DAVIS: Power outage reminds me of time a decade ago

By Brent Davis

A house filled with children is a house filled with noises, commotions and smells not found in other places. If at least two of the siblings are in the adolescent stage of development and within one year of age of each other, the clatter and constant drone created simply by their presence is at levels that make the decibel scale insufficient for measurement. Adolescents create noise simply by “being,” much similar to the way Pigpen creates dust just by standing still. It’s a law of nature. It can’t be stopped. You can only hope to contain it.
If any of the adolescents just happen to be boys, an invisible fog follows them wherever they go. However, this fog of odor remains enclosed as long as pants and shoes remain in place. In fact, the sweaty tennis shoe odor from a 16 year old boy is being studied by the Department of Defense as a non-lethal, environmentally-friendly alternative to chemical warfare. We all know it works. If you have ever been cooped up in a minivan with teenage boys on a road trip to Ohio, you know exactly what I mean. Simply opening the windows isn’t an effective method of eradication. Once the odor is free of its natural habitat, it latches onto the fibers of any available material like a chigger on an uncovered ankle. Febreze can’t touch it.
Three of our four children have left the fold. Of the two girls and two boys we have raised, only our youngest son remains to brighten the lives of Laura and me. As parents, we did our best to raise our older children well and watched as they charted their course into adulthood. Well, the ones that take after Laura went into adulthood. The ones that inherited the “goofy kid at heart” gene from their other parent will remain perpetually in a subconscious state of denial for the grown-up portion of their journey through life. They will have to fend for themselves. Being the kid-at-heart that I am, I ate the breadcrumb trail I set as my path back to reality. And, being a male, I won’t ask for directions.
Since 9 p.m. on Christmas night, the Davis abode has been sans electricity. We live out in the county, as they say, and have come to expect that anytime a squirrel walks across a nearby power line and stops to sneeze, we can expect to break out the peanut butter and cracker rations for several days.
The power company had been moving along the lines in our area with one of those circular saws on the end of a long hydraulic arm, slicing through tree limbs like that bad guy’s hat in the 007 movie. We had dodged the ball much longer than we ever expected. “Our power hasn’t gone out because they came out and did all that trimming.” we said to each other right around 8:59 p.m. Christmas evening.
We knew better than to utter such an obvious challenge to the electric gods. We had just spat into the wind. We had pulled the mask of that old Lone Ranger and we had messed around with Jim. A price was to be exacted and payment was called due in short notice. The last syllable of our foolish challenge was still floating on the warm, electrically-driven, natural gas heated air when all went dark.
Our slip of tongue was not to be ignored, nor would the consequence be confined to our humble home. As if to set an example to all other fool-hearty nose-thumbers, the electric gods set in motion a series of tree topplings that reached well beyond the confines of Saline County. Within hours, hundreds of thousands of people were cast into the cold darkness. What had been said could not be retrieved. The deed was done.
Laura, my wife, being the practical adult in our marriage, had made the determination following the “Great Ice Age of 2002” in the days after Christmas of that year that we should purchase a generator. A wise decision to say the least. And so, a Coleman Powermate 5000 became the newest piece of smart-minded outdoor power equipment to take up space in our garage for the next decade. We felt comfortable in our knowledge that if we were ever cast into the cold dark night of winter again, we would not shiver. We smiled in our wisdom.
And so, with power gone, it was time to fire up the Powermate. With confident stride, I pulled the engineering marvel out of the garage onto an open space on the driveway.
OK. Open the fuel line. Check. Move the carberator to full choke. Check. Flip switch to “On” position.
Hmmm. Is the “On” position set to the “I” or the “O” mark? I couldn’t remember. I assumed the generator was made for sale in several non-English speaking markets, hence they didn’t simply write “On” or “Off” next to the switch. “O” seemed too logical to be On, so I set the switch to “I.”
The fuel line posed a similar conundrum. There were no clear marking for open or closed; just a small tab to turn one direction or the other. Setting the choke was easy. An arrow pointed the way.
A quick tug on the rope is all that remained to free us from the darkness we had brought upon ourselves. It wouldn’t have been as bad as usual, but my in-laws had joined us for a family Christmas celebration. There was much more on the line than simply getting the generator started. My ability to provide for the safety and comfort of Marge and George’s little girl would be on display.
I pulled. Nothing happened. I tried every possible combination of non-English symbols, but to no avail. The first night was terrible. The chill of sub-freezing temperatures outside was tropical compared to the shoulder I experienced inside our home. Luckily, the Good Lord looks after those of his children who are without adequate sense. He sent a neighbor with another generator over to save us all. Well, everything was saved except for my pride, but I’ll survive.
So, what does all this have to do with smelly, noisy kids? Our family being confined into one room around a gas fireplace without a shower in a day or so brought those old smells and discussions back to the forefront of my memory.
I never in a million years thought I would have missed it either.
In a roundabout way, tempting the fate of the electric gods was a blessing in disguise. With a rap on the nose, of sorts, we received a better Christmas gift than we could have ever imagined. We were reminded how a child changed it all.