Being Prepared

As of today, the first day of winter, some people are still without power here in New England, knocked out by gusty winds and ice during the “worst ever” storm on December 11th. I’m so thankful ours was restored a couple days ago because this weekend’s 24-inches of snow would have added even more difficult variables – driving on slick roads to continue supplying gas for the generator and refilling water storage containers for the humans and animals. In hindsight, we were only semi-prepared. We had a generator, sufficient to power the entire house, if needed. Our food storage – dehydrated organic vegetables – doesn’t require refrigeration or a freezer. I also had a small amount of water for several days, as long as nobody used it to flush toilets. One flush takes 1 1/2 gallons – a ridiculous amount.

We also had an emergency bag set aside with flashlights, batteries, candles and lighters, as well as 24 LED battery tea-lights which I used on stairways, in bathrooms and along hallways as little “flight paths”, as we called them, to guide us through the dark. They’re powered by lithium watch batteries, reasonably priced when purchased in quantities.

I managed to avoid burning candles because, burning candles are highly toxic. Having them burning, hours on end, spewing out poisons into our airspace, is an added stressor I don’t need, nor do my children or pets.

My favorite flashlight was an LED head lamp – every member of the family should have had one, so I’ll be buying more – which allowed me to be hands-free, especially important when refilling the ever-hungry gas generator.

Where I fell far short of the mark was having an adequate supply of gas for the generator. We only had a few 1.5 gallon containers in our garage, most of them only half-full. The generator itself wasn’t ready – only about 1/4 of a tank, so with a husband out-of-town, it was up to my daughter and me to first clear a fallen tree, spanning the width of our driveway, before we could head out to Wal-Mart to purchase additional gas containers. Doing that, the morning on which 340,000 others are without power, means that all the larger containers were sold out. I felt fortunate to purchase the three remaining on a Wal-Mart shelf, bringing my total container number up to six.

Lining them up at the gas pumps, is one way to guarantee never winning a popularity contest. The moans of those lined up behind me were audible. “Oh, gawd, look at all those little containers.” Of course, there were the ever-helpful (not!) comments from those around me filling up 5-gallon and larger containers – “Those are cute little things. What are they? Purses?” Har. Har.

gas can pump While making one of my gas-runs, passing by a small mom ‘n pop hardware store – one I’d stopped in earlier in the day, only to find they were sold out of 5-gallon containers – now had them stacked in a towering display on their front porch. I wasn’t the only car making a a mid-road u-turn, racing for it.

I managed to sweep a 4-pack of the 5-gallon, plastic-wrapped bound tightly together containers, off the top without knocking the rest over, giving me a major sense of accomplishment. Since there was no way I was going to be able to rip the plastic open (they must embed invisible steel wiring in plastic wrapping now-a-days), freeing the two I figured I needed, I carried the entire 4-pack inside the store, figuring the check-out people could help me out.

Once inside, I discovered there was barely room to move. Flannel-shirted men were lined up five-deep in front of the old-fashioned counter which had three clerks behind it. Yet again, another hurry up and wait situation.

Determined I was not leaving without my gas containers, I lifted them above my head, squeezing in and making myself part of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. If there’s anything that flannel-shirted hardware store New England men like, it’s a little light-hearted banter. I’ve seen it enough times to know their first target is going to be anyone who is conspicuous. Clearly, that was me, the lone-female adorning her head with four plastic-wrapped, bright-red 5-gallon gas containers.

“Wow”, nudge, nudge, “there’s one with man-sized ones”, was the first opening shot across the bow from Man #1. “Ones”. Well, it could have been worse.

I’ve learned, like wayward children, bored hardware store men can be dealt with in one of two ways – ignoring or giving it back as good as they give. Growing up with a father who regularly practiced male-humour, this wasn’t strange new territory.

I answered, “You betcha. Teaching the husband a lesson. This is the last time he’ll sends me out to buy gas containers.”

Guffaw, guffaw. Back-slapping. They knew a thing, evidently, about the ways of some wives.

Another one turned to me and asked, “You really buying all of those?”, as he looked down at his one little, single, lonely 5-gallon gas container, obviously pondering whether he should buy more.

“Yahhhup”, I said in my best New England accent, “been using 1 1/2 gallon containers and I’m sick of constantly having to refill them.”

Guffaw, guffaw, and then sympathetic “Ooooooohhhhhh!’“s filled the room as they mumbled about how small gas containers were useless with generators and “just wouldn’t do, wouldn’t do at all”, and how smart it was to have bigger containers. Affirmation. I’ll take it.

They weren’t getting the type of reaction they wanted from me, so Man #3 gave it a try. “You know, they’re gonna be a lot heavier once you actually put gas in them.” Chuckle, chuckle, guffaw, guffaw. Now the back-slapping was in earnest. I felt like giving him a good slap myself and extra bonus points, because he had a good, valid concern. I was having a difficult time picturing me lifting a filled container over the generator, and then pouring. Cross that bridge later…..

“That’s yet another reason why God made men,” I answered, “to lift heavy things, so I’ll be remembering your faces and looking for you to help me out over at the gas station.” Truth is, I knew of another little station, next town over, that offers full-service for less money than the station they were talking about, and that included lifting gas containers in and out of vehicles.

Guffaw, guffaw, but also a little bit of blushing and head hanging along with a few comments, “Yeah, well, we gotta help each other, that’s for sure. She’s got that right.” Okay, I think that was one point for me.

Man #4 decided to throw in his .02. “So far, nobody’s throwin’ any blows over at the gas lines, but once you show up with those four, tempers are gonna flare. You’re talking about 20-gallons, there.”

“Ya think so?”, I asked, going for “sincere and concerned”, all the time wondering if he was driving one of the big gas-guzzling pick-ups parked out front – not too shabby when it came to holding up lines when being filled. “Are you heading over there, after you leave here?”

“Well, yeah, I am”, he said.

“Tell you what”, I said, maintaining the same tone of “genuine concern”. “I’ll hold your place in line for you right here – just hand me your purchases – and you head over there, right now, there ya go…..head on out…. to get a head-start on me”.

Biggest guffaw-maker of the day. One guy gave me a pat on the back, which, I’ve got to say, was much appreciated over a slap.

Smiling and winking, my nemesis said, “You know, that is a really good idea”, but concluded he guessed he’d just hold his own place in line, considering he was already ahead of me.

On that note, one of the owners of the hardware store waved to me – huge smile, twinkling eyes – and said, “I got a good idea. Get on up here, come on, come on, and let’s see if we can’t get you a head start on all these big mouths.” I took him up on that offer even if the whole bunch of them was mock-protesting. “Whiners”, I threw out at them, at which point they threw mock-boos (at least I think they were mock) back at me. I will be shopping at his store more often in less crowded times.

I departed, waving at my new “friends”, telling them I’d “try to hold a spot for them over at the station”, and was rewarded with their laughter and even a few more pats on the back. It made me feel like I was home, and the first thing I knew I wanted to do was watch Chevy Chase’s 1988 movie, “Funny Farm, the minute the power came back on.

It was especially good to see people dealing with the situation in a light-hearted manner, and yes, probably “blowin’ off” steam. There was nothing funny about the lines, or the difficulty in navigating from one location to another, but the fact that we were able to eventually find supplies, and that local stores were working hard to make sure people didn’t go without, was encouraging. On occasion, there were some folks who could have used a better outlook on life, but in general, if I was going to face a situation with thousands of other strangers, New Hampshire is a good place to do that.


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