Much of the U.S. got hit this week with a mixture of slippery roads and multiple inches of snowfall. Here in Central Texas and points south, where a light dusting is expected maybe once a year (and it melts by dinnertime), we were shocked! Quickly followed by power outages, frozen pipes, water shortages, and NO water at all.
I was unprepared–no gloves, no bottled water in the frig, no meals not requiring the microwave or the stove–just whole wheat bread, hard-boiled eggs, and tuna. Oh, and the milk in the frig managed somehow to stay cold for breakfast the second morning. HEB’s Raisin, Nuts and Oats cereal sustained me as long as I had water and electricity for coffee.
I’d planned this week to write about a less personal topic, but what happened in response to four million Texans losing power warmed my heart, even if the temp hovered in the teens at night. Austin is thought of as the “liberal” center of a very large state, but recently it has felt like the center of a divided country. Political leaders have believed it to be in their own self-interest to keep the state deeply torn asunder. This has me worried. I understand people have different opinions, but do we need to get ugly about it?
Here the seeds of goodness were sewn before my son-in-law and his family left the country for work. He cut some sort of deal with his “brother by another mother” who lives a few doors down. He’s been here to check when my Internet went down and flip the circuit when I forgot and ran the Foreman Grill and the microwave together. Then the smoke alarm began to chirp as the battery lapsed, , , and then another one. Unlike me, he has no trouble reaching the alarms, being 6’4,” an inch above my son-in-law, no doubt a source of one-ups between them.
Happily I’ve found that goodness can be contagious or maybe its just being without power for five days! Better being together than to be a powerless island on your own. (Of course still in the midst of a Pandemic, masks were part of our attire).
Actually for me this crazy weather and power breakdown started a full week ago on Thursday afternoon. We were hopeful when power was restored later on Friday but sporadic on Saturday. Gone by Saturday night. From Sunday on until this Wednesday Natta. Water pipes froze and the faucets were empty from late Sunday until this Friday, yesterday, when barely a trickle came out. Orders were to boil even that tiny flow for safety. So Austinites were in a pickle–not everyone at once, but our neighborhood had more of the black-out and less of the “rolling blackout” we were promised.
But rather than being ugly about it, we got resourceful. While many of my neighbors were eager to help from the beginning, this weather brought out the best in us. The stove here is gas but activated by electricity, so neighbors bring in syncopation: chicken and rice, potato soup, an amazing elk meat stew. This last meal came from a woman who only knew me because I’d purchased two boxes of Girl Scout cookies from her daughter. She came by with a broom and a shovel. Oh, sweeping off the walk would be great, I told her. When she completed the walk, she cleared the driveway and swept the car. Then she recruited her sons to help her clear the walk and driveway of the 80-year-old couple next door. Energizer lady!
The helpful men in the neighborhood became their own A Team focused on the elderly here. Checking to see if anyone needed help, water, or food. They wrapped outdoor spickets to prevent them from leaking inside the walls or freezing the lines. Several of the men have their own job at home–warming babies less than a year old. I’ve kept track and knit individual baby blankets for each of them.
By Tuesday night when a PR friend I’d worked with on a project in 2019 invited me to stay with her family, I said tentatively, “yes.” Concerned about the roads, she said, “Don’t worry, my husband drives an F250.” Honestly, I didn’t know what that was until I thought I saw a snowplow come down the street and turned into my drive. (But Austin doesn’t have any snowplows!) Certainly, no trouble in the snow or ice. She lives close enough to an essential water plant that her house is spared any outages.
I felt like I was abandoning the neighborhood, but earlier on Tuesday at 2 and 4 am, I woke up thinking I might never be warm again. I went upstairs to my grandson’s beds and swiped the thick Batman and Superman blankets. I swore I would leave if anyone invited me. I came back Thursday when the power was restored. Water followed on Friday afternoon.
I know this wasn’t just an exceptional neighborhood when I heard about other events around Texas. Just north of us in Leander, an HEB, the major grocery chain,had a run on bottled water, diapers, batteries, and nonperishables Friday, February 19. The lights went out when the checkout lines filled with carts 20 deep. The cashiers just waved the shoppers ahead when their registers went dark. The Houston Chronicle noted HEB’s generosity.
Another joyful story came from grocery delivery driver Chelsea Timmons. A week ago Sunday she figured she could make one more delivery in Austin, where the pay was slightly better than where she lived in Houston. She had trouble getting traction in the ice and snow to get up the driveway to finish her delivery.
Her Toyota Rav4 slid down the drive and got stuck in the flower garden as she prayed it would not run into the house. She called a tow truck and thought it would be there in an hour. Eventually the company said they would not be able to tow her that night. The couple, who’d ordered steaks for Valentine’s Day, invited Chelsea in while she waited for a tow. As it became obvious no truck would come, they invited her to stay. Thursday, five days later, she made her way back to Houston. But not before she baked them a bakery-window-ready coconut cake!
The circle continues. Hope we will hold onto the warm feelings that good deeds brought to Texans despite the frigid February temps. Warmer weather and the spring thaw doesn’t need to bring an end to thoughtful deeds!