In a previous post I mentioned The Great Blackout of 1997, and that it was a story for another time. Now is that time. If you are from the “short and succinct” tribe… come back later. (This almost certainly includes my darling Rich.) You “long and verbose” people, come with me.
In the Spring of 1996 I was certain that I was eligible to be a guest on Jerry Springer. I was a stay at home mom to 3 and a half year old Devin, pregnant with Conner, was in Vancouver (1,000 miles from family and friends) and my then-husband had a mid-life crisis and left to follow his bliss. And apparently, a co-worker.
Conner was born in November, and within 2 weeks the boys and I were on a plane to stay with my parents for some moral support. The original plan was for us to stay through Christmas (because really – how depressing would it be? Alone with 2 small kids, far from family on Christmas morning?) My parents were great. My sister and her then-husband were great. (Yes, I know. My mother is the only Overstreet girl who only got married once. What ev.)
As we fell into a nice routine, the weather reports coming in from the Pacific Northwest were ugly. Lots of snow and tons of freezing rain. Power outages, roads closed, etc. The more we heard about the weather, the more my mother began to beat the “Stay Here In Norco Because You Can’t Be Up In That Horrible Weather With A Baby By Yourself, My Lord, What If The Power Goes Out? You And The Kids Will Freeze, You Can’t Be Alone, You Shouldn’t Drive Up There, Stay Here In Southern Cal’s Good Weather So I Won’t Worry About You” drum. And she beat on that drum long and often.
I considered her arguments:
- Yes, being in nice, mild weather is preferable to freezing rain any day.
- Having other adults around to help with the 2 little ones is a good idea, yes.
- She’s right, if I lost power up there, I would have no heat source and couldn’t cook, as everything was electric.
OK, fine. We decide I’ll stay in California a bit longer. (What? I can be reasonable and pragmatic. Sometimes.) So by Christmas, I’d gotten things down pretty well. Conner was an easy baby, Devin was having a good time, things were cool. In January, my friends Bill & Jodi had a birthday party for their son, Adam, at Chuck E. Cheese and invited us to join them.
Let me say here and now, that there are several things I would rather do than go to Chuck E. Cheese. Those things would include: getting a pap smear, a root canal, cleaning the grout in the shower with bleach and a toothbrush, learning the hard way how to change a tire or opening 500 cans with a manual can-opener. There is a reason that Chuck E. Cheese serves alcohol. However, when you’re a parent, you put your child’s interests ahead of your own. (And I adore Bill & Jodi, so off we go.)
The Chuck E. Cheese date in question coincided with a weekend my parents would be out of town. No problem. (I’d gotten this kid thing down, remember?)
Will I also take my 5 year old niece, Raelene, when I go to Chuck E. Hell?
Sure! No problem.
Oh hey! The weather’s looking kind of stormy…
No prob! It’s Southern California, not the Wilds of the Pacific Northwest!
Will I be sure to take care of my dad’s new puppy, Duke, while the folks are gone? (The one that he just got for Christmas? The one that he is finally emotionally ready to have after the tragic loss of the previous schnauzer, Larry?)
Of course I will!
So the Saturday of the party dawned dark and blustery. I packed up Devin, Raelene and 2 month old Conner, and began the 25 mile journey on slick California freeways. Nothing terribly noteworthy about our time at Chuck E. Satan, except that I did not imbibe (and I really wanted a beer!) and when it was time to go, my darling niece decided she was not ready to leave and hid from me. While hiding, she got herself lost in the Habitrail tubing of the play area. Employees had to send out search and rescue and slither through the tubes and fish her out. In the meantime, Devin lost his shoes.
By the time I herded my cats, er, children out to the parking lot and got them all strapped into their seats, it was dark and it was raining. Hard. As I began to pull out into traffic, I unwrapped a piece of gum and popped it into my mouth. Raelene, who could not hear me calling for her all throughout Chuck E. 7th Circle of Hell, develops bionic hearing when it comes to the tiny crackle of a Trident wrapper, heard over the roar of the rain, the radio and the windshield wipers.
“What-chu got Auntie Viv?”
“Nothing Rae, just a piece of gum.”
“Can I have a piece?”
“Not now, wait until we get home because I can’t reach my purse right now.”
“I can reach your purse for you.”
“No, because you’d have to unbuckle your seat belt to do it. Sit tight and I’ll give you a piece when we get home.”
As I white-knuckled it home on the 91, the rain has become a down-pour and I shared the road with complete idiots who didn’t understand the basic equation of (high speed + slick roads + low visibility = multi-vehicle accident). As I finally got off of the freeway, I wondered whether of not you can actually burn up the little motor that moves the windshield wipers.
I let out a sigh of relief as I turned into my parents’ driveway and hit the garage door opener. That’s odd. The garage door went up about 2 feet and stopped. I hit the button again. Nothing. Hmm. Then I noticed that the lights from the car are the only lights ANYWHERE. The whole street is dark, except for the occasional cracks of lightning.
I pulled the keys from the ignition and hurried to see if I could get under the garage door without a spotter from Cirque du Soliel. Nope. On to the security gate where I fumbled for the right key in order to get into the courtyard. This had taken all of 30 seconds but I’m soaked to the skin. Racing back to the car, I unbuckled the big kids and yelled for them to hurry and get to the door. (No need to issue a puddle warning because the whole yard is a puddle). I grabbed Conner in his car seat and tried (in vain) to keep him dry as I raced to catch up to the kids.
At the back door I no longer had the benefit of the car lights to help me find the proper key and insert it into the lock. As I finally found The Key and twisted the lock open, I reminded the kids about Duke, the precious new puppy. As the words were coming out of my mouth, Devin pushed on the door, allowing a small, furry bullet to shoot out of the 6 inch gap and past our feet out into the rain. Now that we were technically home, Raelene remembered my promise: “So Auntie Viv, can I have that gum now?”
I plopped Conner’s car seat just inside the door, pushed the other two in along with him, shouted instructions over my shoulder to “Stay put!” as I ran back into the rain, chasing the puppy (that my dad wasn’t ready for, but now can’t live with out) down the street. Duke either thought it was a game, didn’t know to come when he’s called, or he was afraid of the gibbering, hysterical woman chasing him through the rain. Not sure which.
Because he was in chest-high water while he was running, I was eventually able to catch Duke. Thank. God. I grabbed the little fur-ball and his 3 pounds of added water weight and ran back to the house to find Conner screeching and Devin and Raelene crying hysterically because they couldn’t turn on the lights. Instead of staying put as instructed, they had gone through the nearby rooms, frantically trying the light switches, because surely one of those damn things must work! They couldn’t all be broken, could they!? What the hell!? (Also? they knocked over a potted plant.) Thanks for the extra mud.
As a self proclaimed “reformed Catholic” my mom loves her candles. There should have been several dozen to choose from. However, only a few days after the holidays, the everyday candles were few and far between, as most had been replaced by her purely decorative (and heirloom) Christmas candles. (You know, in the shapes of angels and elves and Santas, that she’d had since her first Christmas with my dad… that still had teeth marks in them from where I gnawed on them as a baby…) So given a choice of lighting one of those Christmas candles or breaking a bone as I stumble through the dark? I’ll take Plaster of Paris for $300, Alex.
OK, so candles were not an immediate option. However, there is a fireplace. And matches, dry firewood and a gas line. Fire lit… kids sitting near it. I’m off to look for flashlights.
Now flashlights should not be a problem. To listen to my mom talk, my parents are nothing if not prepared for an emergency. First aid kits, batteries and flashlights, bottled water, Tanqueray, toilet paper, lanterns…. I should be all set. Strangely enough, I can find several flashlights, but not a single one has any batteries in them. What. The. Hell?! I blindly pawed through drawers and closets. No batteries.
I finally remembered that the phone in their garage (in addition to having a DIAL instead of push buttons) is not reliant upon electricity since it isn’t a portable phone. (Remember, most people did not have a cell phone in the mid-late 90s…) I called my parents at their relaxing weekend get-a-way in the mountains. I screech out my tale of woe (leaving out the part where the new puppy almost drowned in the street) and begged for directions to the emergency supplies, especially the batteries and the booze. My mother, Ms. Emergency Preparedness; Ms. You Need To Stay Down Here In The Nice Weather; drew in a big breath and said, “Oh gosh! I’m so sorry! The Christmas presents for the kids needed batteries and I didn’t have any extras so I took them out of the flashlights… All of the flashlights.”
I sat on the floor by the fire, pondered my decision to stay down in California (balmy California) as opposed to taking my chances back in Vancouver. A power outage is a power outage… but up there I would have only had two kids instead of three. I would have known where the flashlights, batteries and booze were kept. There would not have been a Precious Puppy to rescue and since I think candles are for burning, I would have been fine on that count too.
All three kids had (thank you God!) fallen asleep by the fire. After a few hours the power came back on: lights, alarm clocks, the stereo (left on so the puppy would have something to listen to) (I’m serious) and it was enough to wake Devin and Raelene.
Looking around her and realizing things seemed normal, Raelene turned to me: “Auntie Viv, NOW can I have that gum?!”