The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Our Need for Power

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I awoke this morning to the dim morning light drifting through the gauzy white curtains of the living room. I shivered in the cold and pulled the covers tighter. Then I remembered it was garbage day, and there were dirty diapers in the garbage can. I debated whether to get up but thought about that smell, so I jumped up and put on my pants and shoes and collected the garbage. I walked down the short steep curving driveway and tossed the bag against the hillside of Jacob’s property, and away from the errant wheels of cars coming down the hill. I am always afraid that some driver might take delight in hitting that garbage bag sending poop into the air just as I recall a memory of a driver deliberately swerving to hit one of our barn cats who was crossing the Slatelick Road. I still remember the shock and anger as I watched helplessly from the porch of the farmhouse with Jacob on my lap. He was too young to see or understand what had happened or notice the now lifeless cat. I have never forgotten those few moments, but does that driver ever think about that event? I submit that he/she does not even remember; through the years I have heard too many comments from those cat haters. As I placed that garbage bag, I looked down across the roofs of the houses below and up the street. There were no lights in the houses; there was only the beginning light of the day punctuated with the occasional set of headlights of a car coming down this one-way street. I walked quickly back up the driveway and into the house where it suddenly seemed warm after the chill of the outside air; still, I climbed back under the covers. I looked at my phone for any messages at 6:20 AM. Nothing. I sent Cary a text asking if the electric had come back to Cowansville. She returned my text with a yes; she added that the phone worked, but the Internet was off. She said Roy was calling Windstream. I knew how that was going to go; I am more computer literate and have a more than rudimentary understanding of the modem operation than Roy, but I dread those calls and the utter waste of time to reach the point where they put in a work order. If only they would listen to me and skip to putting in a work order.

Last night my grandson and I sat watching television (I watched while he slept). The television clicked and went off; the lights did not hesitate in their brightness at all though. I pressed the remote power button, and my show returned. The wind blew outside, and the rain hit the metal porch roof. Roy would describe this weather as wolfish, very apropos weather for March 1st. I enjoyed the sound of the wind; perhaps it was the comfort of feeling safety inside four walls and beneath a roof, a safety not felt by those people who sleep in tents pitched beneath the bridges of Pittsburgh. I enjoyed the wind and the slapping sounds of the plastic roll-up blind hung on the porch and now loosed from its rope constraints. It blew and curled around itself and struck the metal roof over and over again with each breath of the wind. I should have fixed the blind when I realized the rope was not wound around it, but now it is too late. Pieces of the slats are laying in the yard and in the driveway. Many of the remaining slats are bent at odd angles and will not return to their straight-arrow lines. I enjoyed the chime sounds of the metal washer suspended on a string striking the different lengths of metal pipes on the hand-made wind chimes hanging on Jacob’s porch. They are the handicraft of my father-in-law. I did not appreciate them as I should have when he first made them. We hung ours in the trees a distance from the house that made them sing too far away to appreciate their songs. Does my father-in-law know that I have developed a greater appreciation of his work? I guess it is just personal taste whether you are soothed by such sounds; in those western movies, the howling of wolves (wolfish sounds) in the distance strikes fear. A visitor to our house once asked how we could stand the noise of the frogs croaking in our small pond? I think I never noticed them or enjoyed them until she mentioned it. They had been taken for granted as just a part of living in the country near a body of water. I have enjoyed the sound of the trains passing on the tracks below Jacob’s house even though I once complained about the noise of them passing beside an apartment we were renting. As my grandson and I sat rocking slightly, the sirens were screaming on the streets below. They sounded over and over, so I looked out the windows and saw red lights flashing a block below Braddock Avenue. The sky looked strange in the direction of downtown. Suddenly the house went dark except for the electronic light of the computer and cell phone. I waited for those on-off, on-off flashes hoping this was just a hiccup in power. Nothing; lights out. Where were my flashlights? Then I remembered that triad of flashlights I bought last year; they are gone now and were never replaced. I remembered the candles in the garage that Cary was going to take to Cowansville; they were still there if I could find them. I strapped my grandson in the swing seat rather than risk falling down the dark steps with him, and by the light of my cell phone went down the steps and out to the garage. Those candles were just where I put them; so often, these items move around on a whim. I lit one in the kitchen and one in the living room. My grandson fussed, so I lifted him from the swing. We sat quietly in the candlelight almost hypnotized by the soft edges of the room. Sometimes he turned slightly to gaze into my face; he was amused by my face. He stared and laughed. What did he see? A funny nose? Strangely-shaped eyes? A gray hair? I held him facing me and sang COUNTRY ROADS by John Denver–my own words to the tune. He laughed and giggled, appreciative of my singing.

Then Cary called as she drove to Walmart to pick up some batteries for a lantern. How strange that the electric in Cowansville was out too; we were miles apart. She passed through the darkness of Worthington and noted that the traffic lights were not working on Route 422, so she drove on Old 422. We were still on the telephone when she reached the road leading to Walmart; the lights were on in the houses along that road. I hung up and texted my grandson’s mother to tell her that we were in the dark; bring a flashlight if you have one. She told me she was close now. When she arrived, she said Braddock Avenue was closed; so she had to detour. “There is a fire,” she said. “It is close to where the one was last summer.” The very day of that last-summer fire, I had walked by the house and spoke to a young man sitting on the concrete steps on its front stoop. I commented to him as I passed that it was a hot day for roofing; it was a spark from those roofers that began that fire. Now that spot is just an empty lot. So has the fire or the weather caused this electric outage? My grandson’s mother gathered his paraphernalia; babies do not travel light. She invited me to stay at her apartment, but I declined. I did not know how to raise the remote-control-operated garage door to get my car out. When she left, I went to the garage with my candle to look for a way to raise the door. There it was, the handle hanging from the top; I pulled it, and my car was free. I closed it again and went back upstairs to climb under covers and watch a digital movie on my computer. I knew the battery would eventually die. I died first. When I awoke again, the screen was black, so I put the computer aside and blew out the candles. This might be the night when I would finally get a full night’s sleep.

This morning as I laid in bed after taking out the garbage, I mulled over my day. I had planned to walk around some neighborhood as yet to be determined and then visit Jacob at 7 PM, but I was cold and could not even take a hot shower. I could not make my usual cup of morning coffee. I thought maybe I should just return to Cowansville and help Roy with the Internet and get warm. My cellphone rang, and Roy told me Windstream would not help him because he could not prove his identity. He complained that I had made everything paperless, and he did not know the email or account number. He bitched as I did; I told him they had caller ID and knew the call was coming from the number on the account. Do they just delight in making our lives difficult? “I will be up in a bit,” I said.

I gathered my things and went to my car. I pushed up that garage door and then realized I had to back out, come back inside to close that garage door tightly and exit through the front door. I locked up then and drove down the street to Braddock Avenue. I decided to detour around the area of the fire. Some streets were cordoned off, but I could see when I drove along the busway the apartment building that had burned. It was a building I had taken a picture of last summer because I liked the symmetry of its brick facade with the balconies climbing up the front. It may have the building where I saw the young child on an upper floor with his feet dangling over the edge of one of those balconies. I worried as his mother did not of a fall. Perhaps I was the same as a young mother, not realizing all the dangers. Looking up as I drove past the closed street, I saw the debris and rubble being loaded by equipment. Soon it would be just another empty lot. Yet the loss of the building is nothing compared to those people made homeless and possessionless by a fire. Roy’s rental house burned during his first marriage, and they lost everything. He can still recall the moments months later when he was looking for something and realized it was gone in that fire.

I decided to stop at Coffee Tree Roasters in Bakery Square to get a drink and use their WiFi to get that Windstream data from my dead computer. Then I decided to sit a little longer in the midst of the noisy voices of strangers writing this blog post. I really am hoping that when I return home the Internet is working, and I am not faced with the frustrations of speaking to computer techs. There is really only one computer tech I would call for help, and he is in jail now. That has forced me to be the go-to person for my family and myself. I have been forced to learn what I was once able to rely on someone else for. Maybe it is a good thing when we are forced outside our comfort zones, forced to learn new things.

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