Nothing like starting a blog, promising to “show you Richmond” and then having a hurricane hit and leave you without power, water, telephone service and other little luxuries for a week to start the old creative juices flowing. I had intended those creative thoughts to focus on history, neighborhoods and events in Richmond instead of the best way to lug in buckets of water to flush toilets but I guess creative is creative, no matter what. I love my well water but no power means no water and I missed water more than electricity. Anyway, I’ll put aside the entry I wrote before Irene hit and tell you about Richmond this past week.

I won’t bore you with whining stories (we all have them about how we’d just made homemade peach ice cream (me) and how the generator with less than two hours usage didn’t work (ours) and how, when the power was back on, we realized the fiberglass pool filter had been hit by a branch and cracked (shoot!)…oh… guess I AM whining! Instead, let me tell you about our rescue by a crew of guys from places other than Richmond.

THE tree on my power line.

Our driveway is 400 feet long and requires an easement of power poles from the road to the house. I worried that Dominion Power would restore service along the road and not realize that a REALLY BIG tree was draped across the line on my easement. If they didn’t remove the tree, I still wouldn’t have power.  Since telling this to a computer didn’t seem promising, I put a sign at my driveway. Days passed (smelly days, did I mention no water?) Then, Thursday morning, I saw a miracle…a POWER COMPANY TRUCK!!! From Georgia Power!!!…near my house! I stopped and told them that when Isabell hit, Georgia Power restored our service. That day, I said “Welcome to Virginia” so Thursday, I revised my greeting to “Welcome to Virginia… again.”

A big tree, make that REALLY big tree and broken pole down the road was their first priority and they would work their way my direction. Hopefully, service restored soon. After I did cartwheels in the church parking lot, I thanked them, called all the neighbors to offer hope, and continued my daily “ice run” to buy and deliver ice to whoever still didn’t have power (aunt, in-laws, sister’s family, etc.). Later, we drove back to the church parking lot where the trucks were congregating (only place to pull over on our narrow country roads) for an update. Maybe yes, maybe no. Turned around, returned to Sam’s and bought another 60 lbs. ice. When we got home, two enormous trucks were decorating my driveway. I say ‘decorating’ because they were just BEAUTIFUL.

The pictures may not accurately show what happened for the next two hours or so. In my former life, I was a telephone installer/repairman and I loved hooking (climbing) poles so a guy climbing a tree is neat but not astonishing. Church Hill, Fulton Bottom, Oregon Hill and Highland Park, where I worked, meant you climbed a lot of telephone poles in a day but I never carried a chain saw and another saw in  addition to my climbing belt and gear. Nor did I climb about 60 feet up, tie off, and then walk along the fallen tree balanced on the power line, cutting limbs as I went. Nope. I’m not that brave. William is, though, as evidenced by the attached pictures.

William at work.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew tied the leaning tree to other trees to lessen the weight, yelled suggestions and pointed out potential dangers to the intrepid William, and did the “unos, dos, tres” thing a bunch of times to pull the ropes tighter and raise the tree more. The goal is to lighten the weight of the massive tree (yeah, RIGHT) so when the final cut is made, the tree drops without kicking out too much and the wires, which spring and fly around, no matter what, don’t break or fly into someone, like the man standing bravely by the tree making that last cut. Or the homeowner gawking and taking pictures from the edge of the woods.

There were a few breath-stealing moments when a cut would shift the tree and William would “fly” for a minute or so. He actually moved from one tree to another and back once to better reach the part he was trying to cut. The work these guys do is more like art and they are the artists. I tip my hard hat to them.

Our crew: Foreman Edward Velasquez, Angel Luis, Michel Machin-Rodriguez, Juan Miranda, Emilio G. Gonzales and William Ortiz.

“My” crew is from various places including Tennessee and Pennsylvania but Richmond had help from all over the east coast. I could only offer the guys Cokes chilled with the ice I’d just bought and chips since I didn’t have much in the way of food after six days, but I was delighted to give them ice for their coolers. After all, I wouldn’t need it, thanks to them.  I also invited them back for a meal if they worked out here again. Cooking is a lot easier with electricity and A/C makes it more pleasant. And the joy of flushing toilets effortlessly cannot be described. Thank you, all you hard-working men and women from all the the power companies who came to our rescue. Our pastor put up a sign at church saying “Thanks a lot, Irene!” but the one I stuck at the end of my driveway is more sincere. Thanks, guys…and sorry about the ticks.

You have to keep your sense of humor in a situation like this. I have my broken foot in a soft cast. I took advantage of a relative’s city water to rinse out my ace bandages but they didn’t dry overnight. So…I drove down the road with bandages blowing in the wind to dry them. Like I said…creative juices.

My sister and her husband bought a generator yesterday since it may be several more days before their power is restored. They live on our family compound in Bon Air and their three family private road doesn’t rate a high priority. Generously, I offered to store her freezer items (now that I have the luxury of electricity) but she is doing as we all are…eating everything so it won’t go to waste. Sadly, the six quarts of peach homemade ice cream lasted breakfast-lunch-dinner for two days and then it was gone. Not melted. Just…gone. OK, I ate it all.

For your information, here are some tips learned the hard way through a lifetime of living in the parts of Richmond where most utilities are aerial and power loss is routine.  Buy a generator (not the day of or the week after a hurricane). This usually insures that you will not lose power. It’s like an insurance policy. If you have it, you won’t need it. When you have a generator, check it monthly even when you have the ‘trickle charge’ going. Also, clean out the seven pounds of mouse nest every so often. Did you know that a generator will not start if it’s packed with an entire roll of paper towels shredded and constructed into a lovely two story mouse house? It’s true.

When September nears, resist the temptation to buy a two month supply of chicken at Sam’s. The two for one ice cream at Food Lion, ditto.

ALWAYS take the opportunity to take a shower when offered. Trust me, even if you don’t care, your family and friends will.

Know that the three dead trees on your property that you want dropped will never come down in a hurricane. The live trees (in our case, around 20 of them) WILL come down, though. I swear, I saw the dead trees pointing and laughing at their fallen comrades.

Check on elderly neighbors and anyone living alone. They may not ask for help even when they need it.  Even if they’re doing just fine, it’s awfully lonely without TV, radio or company. It’s really quiet without the noise of daily life going on. The sound of your next door neighbor’s generator doesn’t count.

Batteries. If you have ten AA batteries, you’ll need two AAA. And you never have extra C or D batteries (who does?). Stock up.

Your fridge and freezer will keep things cold if you put ice into containers (don’t leave it in the bag…it leaks) and stagger them throughout the interior. Your fridge acts like a big cooler without the handle to pull it along. I’d say don’t open the door more than you have to but you HAVE to in order to get the peach ice cream out.

Hopefully Richmond will get back to normal soon. My next entry (the one bumped or, more accurately, blown away by Irene)  will be about Bon Air, a delightful village where Victorian Richmonders fled to escape the summer heat. Maybe by then everyone in Bon Air will have power back. If not, I’ll ask for donations to pay for my sister’s generator gas.