In addition to blowing out my hair, our lawn chairs, the flower boxes and a handful of shingles from the rooftop, our Herculean wind, blasting January through March across our mountaintop home, never forgets to tick off the last item on its ‘to-do’ list as a parting gift: it blows out the power.
I think of myself as a fairly prepared wanted-to-be Girl Scout, who, when throwing any kind of a dinner party—elaborate or no fuss—will write check lists in triplicate to make sure nothing is overlooked. Except it’s impossible to identify that one thing you overlooked when you’re looking at your list in the dark.
It happens with enough regularity to set a clock by, barring the fact that the timepiece I set repeatedly flashes twelve o’clock because the power has gone out yet again.
There’s nothing that ruffles my feathers more than the sound of silence where there was once the humming of my oven, six pots burbling on the stove top, Diana Krall crooning from the speakers and the tinkling of silverware as the table is decorated.
In its place is the, “Oof!” from my husband, falling up the stairs from the wine cellar—arms loaded for bear, the crash of glassware as my son who’s table setting loses sight of his work, my daughter’s cry of unheralded alarm at the loss of “IRRETRIEVABLE RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM FIELD THEORY RESEARCH!!” as she sits in front of a dark computer screen and a cackle buried deep within the roar of the demonic wind.
It is now that I consider the repercussions of snagging one of the bottles of wine still rolling down the hallway and heading straight for the comfort of my closet where I will shimmy out of whatever dreadful outfit I forced myself to wear for the evening and slip back into one of the umpteen pair of nonjudgmental-ever-forgiving yoga pants I own. I will curl up in a corner and if I’m truly lucky, find the wine bottle has a screw cap; otherwise, I’ll be forced to dig out shredded bits of cork with the back of an earring. (It’s been done before.)
Knowing I will never be forgiven if I pull that stunt, I take a deep breath, and use my mind’s eye to survey the damage in front of me. I’ve got hungry people coming to dinner and a dinner unfit for feeding said hungry people. And very shortly those folks will be arriving in front of an eerily dark house, believing they’ve got the wrong day, or we’ve changed our minds and went to bed early.
Just to add an element of apoplexy to my frenzied state, I remember my mother is staying with us, recuperating after some minor hand surgery, but so hopped up on Percocet, she continually mistakes me for either one of the servants from Downton Abbey or an old walnut armoire from her childhood bedroom. She will be trying to make it down the stairs solo or may have locked herself in a closet, believing it to be an elevator. If I don’t get to her straight away, I will soon find her at the bottom of the stairs needing substantially more Percocet.
Unfortunately, she’ll have to wait as I see a pair of headlights inching up the unforgiving driveway. Time’s up. Where the hell is my Plan B?
I hear my husband stub his toe on one of the spinning bottles and shout at the poor dog who’s announcing the arrival of our guests. I hear my despondent teen scientist sobbing at her desktop. And I hear my table setter holler, “Mom? Power’s out! Where are the candles?”
This last phrase is one that has repeatedly sent shivers down my spine. After every power outage I swear I will create a system of preparedness: memorable locations for flashlights, candles, matches and a corkscrew. And each time … I remember that sworn oath after the next power outage.
“In the apothecary chest,” I call back.
“I can’t remember.”
I wait for it …
“WHAT?? WHICH DRAWER, MOM?”
Nobody sees me shrug in the dark, or cringe with self-loathing. I turn to speak in the direction of my young Marie Curie. “Please go help your brother find the candles.”
I can feel the rancor as she fumbles past me and know that it will mix with the already present hefty dose in the dining room. Nobody wants to search the apothecary chest. It has nearly one hundred drawers.
At last the blessed generator kicks on. It waits—an irritably long time—just to make sure that it’s truly needed, and that we aren’t simply testing circuits, or replacing fuses, or god-forbid seeing if it’s paying attention and ready to go.
Sadly, it’s too expensive to have the whole house wired to it. I remember the hot July day we had to pick and choose what we thought absolutely essential to have hooked up to the juice. Who needs heat? We laughed. Lights? Just the kitchen so we can find the marshmallows which we’ll cozily roast over our roaring fire. Microwave? Sure! We’ll make popcorn! Okay, that’s it, generator guys. Thanks for comin’ by and helping us ‘prepare for the worst’.
Idiot, idiot, idiot.
I hear peals of laughter from the front hall where my husband must have greeted our guests. I hear my mother introduce herself as Hyacinth Bucket from her favorite BBC series. I look at my no longer burbling pots on the stove and sigh.
Then I peek into the dining room to see the mellow glow of firelight on wood, candles covering every surface and effusing the room with a spellbinding sentiment. I squeeze my children and whisper thank you.
Someone comes up behind me for a hug, hands me a bottle of wine and sniffs the air. “Mmm …What’s for dinner?”
I laugh. “Popcorn, marshmallows …” I look down at the bottle of Merlot and smile at the screw cap, “And wine.”