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In the Suburbs / After Sandy, thankful for the little things

Published 7:48 am, Sunday, November 11, 2012
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For thousands of us in Fairfield, Hurricane Sandy damaged and flooded homes, downed trees and power lines and robbed tens of thousands of electric service. Without power, my wife and I were humbled, hobbled and just down right cold for nearly a week.

This storm will go into the history books, but incurring its aftermath gave my wife and me a whole new perspective on the little things we take for granted with electricity -- hot water for showers, uniterrupted access to computers, endless television and the like.

When the power went out at 5:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, we had just cooked a nice roast and were toasting our escape from storm damage. The wind was howling, but the temperatures were on the warm side and our basement was bone dry (one of the main reasons we love our home). Yet instinct had prompted us to charge our cell phones (no more landlines) for a couple of hours before the power went.

Suddenly, it was darker inside than outside. But night was falling and we were scrambling to check flashlights (thankfully, all four were working) and candle and matchbook supplies. Everything was in order for what we believed would be a short outage. During Tropical Storm Irene last year, we lost power for just three hours, so we were clearly spoiled.

Within an hour, the candles spread a mantle of dim, soft light on our den, our three neurotic dogs were curled up on available laps or the couch and we were just enjoying the opportunity to catch up on how the storm was developing and the state of the tedious election campaign. We found the whole scene calming and quiet.

But as the night wore on, we accepted the inevitable: The electricity was not going to return for at least a day.

As we climbed into bed with two of our three, four-legged comforters, I went to set the alarm and leave a lamp on. Nothing happened, of course.

The next morning I tried a cold shower but could not manage to wash my hair and allow that ice-cold water to run down my body. So I decided to forego the shampoo, and didn't shave either. My wife, who was too cold to shower, chose a sponge bath instead.

Once I was dressed, I realized that I had no place to go. Schools were closed so I couldn't sub; the Fairfield Museum was probably flooded, my other work outlet, the Fairfield U. Bookstore was closed, too. Nevertheless, I decided to venture out to find coffee -- my addiction in all kinds of weather.

That journey, past downed trees and power lines, with many hanging dangerously like long black threads, took me to my favorite spot, Doughnut Inn on Black Rock Turnpike. I had found Nirvana, and the line snaking around the corner of the building told me that 50 or 60 other caffeine addicts needed a fix too.

As the days without power increased and the cold showers and sponge baths became routine, we felt like pre-Edison pioneers, eating and reading by candlelight and reinforcing our connection as a couple. Were it not for the increasingly cold nights and semi-grungy feeling, we probably could have survived longer.

What became the most fun for us was listening by candlelight to a call-in program on WPLR, using a little crank-up radio that my wife had received for being a long-time member of a National Public Radio station. Every hour or so, the radio died and we had to re-crank it.

The sharing from all around the region was wonderful. Most callers, in fact, were grateful for their hot showers at storm shelters and commented that -- despite the storm stealing power for their tech toys -- families were actually talking with each other again.

"How quaint," I said to my wife one evening. "People actually have rediscovered conversation."

This experience reminded me about how much we take for granted. And I am grateful to the many families in our homeowners association who had power and kindly offered food, showers and their laundry facilities.

My greatest hope now is that this new appreciation of the little things will continue indefinitely.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.