The difference between minor surgery and major surgery is determined by whether you are having it. That’s sort of the way it often is with interruptions. They can be incidents (if they happen to others) or potential adventures (if they happen to you). And such things are what provide the grist for a writer’s mill.
Such interruptions happened to me over this past weekend. Without going into great detail, allow me to offer a summary. I’m sure that something from the interruptions that I experienced will manage to find its way into my writing at some point.
It all began on Saturday with a “wintry mix”–rain, sleet, freezing rain, and snow. A heavy, wet accumulation occurred during the night. I knew it had when I woke up around 1 a.m. and thought my wife had left a light on. It was bright in our otherwise dark bedroom. That accumulation continued throughout the night. We rose at the regular time on Sunday and, church services having been canceled, we went about having a leisurely breakfast.
And then, about 12:40 p.m. it happened. After having the lights flicker throughout the morning, the power finally went out. We gathered flashlights, storm lamps, and candles in case it remained out into the night. With Duke Energy, one never knows.
The in-house temperature slowly dropped. We donned sweaters. It continued to drop. We donned more sweaters and sweatshirts. Layer upon layer. Soon we were in coats and gloves. I set up our propane camp stove in the garage, where there was plenty of ventilation and the temperature was about the same as inside the house, and boiled water so we had cups of instant coffee. I’d done this dozens of times before when we were camping and during power outages. The result is never as good as brewed coffee, but at least it’s hot. And I’d never had a hint of a problem.
And then darkness descended. There’s no darkness like that which occurs at night during a snowstorm, when the skies are dark and filled with precipitation and there’s no power. We stumbled through the house, flipping light switches as we entered closets and bathrooms and then laughing at ourselves for doing so.
The adventure, the interruption of our normal routine, had only begun. By candlelight, my wife tried unsuccessfully to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. We reenacted the days of our youth by reading by flashlight. The night dragged on. Time stands still when it’s pitch black and you’re without power. We roasted mini-marshmallows on skewers over the candle.
Our daughters and friends and neighbors texted, and we watched our phone batteries get weaker and wondered if the power would come back on so we could recharged them before they died. Finally, we went to bed. We added more layers to our clothing and blankets on top of blankets. My wife bemoaned the absence of her beloved electric blanket. We discovered that it’s hard to roll in one’s sleep when wearing multiple layers and weighed down by multiple blankets. And one has a tendency to keep waking, wondering if the power has somehow miraculously returned while he slept.
Morning finally arrived, and I rose, shivering, and fumbled to shave by the dimming light of a flashlight beam. It wasn’t the greatest or closest shave, but at least I no longer resembled Grizzly Adams. Although the electricity was out, we did have warm water supplied by natural gas. Unable to hold the flashlight while showering, I resorted to showering by candlelight. Not my idea of romantic. But I got the worst of the dirt off.
And then the neighbor texted to check on the old folks. He asked what we were planning to do. I replied that we were thinking of going out somewhere to eat breakfast and asked if they wanted to join us. They agreed, so we went to the place that is always open in times of natural disasters, Waffle House. It was our first ever visit to that fine dining establishment. It was crowded. Not a parking place in the lot. We parked alongside the building, almost in the fire zone. Everyone inside was talking about where they were and what they were doing when the power went out and how long it might be before it came back on.
From there, we took our neighbor to work so his wife wouldn’t have to drive in the mess. And we saw trees down all over the place. Traffic lights out. Cars in the ditch. Drivers who didn’t know how to navigate a four-way stop. A typical Southern snow storm.
Shortly after we returned home, I began to prepare a mid-morning cup of coffee for each of us. I again attached the propane bottle, lit the flame, and, leaning on the hood of the car, read my book while the water struggled to reach the boiling point. I knew better than to watch the pan on the stove. A watched pot never boils. Instead, I read, glancing over at the pot occasionally to see if the water was warm enough to approximate coffee water.
After several pages, I glanced again and noticed, to my alarm, flames shooting in all directions from the top of the propane bottle. I jerked the propane connection from the burner, but the bottle continued to spew flames. I couldn’t remove the connection from the bottle without getting burned, and obviously a leak there was allowing the flame to continue. Water! I needed to douse the bottle in water! (Sorry, I have no photo of this. I was a bit too busy to think of taking a shot.)
I grabbed the bottom of the bottle and dashed toward the door into the house, then I thought, Boy! That’s stupid! If I drop it, the whole house goes up in flames! Instead, I returned and set the blazing bottle down between the wall and the car and then dashed inside to get the fire extinguisher that is in the pantry. (I never thought about how close the flaming bottle was to the car’s gas tank.) As I did so, I ran right past the extinguisher hanging on the garage wall. When panicked, one sometimes ignores the obvious and does stupid things.
Returning to the garage, I pulled the pin on the extinguisher, squeezed the handle, and gave the flames a one-second blast of the extinguisher. Dust flew everywhere. Everywhere. But the flame died immediately. Disaster was averted. But there was still the problem of the dust everywhere, so thick I couldn’t breathe. I ran through the cloud and manually opened the electric garage door opener. I could breathe once again. We never got that cup of coffee.
But I certainly learned a lesson. Next time the power goes out, I’ll go to Waffle House for my coffee, maybe a whole pot of it, rather than using the propane stove. And maybe I’ll find another way to get writing ideas. It’s safer that way.
The power returned almost 24 hours after it died. The temperature climbed back to normal inside the house. And I’m brewing Keurig cups like I never have before.
Today is another day. My wife returns to her regular teaching schedule. Well, somewhat. Her school is operating on a two-hour delay although the temperatures are well below freezing and all the snow that melted yesterday has frozen on the roads, making it even more hazardous than before. Snow Southerners can deal with; ice no one can deal with. Perhaps the morning ice drive will present further adventures as I take her to work and hopefully without hitting someone or getting hit by someone or sliding off the road and into the ditch. Who knows what further grist for the writing mill may result from the waning hours of this adventure.