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Snow stories: A boost from a night without power

With nearly two feet of snow on the ground and a shovel in hand on Saturday, I took a break from clearing the sidewalk to admire the blue sky and amber sunset. Maywood, one of Arlington’s oldest neighborhoods, appeared as I imagined it would have following a winter storm 100 years ago.

No cars. Neighbors trudging through the unplowed streets with their dogs. Kids playing in snow forts.

Just as my wife carried our five-month-old daughter out to measure her against the drifts and to make tiny snow angels, we heard a series of pops and saw nearby lights flicker and then go out. As darkness arrived, our neighborhood lost power and we realized that our night was probably going to be a lot more like it was 100 years ago.

A neighbor, Alison Davis-Holland, said she saw the bright blast of pink light that sent us all into darkness at about 6:30 p.m. Apparently a tree broke and tore down the power lines.

“It was as if someone shot a huge flashlight of pink light,” Davis-Holland said. “Then everything went down.”

read the rest of Josh White's story about life with no power--and tell your snow storm power stories....on the jump

No power obviously meant no lights. It also meant no heat in a house that does not have a fireplace, like ours.

We, like many people, completely take electricity for granted. As the snow fell Friday and Saturday, Nikki and I watched news reports on our television and lazily flipped through movies. We hopped on the Internet and used Skype to make a video call with our parents. The baby monitor allowed us to put Samantha in her crib, worry-free, for a nap. The refrigerator kept lunch cool while the furnace kept the house warm.

A native New Englander, I’m used to the snow and the cold and being without power. But also taking care of a baby in those conditions? It definitely added a level of concern when the lights went out.

Needing to get to work on Sunday, I finished digging the car out and promptly got stuck in the middle of our Maywood street, which had not yet seen a plow. Thanks to my neighbors who offered a helpful push, I was able to drive through our treacherous local streets and parked at a nearby supermarket close to major roads.

After the walk back home, we re-bundled Samantha in her snowsuit and winter cap. We heated some leftover chicken soup on the gas stove – using a BBQ lighter to get it going -- and boiled water for hot chocolate. We lit candles. We watched the thermostat dip to 65 degrees. Then 63. Then 61.

Not wanting to leave Samantha in a cold crib, we tucked her into bed with us at 10 p.m.. Our two cats, Marley and Bosox, soon joined. We kept warm, but sleep was elusive as we both kept checking on Samantha and her increasingly chilly cheeks.

In our darkened neighborhood, some people got together to stay warm, huddling around one neighbor’s wood stove and telling stories. Others went for walks or used the quiet time to chat by candlelight.

“It was great to have the place quiet, without the Internet and phone pulling me away,” said Lorne Epstein, who lives across the street and helped me free my car from the snow before meeting with neighbors to sit around a fire telling stories. “But I was very concerned that the power wasn’t coming on. We were trying to figure out what to do next.”

Epstein used his gas stove to heat the house briefly but thought twice because of the dangers. He placed chicken destined for a Super Bowl party out in the snow to make sure it wouldn’t go bad overnight; it turned into a frozen block by morning.

As temperatures outside dipped into the teens, temperatures inside Epstein’s house made it into the low 50s or below. “It felt really, really cold,” he said.

Our house, too, dipped into the low 50s overnight, and it felt like every gust of wind was dropping the temperature another degree or two. I was reassured every time a tiny right hand smacked me in the face; I assumed the lack of crying meant Samantha wasn’t too cold and wasn’t uncomfortable.

Shortly after sunrise, as we huddled beneath blankets and I gamed out how and when I could take a shower before work, the power came back on with a few buzzes and clicks, no doubt thanks to the tireless work of individuals with the power company who braved the cold to give us heat. My bedside clock flickered to life, warm air began blowing through a floor grate, and a light or two turned back on.

Samantha, seemingly on cue, let out a few cries for her morning feeding. It was time to get to work. Everything was back to normal, sort of. There was still the matter of two feet of unplowed snow in the street, the trek to my car parked a few blocks away, and a daunting drive downtown.

Others in my neighborhood were not so lucky, including some who were right next to the power line that broke and dangled in the street. Others throughout the region similarly were in the cold on Sunday, something I never again will dismiss as just an inconvenience.

For Davis-Holland, the morning brought an automated phone call from the power company asking if their power had been restored. It had not. She, her husband and their two children, walking around the house with winter hats and coats on in the frigid air, retreated to a friend’s place.

“Besides the inconvenience of the heat going off, it was all actually quite beautiful,” she said, recalling the 20 candles she and her family lit while sitting in their living room on Saturday night. By morning it was simply cold, but neighbors quickly warmed them. “We must have had a dozen offers to have us over for today and tonight. We’re having a family slumber party at someone else’s house.”

Tell us the story of what happened in your house or neighborhood when the power died because of the snow on the comment boards below....

By Josh White  | February 7, 2010; 4:32 PM ET
Categories:  Diaries, More on the story  
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