Sparks Fly Over a Weekend of No Power, Thanks to Riley


Last Sunday night was the highlight of my weekend – we had heat. Like many of my neighbors here in Pennsylvania, the nor’easter named Riley knocked out electricity from Friday until Sunday. No electricity also meant no heat, no TV and no internet. My friends on LBI kept their eyes on the rising tide from the pounding surf and the damage was minimal. Heaven knows they had more than paid their dues from the destruction caused by that madwoman, Sandy.

My cellphone worked during the outage, but my husband gave me “strong looks of encouragement” not to check Facebook since it gobbles up our data. Out of concern for my 300-plus “friends,” someone who looks like me still “checked” regularly. Seriously, it was the longest time we had gone without news, heat and electric since our children were in preschool and I cooked our meals in the fireplace, camper-style.

Please don’t get me wrong; basically, even though I’m the daughter of a Marine sergeant and can roast a hot dog on a stick over an open fire during a storm, I’m a wuss. My husband? He’s a tough guy. He has outfits for everything: green T-shirts for gardening, denim shorts for car washing, leather for just looking cool. But when a nor’easter strikes? Man, he’s Paul Bunyan strutting around in his red Woolrich shirt and a pair of black 505 Levis. Me? I’m dressed like the Michelin Man because it’s only 54 freaking degrees inside. Sheesh.

I think we actually had cabin fever that weekend. Seriously, it’s a true condition. Ask any young mother with two children under 5 or any wife over 60 with ... oh, don’t get me started! People confined indoors too long absolutely get squirrelly. They start saying the same things over and over, like “Do you know where the (fill in the blank) is?” or “Have you seen the (fill in the blank)?” or “What time is lunch?” The constant repeating is maddening. "Good thing I bought this generator, don’t you think, Mary Jane?” After the 10th time he asked me it seemed less great.

“Well,” I said, “that Home Depot portable generator only heats a small space. How will it reach into the kitchen so this beautiful old pioneer wife of yours can fire up the stove burners and be warm herself? I don’t want you to go all grouchy on me when you don’t get your vittles.”

But I grabbed a match, lit the gas stove, stirred the chili, and yanked up my big-girl Michelins. I also tried to be more positive and use my imagination to let my mind float away to an ocean view in Aruba. Ahhh. This image immediately provided a splendid backdrop for a husband and wife dialogue that went like this:

Husband: You know, Mare, some people have a generator for their entire house now.

Wife: What? Was that an option for our home?

Husband: Yes. But it’s too late now.

Wife: Wait, you can actually heat your whole place with a bigger generator with just the flick of a switch?

Husband: Yes, but it’s really costly and not necessary unless, of course, you have a little baby.

Wife: Well, I’m a little baby. We need to get it. Are you sure it’s too late to get it?

Husband: Yes, it’s way too late. (Mind you, I’m now closely watching his big brown eyes as they dart and shift all over the place.)

Wife: I can check on this myself, you know.

Husband: (Silence.)

Wife: Well, I’ll just go through the refrigerator and freezer now and see what’s spoiled. Oh, too bad all that perfectly good food was wasted. I hate to throw food away when people go hungry; it’s a sin. And that money spent on replacement food? It would have been a great down payment on one of those ginormous generators you’ve been praising to Mt. Olympus these last three days of 54 degrees in our house.

Now, a normal wife, a sane wife, would have gone about her teeny-weeny chore in a nice, quiet manner, tossing her little basket of food this way and that, humming a happy little tune like “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.” But no, this wife likes to point out each perceived misstep of not having a bigger generator in a voice above normal in volume and tone when she says goodbye to the food gone bad. “So long, mayo; hit the road, dulce-de-leche ice cream; hasta la vista, baby flounder filet; ciao, homemade dear Angelina meatballs.”

But suddenly I stopped my childish behavior after my husband announced that he had just heard from one of our neighbors (one with a huge full-house generator) that another nor’easter was on its way this very week. Wow, how fun! Now, I was strategically wondering just how far I should push Paul Bunyan to get my way.

That’s when I looked over at him fiddling with the sealed gas fireplace that he just figured out how to open and make work without electricity. Amazing, just amazing. I sighed and smiled. “Dick, you’re a genius. You figured out how to keep us warm right before I died of hypothermia and I know you’ll take care of us during the next nor’easter, too, if for no other reason than to have me cook you a nice, hot meal. I guess that makes us a pretty good team and, hey, I’m using the money we saved on a bigger generator and booking a lovely, soothing facial instead so at least I’ll look good in my Michelin suit.”

Mary Jane Hurley Brant is a psychotherapist in Newtown Square, Pa., and a visitor to LBI.




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