The first night of the storm

Did I tell you about the night of the storm?

We had eight major wind storms on the West Coast this winter starting in late October. One of them devastated Stanley Park, that truly wonderful piece of nature that some forward looking pioneer set aside in what became the centre of Vancouver.

On the first of these stormy nights, power was shut off to a great part of the Lower Mainland including our house. Nephew Hugh was working from home when all of a sudden, his connection to the Internet was cut.Both telephone and electricity were out!

Some slackards might have said, “Well, I can’t work anymore” but Hugh has a fine work ethic and so he began to phone around to his network of friends looking for an unaffected part of the city where he could go and continue on with his work. He’s a web programmer.

One of his university friends lives just six blocks away on the other side of the street. It was outside of our power grid and so he put his laptop in his backpack, put on a good wind and rain breaker and trod down to the other house to finish off his work day. It was just noon time.

Otto was also working from home. He phone in to his head office and went there, but not before ransacking the cupboard where the candles are kept for Christmas and for emergencies. He set them, at least one for every room in the upstairs and several along the mantle piece where there is a large mirror to help double up the light once the candles were lit.

I was at work and oblivious to all this bouleversement of everyone’s day until, at three o’clock, there was an announcement that those who lived out in the suburbs could go home early given the severity of the weather. That clued me in to the fact that the rain drumming on my plate glass office wall was no ordinary rain. I had much to do, but I gathered up and finished off the task I was doing, closed up my desk and put on my coat, scarf and boots.

When I got out the front door, I could see that my umbrella was going to do me no good. An umbrella in this weather was just going to whip me up into the heavens or pull me along the direction it wanted, not mine. I left it furled and stood huddled as far in as I could at the bus stop to prevent the whipping wind from driving rain onto me. When the bus arrived I dashed for the door and found I would need to stand the whole way home. Everyone had been dismissed early. The buses were full.

Halfway home, the power lines for the buses were out. We were unceremoniously ejected from the trolley bus, a wet and sodden mass of humanity, waiting for a gas powered bus to replace it. About a half dozen of us impatient people fumbled for our cell phones and called taxis. They too were overloaded and there were no promises when a taxi might come. By the time two more buses were parked behind ours, we were rescued by a replacement bus which was crowded to the ceiling with our damp woolen-covered bodies and it lumbered up the hill, far too heavy for its normal operation, slithering ponderously through the dark like an earthworm in its tunnel. All the street lights were out along this line and the way was only lit by the cars driving, snaking along this major artery. It was very eerie.

Finally, after an hour’s venture, I descended from the bus at my stop just a block away from home. There were lights on the other side of the street at the shopping centre, an area whose power grid was not yet down, which dimly lit our side of the street. I came home to a lifeless looking house with a weak wavering candlelight in the window. I fumbled my key into the lock by feel and entered, so thankfully home.

The mantle mirror was bravely doubling the light of motley candles upon it, but the room was still in gloom. Hugh had arrived just lately and greeted me, very relieved to see that I had made it home. He has a good heart, has our Hugh. He worries about me and though I pooh pooh it on the surface, I really love it that he has an honest concern for me.

We recounted our days and our travels home, then turned to what we might do for dinner. A flashlight in the fridge announced a number of things we could eat cold, but it was such a night that eating cold was not very attractive. The lights across the street encouraged us. Perhaps there was a restaurant that could provide us with some hearty fare and warm our spirits. We agreed to drive to a district with power to get ourselves a modest dinner. Later we could find a coffee shop to provide us with the biggest coffee one can take out so that we might have a hot coffee when we finally got home. Surely by morning the power would be restored.

Of course, I was worrying about Mother, Hugh’s Gran. Hugh had not seen her except when we were moving her to her nursing home several months ago. He had taken the brunt of her craziness when we came to the point of her needing long term hospitalized care. He had been staying home with her, trying to work from home, being driven crazy himself trying to meet her ever increasing needs while working – and it didn’t work. When it came to a crisis, Hugh was anguished, torn between his loving, nurturing nature and his rejecting reaction to her impossible demands. After all was resolved, the upshot was that he hadn’t wanted to see her.

Now, I could tell that Mother was deteriorating. She would not be around much longer. For Hugh’s peace of mind, he needed to see her and reconcile or he would always live with the anguish of his conflicting emotions about his grandmother who had been so wonderfully loving and supportive of him as well as the bane of his day to day at one particular moment of his life.

He agreed readily to come with me to see her, to bring her a flashlight in case she needed it, and for us to stay, if need be, if she were frightened by the dark.

After our cheery dinner at a not so distant Greek place which was thriving on the company generated by the storm, we went to Grandma’s residence. It was lit up like a Christmas tree, insouciant of the storm blowing around it. This section of the city had not been affected whatsoever by the power outages.

We found Mother dozing lightly on her hospital bed, slightly raised on the head end, pillows propping up her head and also at her feet, to improve her circulation, surprised and happy to see us.

“Hugh!” she exclaimed, her face lit with a spontaneous smile. She held out her two hand to clasp his face between them and he bent down to give her a kiss.

“Grandma!” he said, his fears about his reception by her forgotten, the love streaming from his Grandma dispelling them instantaneously. They stayed like that, he hovering just slightly above her face, she holding his in her two hands like a prayer fulfilled, for long few seconds while they drunk each other in.

“We were worried about you Grandma,” he said finally.”We came to see if you were alright.”

“Why wouldn’t I be alright?” she said puzzled.

“There’s a wicked storm out tonight. The electricity is out in most parts of the city. There’s no power at home. We’re working on candle power and flashlights.We would stay with you all night if you didn’t have any electricity. We wouldn’t want you to be afraid.”

“Oh?” she said. “I haven’t heard anything.” There was a quizzical upturn in her voice. “What kind of a storm.”

So we told her what our day was like and how Hugh had needed to find somewhere else to work and how I had come home in the storm.

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed, but it seemed to affect her as if we were telling a fairy tale.

We didn’t stay long after that. She had heard nothing, one of the few benefits of deafness, and was not worried. Everything seemed normal to her. She was tired and we suggested that we best should be guarding the home front where the alarm would no longer be working if the power were off.

“Oh, yes. You go now, ” she said, dismissing us in her fully confident matriarchal manner. “You get home safely and I’ll see you tomorrow. Everything’s fine here.”

So we left after just a short visit. Hugh was light hearted. It had made a pivotal difference in how he remembered his Gran. He was solicitous and concerned again for her. Truly he loved her deeply and this had gone a long way to reconcile his disaffection. Gran, on the other hand, was so forgetful of recent things that she had not noticed he had been away for such a long time from her. Any disagreements they might have had in their day-to-day when Hugh had stayed home for her had been lost to view. She just knew him and loved him as she always had, all the years of his life.

Hugh and I went home, lit many candles and sat in the living room together, our coffees lukewarm but comforting. We shared a crossword puzzle together, me reading the clues and filling in the blanks, Hugh supplying answers until my eyes gave out. Then we traded roles. It was soon time for bed so we went our separate ways in the profound darkness of the house. Profound silence, I should also say, with the computers off, the refrigerator too, and other various things that hum in the night as they operate.

For a woman with short memory problems, this was a night to remember. Almost daily, Mother would remind me that she had been thrilled that we would spend the entire night with her to make sure she would not be afraid. She told the tale at the dinner table. When visitors came, it was her latest news. It bore repeating and repeating.

“I lost all my worries when I knew they would stay all night with me,” she said, and she beamed proudly.

“Do you remember the night of the storm?”

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One Response to “The first night of the storm”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    Kay – Very true that the extremely aged are so self-absorbed, yet loving. Your mother set great store by demonstrations of affections from you all, and it seems her sense of self-worth late in life really hinged on feeling secure of her own importance in your daily lives – and she wished to constantly demonstrate her love and appreciation for the concern you and your family demonstrated toward her, at every opportunity. So we probably all wish to be dealt with when we find ourselves old, or infirm, or insecure and fearful.

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