First there was Hurricane Sandy, with rain chattering on the skylights. Nothing was really scary except the howl of wind and slam of branches flung against the windows during the height of the storm.
But we were fortunate, with a generator and as soon as the power went off, that big piece of equipment cranked up and like magic, we had electricity, which meant lights, stove, refrigerator, hot water for showers, and a working washing machine.
We were one of the lucky ones. About 87% of Westport’s population was without power.
Monday and Tuesday, the two days the hurricane knocked down trees and the storm surge inundated beach neighborhoods, the temperature was pretty warm. We were living easy. Cooking dinners, eating by candlelight, for the ambiance, not to see through the blackness of night.
Then it began to get colder.
And tonight, Thursday, at about 9:30, the generator abruptly shut off. At my computer, I sat stunned. Nothing was visible, as I tried to locate a telephone in the pitch black that surrounded me. I tripped on Maury’s shoes while I felt my way from wall to wall. I’d been all set to be comfortable and live the good life with the generator.
Until I located a flashlight, I actually felt what it was like to be blind. This stumbling around wasn’t part of the plan.
Maury came home from his tennis game a few minutes after the power went off. I immediately called our electrician, who had installed the generator, on my almost dead iphone. My calls went to his voice mail. Not good. With flashlights, Maury and I walked through the pachysandra and the tall boxwoods by the house and lifted up the heavy generator top. A red light indicated that the oil level was LOW. In cars I always ridiculed what I called idiot lights, but I’d say that this was a good idiot light.
By the light of six candles on the dining room table, we read the manual for the 16 kW generator and found the type of oil that we needed to add, to bring it up to the full line. I phoned my father to see if he had SAE 30, and, of course, he did – a whole case. I said I’d be right over and to please put the outside light on for me.
When I arrived, the overhead garage door was open and he had two quarts of oil ready for me. I profusely thanked him for the oil and left to drive the two and a half miles home.
As soon as I arrived, Maury and I walked outside to the silent generator, carrying the two quarts of oil. We carried a flashlight, funnel and paper towel as well. I opened the oil. Fortunately it had a twist off top and didn’t need a can opener to open it.
“I’ll get the switch,” Maury said, and pushed the toggle switch to the off position. He pulled out the dip stick and removed the cover where the oil was to be poured.
“Will you hold the light,” I asked.
“Sure,” he said. “Do you have the funnel supported?”
“Yes, it’s secure,” I said, and I carefully poured the oil in the funnel.
We did this over and over, until we’d put in a quart and a half, frequently measuring the level of oil by checking the dip stick. The directions had warned against over filling.
When the oil was at the full line, we jointly exhaled, relieved that soon the generator would be ready to burst into strength again.
We replaced the dip stick and oil cover on the generator, flipped the switch to auto and jumped back, as the unit surged on.
“Yay,” we said simultaneously, and turned to grin at each other.
Finally, we replaced the generator top and fastened it down. We had springs in our steps as we marched up the front stairs to the house, now blazing with light.
When we stepped into the entry, carrying the remaining oil we hadn’t needed to get the unit working, the phone rang. My father wanted to know if the generator was now functioning. I felt so excited, telling him that it was on. It was as if I’d just returned from a fabulous, celebratory event.