Harris

Christopher Harris

They say that in life, timing is everything. 

That’s especially true when it comes to unplanned power outages.

After two days without electricity at their home, my folks finally decided to pack up food, necessities, and the cat and come over to my place downtown to be warm on Wednesday evening.

It took 10 loads to get everything in the car, but they got it all in. As soon as they get in the car, here come the electric service trucks up the street.

Still, they weren’t sure how long it would take to get things back up and they’d already done all that work. So they went ahead and backed out and headed over to my place.

Sure enough, as soon as they get everything in, they get a text from a neighbor: Power’s back.

Sigh.

But it all worked out. Sometimes you need an adventure — and a reminder to appreciate the little things.

My folks are pretty hearty and healthy. In their 70s, but that ain’t what it used to be — 70 is the new 60. Or maybe even 55. Boomers who have seen a lot, survived a lot, and lived through much more Spartan, “do-what’s-necessary” conditions than younger generations are used to, it’s nigh impossible to get them to stay home when it’s bad weather. Years ago, during one local blizzard, Dad basically walked from their home in the Ringgoold Road area to his office downtown. The roads for this thing? Nah, not bad at all. (Meanwhile, they have to put up with me — their son who has made a career out of covering car wrecks and emergency stories — telling them to be more cautious. I get told, “Okay, but it’s fine” in the same tone of voice a parents uses with a child who won’t go to sleep because there’s a monster under the bed.)

Even when the electricity went off Monday night during this week’s first bout with Old Man Winter, it was no sweat for them. Or actually it was. They had candles strategically placed around the house, warm blankets and stuff to do — Mom reported that she was actually sweating rather than being chilled to the bone.

But as the week went on, the power stayed off, and the temperatures continued to drop, the situation became less tolerable. On Tuesday night, Dad joined me after we ate dinner out. I thought Mom was going to as well, but no, she headed home. She had stuff she wanted to do, she wanted to make sure their cat was OK (Cordelia was handling the situation with much less calm -- something was wrong with the environment she was used to, and she was acting nervous and unsettled), and based on the previous night, things weren’t that bad. Mom took stuff out of the freezer and put it between the screen and front doors, just to let it keep cool. Pioneer Woman was roughing it in the modern age.

Meanwhile, my house downtown was a virtual Tesla coil, brimming with electricity. I think the power went off at some point briefly in the wee hours Tuesday morning, based on my blinking bedside alarm clock, but I never had to deal with the problem. I had plenty of Netflix to go along with the chill outside. I could get to my office fairly easily (something not everyone at the CJ has been able to do this week — so let’s hear a shout-out to our friendly neighborhood reporters for continuing to produce a product every day despite the challenging conditions), and my temps were toasty enough that I could still sleep with the fan on in my bedroom.

So by Wednesday, with another round of wild winter weather on the way — this time in the form of enough snow to fill the 1992 hip-hop track “Informer” — both of my folks decided to come over and sleep in a warm house, with a short drive to their own office (which is also currently without heat). Obviously, I whole-heartedly approved of this plan. Like a concerned parent always worried about what they’re up to, I’m glad they were taking care of themselves and limiting their driving. 

As I noted earlier, had my folks stayed in the driveway Wednesday night, they would have had a very short wait for the power to come back on, as it turns out. But I don’t think anyone cared. The feeling of a nice, warm, cozy space was all that mattered once they settled in. Cordelia wasn’t too happy about it, especially since she was now sharing space with my own two kittens, Jenny and Abbie — both of whom were also put off by the presence of another cat in their domain — but we made a place for Cordy in an upstairs bedroom and made her as comfortable as possible (though the way she hissed and lashed out when I tried to pick a piece of food off her body suggested she was still a bit ... shall we say, neurotic. Cats are creatures of habit. I admire and identify with this trait when I’m not getting scratched up by it.)

Mom brought some chili she’d made before everything went to Hell-frozen-over, and we heated that up and had dinner at my table. I don’t have much company — any notion of a dinner party at my place has remained just that — so it was nice to have someone besides myself eating at the table that was once my grandparents’, staring out the large picture window at a snowy earthen floor. We all just kind of sat back, exhausted but basking in the warmth — both the literal kind and the figurative kind, caused by forced appreciation of the little things. 

In this technologically advanced world, we take our conveniences for granted. Light. Heat. Television. A running refrigerator. A microwave and a stove and yes, the Internet itself. Take those things away ... it wears on you, not just your body but your spirit. I don’t know that any of us had appreciated those oh-so-common amenities in a long time.

As CJ Editor Jeff Neal mentioned in his column the other day, a lot of credit goes to emergency workers and electric company technicians and lineman for working out in bitter cold, slick conditions to get everyone’s power back up after it went down. It takes a while sometimes, and it’s natural to be frustrated when it doesn’t happen quickly, but it’s a hard job. In the meantime, those going without do the best they can. Hopefully you’re prepared as much as possible, but it’s hard to do so completely — when you live with electricity as a given, all the milk sandwiches and kerosene you can buy doesn’t totally prepare you for that feeling of being stuck in a cold, dark space, without voices from the electronic box, without the ability to flip a switch and have it bring power to life for you. It’s a bit like staring into the abyss — it plays with your mind.

So when the lights come back on — or you can get to a place where they already are — you find yourself awash in this unusual sensation. It’s worth holding onto those moments. Considering them. Cherishing them. And squeezing all the good feelings out of them that you can.

Timing is everything, but even bad times can lead to good ones, when you embrace the little things you sometimes overlook. And none of those things are better than family.

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