Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Have You Ever Been Really Cold?

Front yard

Tops are snapped out of all the elms

Tuesday night's dinner

The maple by the back door

A limb against the house
When the power went out at 8:45 pm Tuesday evening, it was not actually cold because of the residual heat. We had not eaten yet because I kept waiting all afternoon and into the evening for the inevitable which in itself was emotionally draining; the knowing and yet not knowing when it would happen. So, the spaghetti and meatball dinner I had planned turned into meatballs warmed in the iron skillet over the grill served on hamburger buns; the worst meal of the 6 day ordeal.
There are many kinds of cold. The physical cold came in the early hours of Wednesday morning. It greeted me at 4:00 am with an icy veil. Cold does not blanket, it veils. It felt thin, lacy, veil-like. It's the description that kept coming to mind over the next days.
Cold feels wet. It's not, really. Actually, it is very drying. Our noses burned from the drying effects of the cold. Our throats were sore from the cold air. But, yet it feels wet. My skin was cold and the layers of clothes were cold. And these cold layers touching my skin gave the sensation of wet. I constantly patted myself to see if I actually was wet, but it was the cold. Seeing the dogs shivering even with their sweaters on was difficult. Wednesday morning I fed the Yorkies and Poodle. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fergie leaning towards her plate and then coming back up without a mouthful. I turned to watch. Her back legs were shaking so badly she couldn't lean all the way down to eat. I picked her up and hand fed her a few bites, but looking into her eyes, I could see she was scared. I took all the dogs into the living room where the fireplace had a warm fire. But, again, the cold was so excessive the fire couldn't penetrate more than a couple feet out from the fireplace. So, I huddled on the hearth with the dogs trying to warm them, and me. I pulled blankets from closets and nailed them over the door openings thinking that blocking off the room would help the heat chase away the cold. David's and my hands and feet were numb. We kept tripping and stumbling because we couldn't feel our toes. Cold adds weight. Our legs felt too heavy to lift. At some point the shivering stopped. I noticed that when I set by the fire the shivering would start. Several times I went into the cold kitchen to stop the shivering because it was wearing me out.
David was panicking as I was. We had never been in such a life threatening situation. We knew this was a matter of survival. Could we do it? We were so spoiled to all the luxuries electricity afforded us. Thankfully, the instinct kicked in. We looked at each other, hugged, and said, 'let's beat this together'. At that moment, taking charge helped fight the panic because we had a plan. We pulled on our snowsuits, and got out the one generator. David figured out how to wire the furnace to it. He came up from the basement. "Good news, bad news. I got it wired up and it worked, but the exhaust vent is rotted." "We're in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning." I called Knight's Electrical. They couldn't send a guy out until Thursday. We were scared to risk keeping the furnace on. We built a blazing fire and kept it going through the night. The living room was bearable, but the dogs wanted to be with us. So, we removed one of the blankets across the living room opening, and the warm air rushed upstairs into the bedroom. It fought the cold, but even then, the cold was still there.
Cold hearts were also evident. Thursday afternoon we went to the home improvement store to stock up on yellow electrical cords. David had made a phone call to Louisville, and he was able to secure another generator. Water was also an issue. We are on a well and without electricity the pump wasn't working. David saw an acquaintance who asked how we were faring. David proudly told him of rigging the furnace, and pulling out a camping toilet to use in the house. It was easy to see the guy was grossed out. David asked him how he was doing. He told David, 'fine, I only lost power for a few hours." Half seriously, David asked if he could come over and take a shower. "Uh, did I say I had power?" "Uh, I don't have anything, not a thing." Jerk.
While David was getting extension cords, a woman walked up in tears. "Do you know anywhere that I can go and buy a heater to keep my kids warm?" David, who always tries to fix the bad for anyone, was shocked. He could only stammer, "maybe you should find a shelter." That bothered him for days. While standing at the front of the store with the water, I observed a family buying a grill. It was so obvious they had never been in this situation before. The mother's voice was shrill as she commanded the children to behave. She told them Daddy was buying a grill and they were going to eat good that night. Daddy was patiently waiting for the cashier to ring up the order. The patience wore thin as the cashier was having problems. I watched and realized he was paying for it with public assistance. The cashier didn't know how to ring it up. The man was whispering instructions, but the cashier wouldn't even look at him. The man's whispering turned into loud hissing, "Just slide it like a credit card." He didn't want others to know his situation, but now his line was the longest and people were noticing. It didn't help that the shrill voice of his wife was bringing attention to their plight. Plus, the children were using the buggy as monkey bars. It was bad.
Even when folks reached out and brought friends and family in from the cold, several of those rescued sat by and waited to be served. Those cold hearts let the hosts cook, clean, and provide for their comfort. When the sewage backed up at one friend's house, it was the last straw. He asked the "house guests" to pitch in a bit. A few packed up and went back to their cold houses rather than help
Death's cold came Thursday night. Bob Walker, our dear friend died. The physical cold was nothing compared to the ache in our hearts. Death's icy scythe had ripped our friend from us. And yet, a warm outpouring of friends and family helped lay him to rest Monday afternoon. The gripping wind didn't stop those who had been touched by the warmth of his friendship from celebrating the greatness of his life. We all know that the earth's chilly embrace didn't hold our Bob. He had reached his reward and the riches that he deserved. He is resting in the warmth of heaven's arms.
Monday night the power came back on. David looked to the sky and whispered, "Thanks, Bob."
Next blog will highlight the warmth that shined through the cold...

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