I open my eyes to black silence. No comforting hum of fan. No glowing clock numbers. The smooth silence is rippled only by the breathing of the 3 year old sleeping beside me.
I reach to pat my husband’s side of the bed, hoping the outage didn’t affect his waking to go to work. But beyond my daughter the bed is empty and cool, as if he left it long ago. I look at my watch — 6:30 — and remember that my 17 year old, who is taking a class at the local college, has a test this morning. I find my way upstairs to find her awake, sitting up in bed. She uses her cell phone for an alarm clock, so she’s on track.
As I come back downstairs I hear my 3 year old crying in the hall. She’s missed me at even that brief absence, and is disturbed because no lights obey her bidding. I take her to the bathroom and then snuggle back in bed with her. But the silence is disconcerting and the 5 year old soon wakes to climb in with us.
Now with two wiggly little girls in my bed I give up on more sleep. When I suggest we get up, they trot happily ahead of me out to the living room. We stoke the fire, which produces a satisfying glow of light. I think of coffee and put the teapot on the top of the wood stove as well. I’m not sure it will get that hot, but at the moment this option sounds more appealing that cranking up the barbecue outside.
I dig in the farthest, highest corner of the pantry for our two St. Jude’s candles, and set them on the counter for a little more light. We’re not Catholic– we bought them years ago at the grocery store during another power outage. There’s a prayer on the side in Spanish, and the word desperado makes me giggle and seems somehow appropriate as I stumble to approximate normalcy without power.
My 17 year old daughter comes downstairs. She and the little girls and I eat yogurt by candle light in the kitchen. When my daughter tries to leave for school, she discovers that of course the garage door won’t open either. She runs back in to get me to help her open the garage. We struggle for a moment to release the catch, then lift the door together. I wave her off then pull down the garage door in the dark garage.
Back inside the little girls still huddle by the fire, whispering as I remind them that other kids are trying to sleep. I head for my computer, thinking that at least I have an hour of battery life. That’s when I discover the phone line isn’t working either. No internet for me.
Still, having computer time at all this morning feels like a bonus, so I tap away at my keyboard, writing for awhile as the little girls play. When the older kids get up, it is easy to decide on cold cereal for breakfast. But it’s cold outside and I crave warmth. I experiment with a cookie sheet on top of the wood stove, laying a few slices of bread on it to see if I might be able to make toast. The answer is yes, though it takes about five minutes. I fell pleasantly Laura Ingalls-ish.
By now the water on the woodstove is hot. I dig in the pantry once again, looking for my French press coffee pot. It usually seems like too much hassle, but it makes dynamite coffee. I sigh happily when I find it. Once again a gadget saves me from actually having to do without…anything.
The kids and I have toast, cereal, coffee and tea. We read the newspaper. We start school. And soon the house hums back to light and life, leaving me simultaneously relieved and disappointed that my pioneer morning is over.
But it leaves me wondering. Wondering about the people who walk an hour for water every day. The people who cook with wood every morning. Who go their whole lives without even electricity, nevermind internet access.
And I wonder why them?
Why not me?
And which life would you wish for your children?