Winter may be nearly over where you live. But here in Alberta, we may have to wait for two more months before spring comes for sure. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, and new snow blankets the countryside around our home. My mind drifts back to a much colder night about ten years ago…
‘Twas a bitter cold night in the countryside in northern Alberta, January 2005…
Irene and Raewyn had gone to drive Hugh home. Vicki was watching a video. James was down in his room. The other kids were on the computer, as I was. Suddenly, all went black and silent.
The power was off. The silence lasted for two seconds, and then bedlam broke loose. Everyone was milling around in the pitch darkness, and Nathaniel was dancing and chortling as he “found” everyone. “Oh! There you are, Mommy!” I was where I always am… hadn’t moved.. hadn’t recovered from the shock. 😛 A moment later we learned that James had not been down in his room after all. He had just gone in the washroom, closed the door and turned on the light, when the light promptly turned back off. He wondered why, but then heard everyone in the living room saying, “What’s going on?” Heh.
My immediate concern was that it was -30C and the furnace needs electricity to run. How long would it take the house to cool down?? Vicki found the flashlights on the shelf in the entryway, and the kids immediately made it into a party. If we still have any emergency candles, they are not in the house. Seems to me I remember seeing them out in the silver garage… So they got out the birthday candles. Vicki took it upon herself to light a dozen of them, standing them in their own melted wax on a sandwich plate. We turned the flashlights off.
The place resounded with an air of excitement and hilarity. I just sat in my chair in the corner of the living room. Andrew came in and teased me… “You can’t go on the computer so you can’t think of anything to do?” 😛 Yeah, well… it’s true, there is a vacuum that takes a few minutes to fill. But when it is after midnight and pitch dark and you don’t feel like partying, what is there to do? Can’t do anything on the computer… can’t listen to music… can’t read a book… can’t even do any housework. I didn’t want to go to bed with the power out, because it seemed like someone should be around to keep an eye on things. But without the computer to keep me stimulated mentally, I was suddenly aware of how tired I was.
The power goes off often enough around here, but it is usually in the summer time during or after an electric storm. It has also gone off for a second or two at other times from no cause known to us. So last night we didn’t know if it would be only a few minutes, or if we were in for the long haul. I had already stepped outside and seen that St. Louis’ yard light was not on, so I knew it wasn’t just us and Mr. Jenkins. I also knew it was not as widespread as Edmonton, since I could see the glow of the city lights in the sky to the southeast. I could also see yard lights a few miles away to the east toward Westlock. So I knew it could be only a relatively small rural area affected, and it could be a while before our power was restored. I was seriously concerned about the lack of heat, with the temperatures so low. No one else seemed to be thinking of that.
I told the kids I thought they should get dressed in their warmest pjamas and go to bed… the boys should put their mattresses on the floor and sleep with Nathaniel between them, and the girls should sleep in the living room. “But Mom! We’re not the least bit sleepy!!” Well, that was quite evident. I doubt if anyone would have slept. By now there were two sandwich plates and a Corelle bowl of birthday candles burning brightly on the kitchen table… while the kids all sat around and played with fire. Meanwhile Nathaniel was a bundle of energy, alternating between bumping the table and putting us all in danger of burning the house down, and bounding into the living room and leaping onto my lap. Irene and Raewyn were not home yet. I was still very tired and bored. Finally I told James that as long as there was a candle burning in the house, he was to stay in the room… and I went to bed.
But I didn’t go to bed to sleep. I still thought I should stay awake as long as the kids were partying in the kitchen. I went to bed to stay warm. I wasn’t getting cold yet, but I wanted to conserve body heat. So I donned a warm t-shirt, sweat shirt and pants, kept my heavy socks on and crawled under a sheet, quilt, afghan and fleece blanket. Ian didn’t wake up.
Half an hour later the girls drove in. I had bet they wouldn’t even notice the lack of lights on in farmyards along the way, and would therefore not be able to tell us how widespread the power outage was. I was right. Vicki and James had bet they would notice the lack of lights at our place and wonder what was up, since there is always a lamp on in the living room even when everyone is in bed. They were right. The girls also thought it was really weird that I was in bed when everyone else, including Nathaniel, was still up.
When they came in, Ian woke up and went to the kitchen. I followed him. I hadn’t wanted to wake him up unless I really had to, but I did not know who to call about the problem, and I also knew I would need our land description, and didn’t know where to find it. I had forgotten Ian had put it up on the wall above the phone in our bedroom. He made the call, and said they were aware of it. There was a power line down somewhere and crews were working on it. How would a power line go down in the middle of the night?? The only thing I can think of is that someone ran into it with a vehicle. The power company expected to have things up and running in an hour to an hour and a half.
It was a night of playing with fire, with James soon joining Vicki in the activities. It was bad enough they were using two lunch plates and a bowl. But I reacted when I saw James with a bonfire in a ceramic mug on the table in front of him. That mug happens to be the one thing I have that my Bible College Dean of Women, Charlotte Kinvig, gave to me years ago when she came back from a vacation in Denmark. We use the mug all the time, but I draw the line at lighting bonfires in it. He had poured a lot of melted wax into it, and had stuck match sticks in the wax, and lit them as kindling. The wax was slowly burning away. He wasn’t the least bit concerned, and thought I was over-reacting. But what I could see, and he couldn’t, was that the interior of the mug was turning brown. He put the fire out in deference to me, and then saw the brown.
Meanwhile the puddles of wax on the sandwich plates were flickering merrily away. James’s plate was mostly wax with a few match sticks standing up, flaming like tiny candles. But Vicki’s had progressed to a new level. In an attempt to get the wax to burn faster, she was feeding the fire with a steady supply of match sticks. Suddenly there was a burst of flame that all but engulfed the plate, and a body of flame reached twice as high as before. It was time to add baking soda to the mix. Just a little at a time, mind you. We wouldn’t want to put the flames out altogether, dontcha know. It settled down a little. James said to sprinkle a little salt on the fire. Raewyn complied while Vicki kept the baking soda handy. Raewyn wondered aloud, “Why salt?” We soon saw it was a science experiment… shake salt on your fire and it burns lemon yellow/lime green! By now the wax had all but burned away, and my sandwich plate began to resemble an old ash tray. What was burning now was rather dry. I had just begun to worry about my plate, when suddenly — CRACK!!!
But a quick investigation proved it was not the plate. It was the table itself!! I told Raewyn put oven mitts on and move the plate very carefully onto a potholder. I thought the plate would fall to pieces in her hand, but it was whole. Where the plate had been was a round circle of brown, raised at the edges with bubbly brown, and missing a dime-sized piece near the centre. The table itself is a light beige/grey. The round burnt spot is varying shades of warm brown. The dime-sized piece which came away from the rest is almost coffee coloured. Sheesh!!
Vicki said next time she will use a potholder under the plate. Now wait a minute!! I crocheted those potholders, and evidence proves they scorch badly too… I concur with Raewyn that next time they will use a cake cooling rack. If there is a next time!!
I should have gone to bed when Ian did, but I didn’t want to, with a kitchenful of pyromaniacs at work. By this time I knew I would never remember all that had transpired, so I sat down in the semi-darkness with a small notebook and a pen. Even before I did, the kids were discussing among themselves what they figured Mom was going to write on her blog, figuring of course that it would all show up there. 😉 But at that moment I was only thinking of what I was going to entitle it.
The Witching Hour?
No Heat at 20 Below?
Pyromaniacs and Wannabe’s?
What’s Worse Than 20 Below?
Andrew thought I should call it “Desperate for Voltage,” because although I was joining in the fun, the kids knew I was worried about my plates.. and mug… sheesh, even my house! But when the table cracked, I thought I would call it, “Mommy, I Blew Up the Table!!”
“Mom the Scribe,” they called me.
The candle smoke in the kitchen was beginning to permeate the house. When baking soda was thrown on the fire, James started to sneeze and Timothy plugged his nose. There was so much soda in the air that now you could see the beam of the flashlight.
But you know what? The house never cooled down enough for anyone to feel the cold. At 2:00 am, when the furnace had not come on for two full hours, thermometer in the kitchen still registered 68F in kitchen. I find that amazing, considering it was -30 outside!
I finally ordered the three little boys to bed. That broke up the party, and the others soon followed. Irene had gone half an hour earlier. By 2:30 the house was quiet… and dark.
I woke up at 5:00 to hear the furnace and see that our digital alarm clock was on and set to the right time. I wondered when the power had come on, but it wasn’t enough to keep me awake. Nor had the furnace been off long enough for me to get cold. I awoke again at 10:00.
It wasn’t till later, when Andrew told me his digital clock was flashing 8:30, that I knew the power must have come back on at 3:30.
Well, my kids have almost destroyed my kitchen table, and two of my small stoneware plates are discoloured and missing part of their glaze… but my house is still standing, no one froze, and my kids proved their ability to pull together and make a good time out of a bad set of circumstances. We have a lot to be thankful for.
Note: This was written in January ’05, when all the kids were still living at home. Irene was 22, James 20, Raewyn 18, Vicki 16, Andrew 13, Timothy 11 and Nathaniel 5.
© Willena Flewelling