Everyone has stories about the October snowstorm that paralyzed most of us. PSEG and the town know why we sustained so much damage (trees, heavy with leaves, which just toppled like towers of blocks). Indeed, many of us may be asking how we could have been more prepared.
In the case of my family, I think we were as ready as we were willing to be. We had food, candles, batteries, flashlights, firewood¸ blankets, medicines, etc. All of which lasted, as we had hoped, for a few days. We knew a long time ago, however, that if the power went off for a few days we’d be in trouble. Although we have two sump pumps, if they didn’t work our basement would be flooded.
Well, the power was off, and the basement began to flood. Except that we wouldn’t let it. As hard as it was, the four of us (including the 11-year old and 6-year old) baled water around the clock, every two hours. The kids valiantly rose to the challenge, scooping water and handing the buckets off to my husband and me to carry 20 feet to the sink in the laundry room. We did this for three days straight, with my husband doing most of the night shifts alone so the kids and I could sleep.
No one looked forward to baling and we all wished it would end, but the kids became experts at donning their rain boots and getting into the rhythm of scoop-lift-scoop-lift. They became authorities in how deep the sumps were, consulting each other over how much water we needed to bale to tide us over until the next shift. They didn’t complain when we had to cut necessary visits to Barnes & Noble or the library to power up my phone short so we could return home to pump. Even though fatigue showed in their eyes, they rose to the challenge to keep our home safe. I’ve never been so proud of my son and daughter in my life.
When our neighbors received a generator, they generously offered us a plug for the sump pump or whatever else we needed and we gratefully accepted. We could deal with no heat, but the round-the-clock pumping was taxing us all. On the fourth night of the blackout, we finally slept peacefully without worrying that the basement was going to be destroyed. And when my husband woke us up at 5 a.m. on the fifth day to let us know that the heat was on, that the power was back, my son and I smiled with relief. At that moment, we left Survival Mode and returned to Living Mode.
And I was a little sad. During the previous five days, we’d come together as a family. We had been afraid, but worked through it. We talked, without the distractions of electronics, and paid attention to each other as we hadn’t in a long time. While I was grateful that power was back, I felt like a small part of my kids had disappeared back into Videoland. I am now determined to fix that by making sure that we unplug for one day or even an afternoon per week so we can come together a bit as we did during the blackout.
I’m also marveling at some of the things I’ve seen and heard during the past few weeks:
- mighty trees lying, like fallen giants, in our silent streets
- people walking around, dazed, looking at the destruction on their blocks
- the sign on Kings saying “Closed Due To Power Outage”
- the looks on the faces of kids invited to the Livingston Mall to trick-or-treat on Halloween who were told by candy stores, brimming with candy, that the stores were “out.” Really?!! Couldn't they have gone to the dollar store in the mall to get some bags of the stuff if they didn’t want to part with their gourmet goods!
- crowds of people hurrying into Barnes & Noble at the Mall to charge their electronics (and my daughter and I who wound up in the Ladies Room charging my phone on the only available outlet)
- the unbelievable sight of one of our sumps filling up with water as quickly as we could empty it
- my neighbor, fearless firefighter Kevin, determined to get the slowly moving caravan of PSEG trucks to stop on our street, lying down in front of the trucks (they did, indeed stop – thanks, Kevin!)
- watching my son, bundled up in his winter coat, reading by flashlight while my husband coached my daughter in math as they huddled around a battery-powered lamp
- the welcome rap of my son’s Boy Scoutmaster on my car window as I was charging my phone; he generously came over with not one, but three plans to help us get through the crisis (thanks, Joe!)
- the smell of tea which we drank a lot of to keep warm before bed
- the giggles of my little girl as she piled every blanket in the house on our bed so we could all stay warm during the night
- the sound of my neighbor’s voice on the phone inviting us to share in the generator that had just arrived at her house (we’ll aways be grateful, Chris and Tammy)
- the serene smile of my son , snuggled up to my shoulder, when my husband told us the power was back on
The snowstorm also put some things into perspective. I won’t be taking the furnace, sump pumps, or refrigerator for granted for a long time. The next time I hear the hum of a motor, I may be thinking “generator” instead of “leaf blower.” And as much as those trucks clearing debris from the streets are a monumental pain, I’m grateful to those workers and all who helped us get through the freak snowstorm. May we never again have to be without power for so many days!