Saturday, November 05, 2011

Pre-Halloween Nor'easter: Mother Nature Cooks Up Heavy Snow, Gusty Winds, and a Perfect Storm of Misery.

I returned home from Seattle -- to this!

My wife Barbara is smarter than I am. She stayed in Seattle a couple of weeks  longer to help care for our new grandchild number 10, a healthy baby girl, Talula.

Dumb me, on the other hand,  came back to our home in Worcester, Mass just in time for a vicious, ghoulish, October, pre-Halloween Nor-easter.

With Barbara still in Seattle,  I was home alone and unsupervised -- for me, never a good idea. My son Jon, always the adult, stepped up and assumed responsibility for me.

On the day the storm was to hit, I was due at his house for grandson Aidan's 9th birthday. "You don't want to be driving in this storm, " Jon said to me.  "Come down early and stay overnight.  It's the smart thing to do."

Good kid that I am, I do what daddy says.  By following orders, I avoided driving in the storm and enjoyed Aidan's party.  Instead of being in the middle of the storm, I was safely out of it at Jon's house in Berkley, Mass., which was barely touched.

But  radio and TV accounts said that  Worcester, where we live, was hit especially hard. A combination of high winds and  heavy, leaf-clinging snow had sent trees  toppling all over the city, crashing onto  roofs, snapping off utility poles, and causing  massive power outage. Talk about scary!

On Sunday afternoon, the day after the Saturday storm of October 29, I headed for home with heavy forebodings.  Approaching Worcester, the roads weren't bad and traffic was moving almost normally. Turning onto the hill to our home, I saw some trees down but no real damage.  Maybe it won't be so bad, I thought.

Then I turned the corner and saw our house.  It looked like the Nor'easter had zeroed in on it. The yard was a disaster.  A large limb was on the corner of the roof and a detached cable dangled from the house. Power lines were down on the front lawn. Tree limbs were everywhere.

In the entire neighborhood, our house was hit the hardest --  by far.

What did I do to deserve this?

That's what I was thinking in the photo above, with the mess behind me.  The photo was taken by a neighbor, who had come by to commiserate. I asked her to take a picture so nobody could say that I was making this up.

One of our two cars was imprisoned in the garage.  Thank goodness we have two cars. Garage openers are a great convenience but when the electricity goes out and you can't open the garage door, it's hell.  Just ask my neighbor Billy.  He had to smash his garage door to get his car out. 

Also, not surprisingly, no power.  It's amazing how much impact this has on your life. Suddenly, just like that, your home is no longer livable.  It is dark, cold, and eerily silent.  The telephone, TV, internet, and refrigerator are all dead. I couldn't call anyone or watch the news or listen to the radio or read or check my e-mail. All I can do  is sit there shivering and feeling miserable.

No way was I going to spend the night alone in that house. I got in the car and made a beeline for my sister Ruby's house in Oxford.  But she didn't have electricity either.  So the two of us ended up at her son Glen's house nearby, who by some miracle did have power.

On Glen and Patty's front landing, I stood with droopy shoulders and sad, imploring eyes. In a lost-soul voice, I said, "I'm cold, hungry, alone, afraid, and don't know what to do. Can you help?"

"Come in," Patty said with a laugh.

I was just in time for supper. (This is something I am good at.)  Patty had made a veggie stew and she and hubby Glen, their two kids, Logan and Julianna, my sister Ruby, and I sat down to a hot, delicious, freshly-made meal and the warmth of family and the heady power of electricity.

Hey, this is like a party," Julianna said with a big smile.  She was having a ball.

That night, Ruby slept on the couch upstairs.  I slept on the couch in the family room downstairs. Warm, with family, having had a good meal and some laughs, I slept like a baby.

The next night  I slept at Ruby's house.  Though she still didn't have electricity, Glen got her pellet stove going and it was enough heat. Ruby adopted me. I began calling her Mummy.

During the day for two straight days I was at home cutting and lugging limbs and branches out into the street. The pile is shown in the photo above.  I didn't mind the work. Actually, as demented as it may sound, I enjoyed it.  Hard physical work and I are made for each other.

Just when I was ready to take on the big limb on the roof and the detached cable, my neighbor across the street, Jeff, came to my rescue. Perfect timing!  I know nothing about electricity and I wasn't about to touch that cable.

"It's dead," Jeff said.  He's a versatile handyman.  And he proceeded to attach the cable.  Then he figured out how to get the limb off the roof without hitting the power lines -- and got up on the ladder and got the job done. I held the ladder.

The big tree limb that we got off the roof was left hanging harmlessly away from the house. We had done enough for one day.  Later I would get up there on a ladder and saw it down.  That was my plan anyway until Tom, a neighbor across the street,  knocked on my door.

"Don't you go up there to try to get that big branch down by by yourself," he said, wagging a forefinger at me. "I'll come over with my ladder and we'll do it.  It's too dangerous by yourself."

"I won't," I said meekly.

Tom, a young strapping fireman, wanted to save an elderly neighbor from hurting himself.  You know, I tend to forget that I am old. Tom was doing me a favor by reminding me.  Tomorrow is Sunday and Tom is home.  I'll go over and ask him to help me. I have no pride.

On the morning of the third day, I arrived home to discover -- drum roll-- electricity! I was no longer homeless!  I could watch the news on TV!  I could read!  I could live!  Well, not quite yet.  It took me two more days to get on the internet and only after repeated calls to Charter Communications and frustrated dealings with recorded voices.

I felt human again.

Now I was worried about my brother Vic, who lives in Sturbridge, which had been hit much harder than Worcester.  I called and left messages and got no reply.  So I drove over to his place. When I pulled into his driveway, there he was, out in the yard cutting fallen limbs with a chainsaw.
"You're alive, Vic," I said.

"Yeah, but it's a disaster. Trees and wires are down everywhere and still no electricity."

He said he had been spending his nights with his companion, Marianne, in her home in Northboro.Vic is shown below with a big pile of wood from fallen trees.
He said that the initial outage in Sturbridge was 100 percent. As Vic spoke, out of 4,718 National Grid customers in Sturbridge, 2,902 of them were still without power, according to that morning's Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

And some without family or friends to offer them a place to sleep  were holing up in motels and hotels, when they were lucky enough to find a vacancy. Lots of residents in Sturbridge were running out of both money and patience, as this sign on a neighborhood tree makes clear.

"When do you expect to get it?" I asked Vic.

"They're not saying," he said shaking his head in disgust.

"Is the city going to pick up all these limbs and brush?"

"No. We're talking about notifying the fire department and getting a bunch of us together and having us a big bonfire."

"Good idea.  You could make a party of it."

Vic also said that he didn't mind the work. "Actually, I enjoy it."

Where have you heard that before? Must be in the genes.

Vic said that, all in all, he was lucky; he had no damage to his house.  He led me to where we could see his neighbor's house, pictured above. A huge tree had crashed onto the roof.  "I don't have that."

Nor is that cruel old Mother Nature going to take away one iota of the happiness that Barbara and I feel about grandchild number 10, Talula, out there in Seattle.  She is new living proof that life will and must go on and no freak, pre-Halloween Nor-easter is going to change that.

So let me now put that Nor-easter behind us and celebrate  the birth of Talula, through a few photos.

So long and keep moving.

P.S. Look for my new E-Book, below.

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