It Was the Silence . .

It was the Silence . . .

By Deborah Davis

© 2011
Chapter 1

A Quiet Saturday Morning

It was the silence that wakened me – the silence and the heat. It had been so hot and humid that summer that the air conditioner and fans were running non-stop. Now, shortly before dawn, in late August, there were no fans, the air was quiet and still and it was dark. There were no lights anywhere, and no sounds, not even the refrigerator.

“Denny! Wake up! The power is out and we need the generator!”

My husband growled as he rolled out of bed. He wasn’t the most communicative man, but he was loyal and responsible. I opened the windows in hopes of a breeze but there was not a hint of air stirring in the quiet. I grabbed my cell phone to call the electric company, but received only silence.

“Honey!” Denny called from the bathroom, “there’s no water either!” So, I moved quickly to the electrical box and turned off the power to the hot water. I had learned from prior experience that if it was on when the power returned without water, I would be replacing elements in the water heater.

Since I was ready for power outages (after all I lived in rural Ohio), I headed for the basement and grabbed the camp coffeemaker. I got it ready (with bottled water) so at least we would have coffee. Denny came into the kitchen and asked what the power company said, so I explained that there was neither phone service nor cell service. I think he was glad I could hand him a cup of coffee!

As we adjusted the appliances to plug them into the generator, we discussed the outages. While I quietly thanked God for living in an area where preparedness was a way of life, Denny ranted and raved about the idiocy that couldn’t keep the utilities running. He plugged his computer into the generator and advised me that the internet was down as well. That was no surprise to me since we didn't have phone service. I suggested he go out and learn what he could while I did chores and made breakfast.

While he was gone, I went to feed the animals. The fan in the feed shed was quiet. The pigs were not. I had to smile at the noses pushed through the fence. The pigs frequently made me smile. Despite the noisome odor, I thought they were cute, and funny. They had such personalities. I loved them from piglet to plate and everyone teased me about it.

The light was off in the chicken coop. During daylight it didn't matter, but if we didn't have power by evening, I needed to have one of the children close up the coop to keep predators away. Still, with five eggs this morning, the chickens were worth protecting.

The horses were agitated. I suspected it was because there was no radio. Denny laughed at me for playing a radio for the horses, but it did seem to keep them calmer. Nellie was my big mustang mare, and she would let us handle her and ride her. Chocolate was another mare we had collected, and was not as friendly as Nellie, but was coming around to me.

As usual, the cats and dogs only cared that I was there to feed them. As I counted noses of the growing beef steer, I talked to the animals about the power outage. The storms last night had been no worse than usual. I noticed their water was low and wondered when the water had stopped. Well, hauling water was work for children, not for Mom!

Returning to the house, I started my routine Saturday breakfast ritual -- fresh eggs scrambled with our own sausage and covered with shredded cheddar cheese, biscuits made from scratch (OK, so I plugged the toaster oven into the generator to bake them), and locally grown honey. I loved Saturday breakfast!

I called the children to the table though Denny had not returned. I went to try to call him, but the silence on the line reminded me of the lack of phone service. The children grumbled into their seats, making me chuckle at the predictable behavior.

Celia was fourteen now, and knew everything. She was too big for cuddles, but not too big to hug now and then. She was a bright girl with an impish streak and a princess personality who was stuck with a tomboy Mom. Poor kid. Entering ninth grade at the local high school, her world revolved around her friends, and the desperate need to belong. This morning, she was complaining about the heat and that fact that her cell phone was not working.

Donny was only ten. Everything was fun to him and he was ready to try it all. He was a big fifth grader now; he had finished his Arrow of Light in Cub Scouts and crossed over to Boy Scouts in late spring. He was fresh from his first year at Boy Scout Summer Camp and wanted more. In many ways, he was a typical country kid, into everything outdoors and seldom serious or ambitious. Still, he was young enough to let Mom tuck him in at night and still gave kisses and cuddles on occasion.

I explained that the power and water were out and we did not even have cell service or internet. As expected, Celia was all about the communications -- what about friends, what about school, what about . . . . Donny thought it was a great adventure and promptly asked if he could go hiking and camping since there wasn't anything else he could do any way.

The excitement faded when I explained they would be hauling water for the animals and helping move all the freezer food into one freezer with me. Groans quieted for grace, and silence reigned as they dragged through the meal, delaying the bucket brigade that would water the calves, the horses, the pigs, and any other chores I had for them.

I loved letting them sleep in on Saturday, at least for a little while. They had to get up so early during the school week to help me feed the critters before they went to school. Even though they were on summer break for a few more days, I had started the school week routine this week to prepare them for the shock of an alarm clock.

Sometimes, I went to school, too -- as a substitute teacher. While I loved teaching, I had no desire to do it full time, but subbing was fun. Denny's job as a correctional officer at the local prison and our military retirements made enough for us to live on, so my subbing just made things a little easier.

I let the dogs lick off the plates and stacked them for washing when the water returned. The children headed out for the water detail, and I started stuffing one refrigerator with the contents of two others so everything would be more energy efficient. I grabbed a five gallon bucket and filled it for the pigs as I worked.

Sure enough, the children returned -- hot, sweaty, and grumbling about the chore. I was just glad that we had put an old cracked septic tank in the ground for groundwater seepage. I wouldn't want to drink it, but it would keep the animals going for a while. Despite the grumbling, they helped me finish the refrigerators and do the same to the freezers.

Donny took the bucket to the pigs while Celia cleaned up with a jug of water and a wash-cloth. As she finished, Denny returned, and I met him with a bottle of juice and some leftover eggs that I warmed when I heard the truck.

He was shaking his head. "There is no power, anywhere. I checked the next three nearest towns. I stopped and talked with a few people. No one has cell service; no one has power; no one has water. More importantly, no one knows why. I went to the water people, and they said they hope to have generators running soon, but it may not provide water service to everyone. The folks at the prison are running on generators and ham radio communications. This is not good."

“I also stopped down at Roy’s Gun Shop and he is sitting there guarding the place. I’ll go back later and give him a break. Without an alarm system, he doesn’t want to leave the place unattended.”

Donny came into the room, cranking an emergency radio he had gotten for a recent birthday. "Mom?" he said, "Why can't I get any stations on this thing? Even the weather channel isn't working!" He leaned against his father's chair and Denny took the radio for a few minutes to no avail.

"How about this? We clean out a place in the basement, and run an extension cord to a TV and DVD player and watch a movie down there? At least it would be cool," I said, wiping the sweat from my face with a kitchen towel. I then added the catch -- the children could pick the movie if they could agree on a movie. I should have recognized then that drastic changes were in store when they didn't argue, but quickly found one and set up a place to watch.

Chapter 2

A New School Year – sort of

We made it through the weekend, no church on Sunday. There was still neither power nor water. We were all wondering about Monday, the first day of school.

We decided Sunday was a good day to rearrange some stuff to keep us in the basement. The unrelenting heat meant some escape had to be found. We pulled out some more camp gear and set up tents inside to grant a modicum of privacy. We refilled the empty bathroom jugs from the groundwater so we could at least use the toilets.

Denny went out again to see if he could learn anything. This time he took my little car instead of his big truck, but loaded all the gas cans in case he could find a working station. We had reduced the power load on the generators to one refrigerator and one freezer, but I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to keep them going.

He left for a while and came home late with one piece of information that was incredibly valuable. There was nothing open and no power anywhere. The newspaper office was closed. The churches were closed. Even WalMart was closed! He did, however, find one helpful person. Our local mechanic and his brother owned the gas station across from the auto shop, and the brother had been siphoning his own fuel from the big tanks at the station. He let Denny fill all our gas cans and the car in exchange for boxes of ammunition Denny had taken with him to trade. So, we had about 50 gallons of fuel for our generators. That would last quite a while, but we didn't have a clue as to how long we might need it.

Then Denny took off to help Roy. He came back fairly soon and loaded up all of us to go help secure the gun shop inventory. We loaded up most of the inventory into a semi-truck trailer, and Roy drove it up to his home. His wife and little girl were at the house, her parents and siblings and their children had moved in, and the generators were running full blast. He gave us some of the emergency food supplies for our work, though we insisted it wasn’t needed or wanted. We assured him that when the power came back on we would return to help him put the shop back in order.

On Monday morning, I dropped Denny at the prison and took the children to school. High school opened first, so we went straight there. The Superintendent of schools was there with a big piece of poster board and a black marker.

I asked him if we could have the children's books and things from their rooms so we could study at home. He said that I should watch the sign, if they had a set time for everyone to meet, he would post it. As I argued the point, more parents, teachers, students, and staff arrived. Finally, he caved.

"The Principals have the keys. Staff enters first; teachers will go to the rooms to hand out assignments and books, and then students with parents may enter to retrieve what they need. The buildings need to be entered, exited, and locked within one hour!" he announced.

We followed the Principal into the High School, grabbing all Cece's books and things from her rooms and checking with her new teachers about assignments. We piled her things into the car, leaving her to chat with friends while I took Donny to the Middle School for his things. His Scoutmaster was there with more of the boys, including his twins, Buck and Chuck. Their real names were Bernard and Charles, but they had apparently been Buck & Chuck since infancy. I chatted with Mr. Stevens while the boys gathered their things.

Mr. Stevens had served in the military as well, and was a great Scoutmaster to the boys. His dedication to his family, his church, and the troop gave the boys a solid foundation in leadership as well as a fine role model. He was concerned that the power failure was bigger than just our corner of the Midwest, but getting news was nearly impossible. We agreed to try to meet in the picnic shelter at the old schoolhouse for the troop meeting on Thursday. The troop normally met in the old schoolhouse, but we felt we could not count on access.

When we collected Celia, we shared with the other parents that we were meeting for the Scout meeting later that week, and suggested we all try to gather together then. After that, we headed home.

I set the children up at the kitchen table in the basement for "school-time" and insisted they study. When the whining stopped, they opened books and notebooks and settled into working. We took breaks through the day, and I answered more questions than I thought I could have remembered. We even dug out the old encyclopedias for information we would normally have sought on the internet.

Chapter 3

And Still it was Silent

As the day continued, I was still in awe of the silence. In some ways, when I was outside, it reminded me of the weeks after 9/11 when there was no aircraft flying. Here again, there was nothing with an engine flying anywhere. It was weird.

I was turning off the generator for a while every few hours. The only thing it was running was fridge and freezer, but I wanted to preserve the energy as long as possible. When the generator was off, the quiet was intense. Still, we were adapting. I was, however, getting a bit concerned about laundry. At this point, all I could do was hope we had water and power before it was an urgent situation.

I'm afraid I was not keeping good track of time, and I realized I was going to be late getting Denny when the dogs started barking. As I went to investigate, I saw my husband walking across the lawn. I went to see what was happening, and he explained he had gotten a ride to the bottom of the driveway. He further explained that they were going to start consolidating the prisons if power didn't return shortly.

The Prison Warden had been to a meeting in Columbus with all the other wardens. They had determined to implement the civil disaster plan. As of this point, they were using ham radio to communicate, and could find no one with power, nor any reason why the power grid had failed. Through the ham radio system, they had learned that the problem was not just local, or statewide, but at least nationwide.

In many places, there was a lot of looting. People in cities were unprepared to survive in place for any length of time. Denny insisted that we prepare to defend our home and our stockpile. He sat down with the children and explained the gravity of the situation.

All I could do was pray. I thanked God over and over that we were basically healthy, and that my couponing had resulted in such a healthy stockpile for us. What we could not imagine is what our relatives and friends were going to do.

That evening, we gathered all our stockpile items from the shed and the barn, and started rearranging the basement. We had started to finish it the previous winter and the only complete room was the bathroom. That, however, was the most important one!

We went out into the cattle pasture and horse field and pulled in all the 55-gallon drums we had left out there for the animals to play with and set them to collect rain water. Then, we started re-aligning the fences to bring all the animals a bit closer to the house, and set dog runs around the outside of the critter fences, so the dogs could patrol the fence-lines and alert us of any intruders. We moved the big kitchen fridge to the basement as it was more energy-efficient, and moved pots and pans and the big stove down as well. We moved our mattresses into our tents and put away the cots. At his insistence, we continued to let Donny sleep on the camp mat in his sleeping bag. Of course, this didn’t happen in one afternoon or evening, but the children and I worked during the day, and Denny helped every evening.