, I can’t do that, not even with my half-dozen candles.  But Lincoln’s eyes at the time were younger than mine now.
So I sit, wrapped in a blanket, watching the dancing flames, while my husband, in another blanket sits nearby on the couch. We have become so dependent on conveniences that there is little else to do once the sun goes down but go to bed.