Monday, September 15, 2008


I woke to a silent, dark house Sunday morning. No whirring computers, no refrigerator running, no fans. Our home was devoid of all sound except the ticking of our wall clocks. I was struck by the steady regularity, how they all marked the same seconds in tandem, and I wondered when I'd last noticed them.

As I sat in my rocker, waking up enough to function, it occurred to me that the house was devoid of something else too.


We'd had a stormy visit from what was left of Ike the night before with thunder and rain and high winds. I'd laid in bed listening to it pummel the earth, trying not think too hard about what it was likely doing to my garden, especially my poor beleagered tomatoes. And I'd wished, as I often do when he has to work and it's storming, that Gary was home. Even in a weakened condition Ike was impressive, bringing us torrential rain, flooding, and fifty mile winds.

Spending a day or two without power in an all electric house isn't easy but it's hardly a hardship compared to what the folks down south are experiencing so I don't have much to whine about by comparison.

Still, our first big quandary was not how to feed the children; God invented peanut butter and jelly and cold cereal for a reason. It was how to make coffee. For those of you new to this blog (or unless I've not been clear about it), I suppose I should mention at this point that coffee is almost as vital to my well-being as water. Or perhaps, better put, it's vital to the well-being of those others who share my living space. If I was by myself, I probably wouldn't snarl at anybody (If Mary wakes to no coffee and there's not one around to hear her . . . ).

Earlier this summer I purchased a twenty-dollar camp stove. At the time, my husband questioned the necessity of it. I decided (so very tactfully I thought) not to point out that perching on a dew-covered log for three hours every morning while he attempted to start a camp fire with damp kindling (which is automatically his job cause he's the guy, even though I'm better at it) wasn't all that much fun. And of course there's that coffee thing.

He doesn't question that any more. It's now become an excellent plan B should the ice and snow take out our electricity this winter. And, of course, now it was all his idea.

With the first problem of the day dealt with, and the chores we could complete without electricity done, we moved into things like--what to do with ourselves without television or computers or video games.

This was startlingly easy for the boys. They remembered books they hadn't read yet, dragged out the checkerboard, and went for bike rides when the rain let up. We even sat in the same room and talked for an hour or more, reminiscing about adventures, vacations, and stories of mine and Gary's childhoods. Who knew my spur of the moment trip to Galveston with my mother when I was nine would be fodder for entertainment for my children. Or Gary's adventures on board a naval ship when he was in his twenties. My youngest said it was "better than You-tube." 'Dunno how to take that.

The only one in the house who suffered from late afternoon entertainment withdrawal was me. I wanted to write (yes I know about the invention of the pencil, leave me alone), play Zoo Tycoon, check my e-mail. However I thought I held it together admirably well. I only whined when the boys weren't looking.

Ordinarily I'm reading at least one book and often two or three, but at the moment I just don't have anything in the house. Otherwise I wouldn't give the absence of the internet much thought. Maybe in the future, along with reserve water, a camp stove, and emergency food stocks, we'll keep a book in a "break in case of emergency" case as well. But I made due with "Strangers" by Koontz, which an enthusiastic co-worker loaned my husband. (Quick review: Irritatingly slow and cliched with an in depth study of the inner workings of virtually every character in the book, up to and including the minor ones. I might be able to forgive this if the characters were believable, but they aren't. What's worse--neither is the plot). It was slightly better than nothing.

When the day ran to evening, we heated beans and ham in a darkened kitchen and everyone ate until they were sleepy. The two younger boys piled into the livingroom with sleeping bags and drifted off on the floor amidst the candle light. Gary wandered off to bed and I sat in my rocker waiting for my own sleepiness to settle. As the house grew quieter, I silently read out a mental roll call of all the absent sound--Jeremiah singing and playing loud electric guitar in his room, Daniel playing "Road Blocks" on the computer, my late night X-files episodes on the television. It's no wonder I didn't hear the clocks ticking.

Now I could hear my youngest breathing almost in time with them, his arm wrapped around one of his stuffed animals, one of the cats curled around his feet. He'll be ten next month and all too soon after that he'll be where his oldest brother is now--in his senior year in high school. I confess, I am not ready for either of them to leave home. I would be their caretaker forever if I didn't believe they were born for greater purposes than my happiness.

My old Shepherd, growing white around the muzzle, limped in and laid down on the rug by my feet. He nuzzled me, his tail sweeping back and forth. It wasn't that long ago that he was a sickly eight week old puppy, a breeder's cull, that I was nursing back to health. I'm only too aware of how quickly time is moving for him because of his disease and because dogs' lives are so much briefer than ours to begin with.

Daniel came through the room to get a drink of water. At sixteen he's six foot-two, almost too thin, still struggling with acne, quiet by nature, with an easy to underestimate wit. Sometimes when I hear him moving around in another room, I mistake him for his father, his stride is so similar. And I am daily struck by how much he's growing emotionally. Almost over night he's emerging as as a near adult when we were worried he'd never grow emotionally beyond the age of twelve. Daniel is complicated, facing issues none of my other children face and every milestone is a step closer to independence.

Our newest kitten, diminutive tortise shell, we hand-raised over the summer, came bounding in. Nearly half grown, she still runs everywhere she goes and tackles at everything that twitches. Curtains, cords, tails, passing feet, long hair--none of it is safe from her paws. She is the young guard.

The old guard sat in her spot on the windowsill, behind the curtains. Delilah, the other tortiseshell, is twelve, almost thirteen. She prefers warm spots in the sun and quiet to pouncing kittens and told Tara so as she dashed by.

Before I knew it, I'd sat there for two hours listening to the clocks and watching my household change. I look for a had-to-be-there pause, a break, a rest from the relentless march forward, but found none. Even when we are sleeping, everything is changing. So I just breathed it all in and held on to it until I couldn't hold anymore.

When I finally crawled into bed, this time beside my husband, he threw his arms around me and murmured something affectionate. By the dim light of the moon coming in our window, I took in his graying hair, touched it with my fingers, remembering when I first saw him at a college retreat in the mid-eighties--tall, dark haired, fresh out of the military and still half marching every where he went. His faith, his sense of humor, his unswerving loyalty, and his ability to cut through the nonsense and say what needed to be said drew me to him back then and remains among the few constants in my life now. I echoed his affectionate words and pulled the comforter around us to hold some of the moment in.

I fell asleep listening to the distant tick of the clocks and grateful that I'd heard it.


Scotty said...

Glad to hear that all is good, relatively speaking of course - here's hoping things return to normal soon although it sounds like there were moments in all this that normality doesn't often provide.

Take care.

Debby said...

Oh, Mary, what a nice day. You whine much more beautifully than I do. Take the deserve it.

jeanie said...

It sounds like the day ended up wonderfully well - we should all BOOK such days for ourselves (well, without the wind and damage and stuff) and listen to the clocks.

Big Plain V said...

It's sometimes a stunning and profound experience to actually notice your children growing.

But mostly it's sad.

Mary Paddock said...

Scotty--things here are back to whatever our normal is. Thank you.

Debby--I whine much better online than I do on paper.

Jeanie--I agree completely.

Ray--Yes it is both things.

Pencil Writer said...

Beautifully writen--and Hey! What's wrong with writing with a Pencil? Ha! One of my loves! (Okay, okay! On the computer is MUCH faser. Still, writing with a pencil on paper . . . it's way kewl. ;-}

In our family, we've cherished those days/evenings when the power was out and we changed gears and had fun together in spite of, or maybe because our focus was changed with the advent of no electricity! Candle light induces an intimacy that electricity often misses.

Mary Paddock said...

Hi PW. Yes, I do love the effect candle light produces in an otherwise unlighted house. It's like it forces everyone to sit closer or something.