Sunday, August 05, 2012

A very dairy crisis

The overhead light flickered out, leaving me hunched over the quick-start guide in the dark.  The storm hurled rain onto the garage door as if the house were riding through a carwash.  Other than my tiny flashlight, the only illumination came from the strikes of lightning that seemed to be feeling their way to our front door.

“Showtime,” I said, putting the flashlight in my mouth and the funnel in what I hoped was the hole where the motor oil was supposed to go.

“Add .63 qt motor oil.  DO NOT OVERFILL,” the instructions warned.  I turned over the motor oil bottle to see that it contained 942 ml, which meant, by my quick calculations, that I needed to pour in somewhere between none and all of it.

It was the first time I’d looked at our new generator since I’d taken it out of the box two months ago.  If it didn’t start up soon enough to save the contents of our fridge during this power outage, though, I’d need to save some of our gas to power an escape vehicle.

“Please work, please work,” I pleaded as I dragged the hundred-pound machine to the front of the garage.  The issue wasn't that we were worried about our ice cream stash, or that we'd lose our collection of condiments that, on average, had expired in 2007.

Our freezer was packed full of breast milk that my wife Kara had spent the last four months pumping.  To lose that milk would mean heartbreak for her, and possible arm or legbreak for me, since I’d had months to prepare for the likelihood of a power outage.

Preparing has never been my strong suit.  By definition, the thing you’re preparing for hasn’t happened yet, which means it might never happen, which means you could be playing Call of Duty instead.

“Is it going to work?” Kara asked from the doorway.  She cradled our youngest son, Zack, while Evan, our three-year-old, clutched her knee.  The dog cowered on top of her feet as thunder rattled the windows.  Presumably, cows were swirling around in the wind outside.

“Mmph,” I said, the flashlight offering a handy excuse to dodge the question.

I pulled the rope to release the garage door from the electric opener, so that I could manually open the overhead door like our parents and cavemen used to do.  I dragged the machine into the maelstrom and gave the starter rope a tug.  Who ever thought that the sweetest noise in the world would sound like a lawnmower engine?

Upstairs, dripping, live extension cord in hand, I realized that I’d need to move the fridge to plug it in, which hadn’t budged since two silverback-sized dudes wedged it into its slot two years ago.    

As I pulled the fridge with all my strength, determined not to be responsible for losing all that milk, I thought of the mythical woman who lifted a car off of her child.  An-inch-at-a-time, the fridge slowly slid across the floor, exposing the plug in back.  The adrenaline surge must have helped.  Also, the wheels on the bottom.

I marched into the basement, triumphant, anxious to regale my family with tales of heroism and humming refrigerators.  By the light of their flashlights, I could see that Kara had brought the iPad downstairs for Evan to play with.  When I was a kid and the power went out, we had to play board games by candlelight and talk to each other.  It was horrible.

But Evan wasn’t playing with the iPad.  With the thunder still rumbling angrily outside, he held Zack’s hand.
“It’s okay, Zack.  Don’t be scared,” Evan said, over and over.

It was enough to melt our hearts.  But not our breast milk.

You can knock out Mike Todd’s lights at


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