Siege, Part 2



This post continues the story that I started in my previous post.

The next day of the power outage passed quietly. We bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, with scarves and hats, and came out for breakfast. We wanted to have our favorite cinnamon-raisin English muffins, but the toaster was too great a load for the generator and it popped a breaker on it. After re-starting the generator, I tried pan-toasting the English muffins, but the raisins caught on the pan and burned. We ate them anyway, but agreed we should have oatmeal again for breakfast the next morning.

Priscilla read quietly on the couch much of the day, but she joined me at the table in the evening. After we’d warmed up and enjoyed the last remaining leftovers from the dish we’d made before the outage, we worked together for a couple of happy hours on the large jigsaw puzzle I’d gotten in the Christmas party White Elephant exchange. Then we bundled ourselves off to bed, where we’d always been the warmest since the whole experience began.

I’d refueled the generator at 5 a.m., 2 p.m., and 9 p.m. This had given me a good feeling for how long it would run on a tank of gas—about 12–16 hours, depending on the load we were applying. I realized I wouldn’t have to get up during the night. We’d be good till the next morning.

That meant Christmas Eve. It had become a tradition for us to listen to the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols held that day in the King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England. The service started at 10:00 a.m. our time, so we stayed in our warm bed until then (I’d refueled the generator at 8:00) and we listened to it on our battery-operated emergency radio. Joining in the service was just as moving an experience as always. Then we piled on the layers and came out for breakfast. Oatmeal.

The choir of King's College Chapel, the musicians behind the Christmas Eve service heard around the world.
The choir of King’s College Chapel, the musicians behind the Christmas Eve service heard around the world.  Even on emergency radios when necessary.

The weather was getting colder and the house had gotten down to 52º overnight. (The thermostat wouldn’t start our furnace, but it would tell us how cold things were getting without it!) Priscilla had the good idea of using the “fan” space heater to blow more heat out of the “radiator” one. I ran yet another extension cord directly to the generator so we could operate both heaters at once without overload. This made some difference, but we felt we were still losing ground, and even colder temperatures were forecast for that night. Our neighbor brought over a larger “radiator” heater, and when we ran the “fan” behind it, we started making progress against the cold. We eventually got the indoor temperature up to 58º.

Our neighbor sat with Priscilla while I ran some errands. I refilled all of our gas cans and then went shopping for needed supplies, including food for our Christmas dinner. But we were all set for Christmas Eve. This neighbor had kindly brought us servings from her family’s own holiday meal: roast lamb, chicken polenta, and potato soup. This made for a supper that was both warm and festive.

Around 8:00 p.m., as Priscilla was reading and I was working on the jigsaw puzzle, I heard a brief chirp from our home alarm system. I knew that meant the power was coming back on. Less than an hour before, I’d seen a truck at the end of our block, with lights flashing and beams illuminating something I hoped was grid-related, and I’d wondered whether the return of power might be imminent. It had been.

God knew just how much would be too much for us. It would have been a real battle to keep the house at all warm on a night when temperatures were expected to be in the single digits. The addition of the larger space heater had thrown off my calculations of how long a full tank of gas would last in the generator—I’d have been up half the night, going in and out of the frigid air, estimating.

Just in case the power went off again, I quickly ran the dishwasher and did the laundry, joining Priscilla in watching some Christmas Eve programming on television in between loads. We did lose power again twice, though much more briefly. Once was when I was in the basement doing the laundry. Since I’d moved the flashlight, I had to grope up the stairs in the dark to find it. The other time was in the night, causing me to relive the experience of ominously hearing the water pressure sump pump switching on and off in the basement.

But all in all we both slept soundly for the first time in many nights. We were grateful for the running water, gas stove, and land-line telephone that had kept working and been such important resources. We were especially grateful for our former neighbor’s gift of the generator and for all the help our current neighbor had given us with heaters, meals, companionship, and encouragement. Through all these means, God had enabled us to make our stand in the best place for us to be, our accessible home.


The oil in the generator had to be changed after 50 hours’ running time. We’d had it going for at least that long. Visual inspection showed that the oil was almost black. I put changing it on my list for that Saturday. But before I could even start the project, our former neighbor called to ask whether a friend of his could borrow the generator.  Unfortunately he hadn’t gotten his power back even yet, four days after ours had come on.  I explained about the oil and the friend changed it for us.

Our front and back yards were littered with fallen branches from the ice storm, with other branches dangling dangerously from trees. Priscilla’s sister and her family arrived for a visit on Saturday evening. Unseasonably warm temperatures, in the 50s, were forecast for the first part of Sunday, with a sharp drop expected later in the day. So that morning my brother-in-law and I went outside, cut down the danglers, and cut them up along with the fallen branches. (Perhaps I mentioned that we had an electric chain saw, and extension cords for it.) Literally just as we finished the job, the cold temperatures arrived in a whoosh, as if on a tidal wave of air. We’d been working in our shirtsleeves, but now snowflakes fell on us as we fled back into the house.

Earlier in the week our gift to ourselves on Christmas, our first full day back with power, had been to make the bathroom as warm as we wanted before taking showers. Later that day we made ourselves a special dinner: filet mignon with sautéed fresh mushrooms; roasted red and sweet potatoes; petite peas; and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, preserved throughout the power outage by a line to the freezer from the generator.

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