Down to One Last Charge

Eight days! Stuck behind a mountain of snow. Our prize oak tree split and embedded in our car, stranding us. We were down to one charge on one power pack for one phone (our only lifeline) when power was restored.

Imagine no power for eight days. In the mountains that means no heat, water, lights, or flushing toilets. Oh, we had enough food. I went shopping two days before the storm as did everyone else in the area. I was standing, resting my elbow on my shopping cart’s handle, when a woman in another endless checkout line yelled, “It better snow!” 

It did. Feet of it. It was enjoyable, big fluffy flakes softly piling up on our deck, until a tree demolished our car, and the power went out. After that, we had no way out, nor did our neighbors. We have an excellent wood-burning iron stove and dry wood. We could light our gas stove with matches, but not the oven. We had headlamps, and lanterns of all sorts. Batteries for the ages. Puzzles. And a massive goose-down comforter in the unheated bedroom. We believe the ambient temperature of sheetrock to be forty-four degrees.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know my most recent book Unbecoming a Lady takes place in 1876. That’s where we lived for those eight days. It’s tough. But what I learned is this, it can be done. It takes some reorientation, for sure. On the first day, you figure out what is essential, and how to operate all while praying that the power comes back on. You overuse your phone because it is your only point of contact with the outside world. And, in our case, the only way to file the insurance claim on our destroyed car. Oh, for a horse and sleigh like those used in Cora’s little prairie town of Wanee.

Then you get the endless emails from PG&E telling you they are on site and the power will be up Monday … no Wednesday … no Friday.

As time went on, we ate the food from the freezer in the order it thawed. We ate pretty darn good. One night we dined on coconut shrimp and dim sum. Way better than Cora’s winter mainstays of storage vegetables and salted meat.

We lived Cora Countryman’s life for over a week minus the three-story house to clean and the boarders to feed that define her days. Hard, all-consuming work. All your attention turns to staying warm, clean, and fed. You get up in the morning and light the fire, boil water to make pour-over coffee, scramble eggs, and fry bacon. Forget the toast. Then you gather fresh snow for your coolers and dump water in the toilet tanks until they flush. You melt snow and boil it to wash yourself and the dishes. Put fresh batteries in where needed. Shovel a path through the snow to the wood pile. Then shovel it again. Pull out the old laundry drying rack and set it by the fireplace, so everything is dry for the next day’s shoveling. You get the idea. And when it gets dark huddle around the fire with your puzzle. Then repeat.

My husband and I finished the puzzle, headlamps on our heads. It is striking how well we adapted to life without television, streaming, phones, lights, toilets, running water, and a microwave. Perhaps because games were played outside when we were kids, the telephone was tethered to the wall, and the television was a small square box with three channels. This isn’t to say that we didn’t delight when the microwave went diddle-diddle-dee, happily letting us know the power was back on.

Now, like Cora, I wonder how her mother found time to play Whist three days a week. And I have a deeper understanding of her day-to-day life. Now to write a wintertime mystery!

3 thoughts on “Down to One Last Charge

  1. Fun story! I remember all of that when I was growing up in a remote county. We would often be without power for days. It’s amazing how we can adapt when need be. Thanks for the memories!


  2. What a fascinating article! And how well you detail all you with through with humor and your innate cleverness. Your sentence about the oak tree really hit home with me. I’m sure you will mourn its loss for years to come. When I was a child in south Florida, we lost our beloved avocado tree, and seeing it laying there with its bare roots exposed to the world was one of the saddest sights I can remember of my childhood. Of course, if our car had been crushed underneath it would have added to the trauma. Anyway, glad you are better and hope this experience spurs you on to more Cora stories. She just is the most unique and readable protagonist I’ve met in a long time!


  3. I love this. Our power hasn’t gone out for any length of time in over 30 years (our lines are below ground), but I remember well storms during my childhood that meant extra blankets, flashlights, and lots of sandwiches (an electric stove). We lived through it worrying about the pipes and huddling close to the dog. Now you have a great setting for another story.


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