We lost power for seven days. Let me say that again. We lost power for SEVEN DAYS.
It snowed in New Jersey in October. Snow on trees full of leaves, many of which were still green and heavy from weeks of rain, caused downed branches, downed power lines, broken telephone poles, and blocked roadways for an entire week. Schools were closed, businesses were closed and houses were dark and cold. It was, in short, your basic nightmare.
On Saturday, when power first went out, we lamented missing the Penn State game. The next morning, when power was still out, we let the kids play outside in the snow while we cleared away whatever branches we could and tracked down candles, batteries, and other supplies. We wanted our power back on, but the kids were being good and it was something of an adventure for the whole family.
By Monday, which was Halloween, we were all getting a little punchy. Trick or treating was cancelled for our town due to the dangers of downed power lines, blocked roads, and darkness. My husband took his chainsaw out and got to work breaking up the limbs we couldn’t move on our own. He offered to help our neighbors, who had giant branches blocking their front door and driveway.
Nothing says friendship like showing up at your neighbors’ front door on Halloween wearing a hockey mask and holding a chainsaw.
Since we couldn’t do Halloween in our own town, we loaded up the kids and their costumes to my parents’ house, about twenty minutes away. We walked in the parade and trick or treated in the town where I grew up. But we still came home to our cold dark house to sleep. It honestly wasn’t that bad during the daytime or even sleeping at night. Lots of blankets kept us warm and cozy. Book lights made evening entertainment possible. But waking up in the morning made it very hard to get out of bed in such a cold house.
To keep the house as warm as possible, we sealed every drafty window and doorway. We used the gas stovetop to keep two large pots of water simmering to produce steam and a bit of humidity. Day or night, we burned candles in every room as long as we were home. The water, candles, and body heat kept our house hovering around 55 degrees by day, then dropped to around 50 at night. It wasn’t ideal, but it honestly wasn’t that terrible.
That is, until the beep beep of our carbon monoxide alarm went off Tuesday night. My husband opened a window and tried waving it around to get it to stop beeping. But as soon as he brought it back in, it went off again. I called the non-emergency number for the fire department to ask if candles could affect it. They couldn’t answer without sending in a team with CO detectors to our house. So, in the dark of VERY dark night, in a neighborhood where NO ONE has power, the fire department descended on our house with sirens and lights blaring. We were evacuated to our minivan in the driveway with the kids in jammies while the firemen checked out the inside.
We watched their spotlights enter every ransacked room in our dark house while the kids vegged out to a movie for the first time in four days. I was never so thankful for a minivan DVD player. When the firemen came out, they gave us the results of their scan. Normal CO levels are under 10. Our basement was at 13 and the main level of our house was at 27. Now, it’s not lethal until 100, but we were still told to stay out for the night and weren’t allowed back in until they blew out the air in our house. This meant opening every single window and door and placing giant fans in the doorways to literally blow all of the air out of the house. All of our preciously protected warmth was blown away.
After the fire department left, the house thermostat registered at 47 degrees. We packed quick bags and drove to my parents’ house where we stayed for the next three nights. Three nights with lights and warmth, just not in our house. We were certainly grateful for a place to go, to sleep and even wash our laundry (dirty clothes really pile up when you have to wear triple layers to keep warm). But still, everyone was displaced.
Each day, we’d head home during daylight hours to check on our cat, hopeful to find lights on, but never lucky enough to discover power. Day six we found three power trucks parked outside of our house during our daily visit. We stayed there for three hours, just hoping the power would come on and end this “adventure.” I scrubbed the freezer and fridge after throwing a few hundred dollars of bad food away. I dragged as many branches to the curb as I could, but after three hours, we still had no power.
We went to the movies, read at bookstores, played board games, and did a lot of shopping. Anything to pass the time with three kids while we had no power. The town had rescheduled trick or treating for Friday evening, so we met up with other families to go together. Afterward, we shared a pizza dinner while we all resisted going home to our dark houses.
Halfway through my first slice, my cell phone rang. It was my neighbor who I’d been calling back and forth all week as we each checked in to see if power had been restored yet.
“Have you been home lately?” she asked.
“Yes, I was just there about an hour ago, but I’m sorry to say we still don’t have power,” I told her, assuming she was still staying with family out of town.
“No, I’m calling to tell you that it JUST came back on!! Like only twenty minutes ago!”
“Are you SURE? Can you see anything at my house?”
“Yes! You have lights on!!”
I screamed so loud the entire restaurant stared at me and gave me dirty looks.
“WE HAVE POWER!!!” I shouted to my friends and neighbors who were with me.
After celebrating for a bit while the kids finished eating, we raced out to come home. Seeing every light left on in our house was never such a source of joy as I pulled into our driveway. Once inside, my daughter actually curled up in front of the vent that was spitting out wonderfully hot air.
“I LOVE this!” she said with a sigh. “It’s so toasty warm!”
I laughed and called everyone to share the good news. Then I looked around to survey the damage of three days in the dark with most of the house closed off for warmth. It was a disaster area. I walked from room to room, happy to see power restored, but cringing at the work ahead of me to clean it all up.
As I left the kitchen, I reached out my hand to turn off the light. Some things are better left in the dark.