Thursday, February 5, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage…Surviving a Power Outage

Fresh from the frigid reality of ice, snow and a week without electricity that swept across Kentucky & Southern Indiana, my thoughts have been catapulted back to my childhood growing up in Southwestern Michigan and some of the storm induced blackouts we had. In Michigan, where deep snow and intermittent ice storms are commonplace, utility companies are generally much more able to handle the occasional power outages in quick order. I can only remember a couple of instances when we experienced a lengthy time without electricity.

There was one time in my teen years that I'll never forget...the Storm of 1977. After an accumulation of 36 or 37 inches of snow, our power had been out for about 12 hours and reports for an extended outage came over the radio. The centerpiece of our family room was a large brick fireplace with an extended hearth and dad kept it blazing throughout the previous night, while he and my mom slept down there. I'm certain that I heard giggling emanating from the family room throughout the night, but my delicate teenage sensibilities convinced myself that they were simply telling jokes. Thinking of the alternative cause just made my skin crawl. Parents are NEVER supposed to even think about or actually take part in THAT.

Suspicious of the small kerosene heaters we each had in our rooms, the edict finally came down from my parents..."Move to the family room!" My brother, sister & I dragged our bedding down, piled it in various heaps and promptly sat in the middle of them. "Oh, NO, we need to be organized," my dad instructed. "We need to establish an eating area, a sleeping area and a sitting area." As I recall, the room was sort of largish...maybe 16' x 18", but "compartmentalizing" it seemed like a crazy idea to me.

Lots of eye rolling and a few waspish comments later, we three kids were "bunked" down on a hide-a-bed couch along one wall. A word about little brothers and sisters... When you're the oldest girl and in your teen years, little brothers are just totally gross. Mine was around 11 and it seemed that his entire existence revolved around potty humor, bathroom noises and anything that would cause my little sister and I to retch. My little sister was somewhere near 9 and continuously heard music that no one else could hear. She couldn't walk across the room without twisting, turning or performing a pirouette to the unheard symphony in her head. This phenomenon must run in our family, because I immediately recognized it in my daughter at that same age (Eek! She turns 13 today-Happy Birthday Amy!). As the baby, my little sister was also into garnering copious amounts of pity from my mother for whatever slights she felt she received from my brother and me. I'm given to understand that this is a “human” vocation of all "babies of the family."

So whilst we sat there, desperately trying to avoid contact with one another, my parents were running sorties to and from various parts of the house retrieving antique iron pots, skillets, kitchen items, lighting fixtures, linens, clothing, etc....anything they deemed useful for our "camp." Another side note...we never went “real” camping when I was a kid...we couldn't afford it...we had antiques!

We kids weren't much help...I was sent to find the antique toaster...Our regular 4-slicer was pretty old, so I unplugged it and took it to them. The look that passed between my parents was if to say, "We've raised an idiot!"

"No, honey, that needs electricity. You need to get the four sided square wire rack from the shelf in the kitchen." I replied "OH! I understand." I actually didn't, but I thought I should be able to pick it out of a lineup. I headed back to the kitchen to look. After an extended period of time, punctuated with several parental shouts of loving concern, "Are you lost?" "Can't you find it?" "Do you need me to draw you a picture?” I returned with the offensive looking little thing only to discover a room virtually transformed into something that looked like a medieval torture chamber.

Every iron cooking utensil and device we owned was stacked on the hearth. Kerosene railroad lamps were put into use and hanging all over from the beamed ceiling. However, since most of the lenses were colored red & green, they cast a sickly glow over all the rooms’ occupants. There, in the middle of the hide-a-bed, were my siblings both wearing bear skin caps and sitting under a couple of horsehair lap robes, while churlishly engaged in a loud game of "Stop touching me!" I'm sure the expression on my face plainly told my mom, "Please, I beseech you, please don't make me get in there with them." I was allowed to take a spot on the other couch in the room, which naturally started a rousing round of "It's Not Fair!"

Filled with joy in my newfound position of "uniqueness," (something rarely found in 3 kid families) I snuggled into my solitary couch, at which point, my sister attempted to come over to "share" with me. She starts across the room, does a pirouette, trips over the stack of McGuffy's Readers and Bumper Books that Mom thought would be quaint entertainment, lands on my brother, who emits a long and loud gaseous explosion, which dissolves him into gales of laughter. He rolls off the bed into the back of my dad who falls headfirst toward the fireplace, only to be saved by tripping over my mom, who's desperately trying to adjust the placement of the andirons into a more tasteful display. Suffice it to say, “much chaos ensued.”

To shorten a very long story, I'll just give you a brief list of knowledge gained during our camping experiment...

1. Meat of any type tastes great cooked over an open fire in a well seasoned & well-used iron skillet.

2. Iron skillets used over an open fire need more than one modern potholder.

3. Meat cooked in an iron skillet over an open stove don't taste quite as good with fireplace ashes and horse hair lap robe fuzzys on them.

4. Adding brown sugar to a corn bread mix and cooked over an open fire is a "No-No." The resulting gaseous cloud formed from burned brown sugar may require assistance of the Haz-Mat variety.

5. Toast made in that funky little wire toast rack over wood coals is essentially inedible. Wood smoke flavored toast will never gain popularity and no amount of oleo will mask it.

6. Making raisin-bread toast over an open fire on self-same toaster will greatly reduce its intrinsic value as an antique.

7. Wearing a bear skin cap to bed is the surest way of ascertaining if one has "pet hair" allergies.

8. Parents don't "giggle" at night when stared down by 3 pairs of reproachful adolescent eyes.

9. Despite the best intentions, lessons about the various types, origin, styles and value of antiques given to a teenager who has been separated from a TV for a week do not take root. Save your breath. Additionally, telling us what it was like "in the old days" or "when I was a kid" do not make the story any more endearing.

10. Little brothers are icky, it's just in their blood. You can't "train" them. Just give them space and ignore them. If allowed to live, they do grow up into semi-normal human beings.

11. The "Baby" of a 3 Kid Family will always gravitate toward the one held in highest esteem by the parents and immediately perform an "act" of victimization that will remove their sibling from "favored kid" status. They're stirrers and instigators. However, pressure placed on their little temples will render them quiet for an extended period of time. (JK)

12. The most loving family of 5 can practically turn homicidal when cloistered together in a room without electricity for a week.

So, a week ago, on Tuesday night, upon the immediate & complete cessation of all light and power, and filled with visions of my past experiences, I did what any self-preserving parent would do...We went to “camp” my Mom's house, 40 miles away where she had electricity! Besides, I don't own one of those little square wire rack toasters...How would we eat?

Here's hoping all of you and those you love are warm and safe!
So Dear 2 My Heart

P.S. If anyone who reads this knows anyone who is a utility lineman who has gone on one of the rescue missions, such as the one we have had here, please pass my sincerest thanks and heartfelt applause on to them. We’ve seen trucks from North & South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama & Georgia here in our small town, all helping with the repair of lines to hundreds of thousands (700,000 in KY and 200,000 in southern Indiana) of homes/businesses. The work in the elements has got to suck, the hurriedly thrown together “rest stations” are not sufficient, they rarely receive food “spiffs” and the thanks are few.


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