Gray Matters — Christmas, unplugged
Belfast — Like many around Waldo County, my son Shane and I waited through the cold and dark hours of Christmas Eve in the faint hopes that power in Swanville may be restored before Christmas Day.
But as the day dwindled and evening came, I decided it was warmer and safer for my son and I to pack up all our gifts and truck down to my parents house a couple of miles away, where they had the wood stove fired up for heat.
We sat huddled together at the kitchen tables, playing board games and telling my son Shane stories about what it was like to survive the Ice Storm of 1998. I told him I was living on Route 52 in Lincolnville and went without power for 14 days, and about a meeting of the Searsport select board that took place in the driveway of Union Hall, at which time selectmen met briefly to see who had what kinds of equipment that could be used for clearing downed limbs and trees out of the roads.
When we got to my folks' house, Shane reminded me of the tradition that we've carried on in our family since I was little — we were always allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. In all the business we had to deal with that was created by the storm, I had almost forgot about that.
I let him open one of his LEGO kits so he would have something to keep him occupied. A great idea, until we lost the benefit of daylight (well, what daylight there was). But I realized I was lucky in that I also got him an LED headlamp for Christmas so he could take it camping next summer. Given the scenario, I decided I'd let him open that gift, too, and he was much happier when he could see what he was doing.
We awoke Christmas morning, still without power, but the holiday went on as normally as it could have. My son found his stocking with the help of my dad's flashlight and his headlamp, and he had no trouble finding the Nerf gun Santa left him under the tree.
We waited for the sun to come up, warming water for coffee on the wood stove to pass the time, and then exchanged gifts, issued thanks and had lots of laughs, just as we would on any other Christmas morning.
Then my parents' neighbor, David Brassbridge, came over and he and my father worked together to get the two houses set up with generators. Once that job was done, David called and asked us if we were interested in having little Chinese takeout for Christmas dinner, his treat (thanks, Brassbridge family).
As the day wore on, the power had not yet come to the Mitchell homestead. My father called my younger brother, Shane, to wish him a Merry Christmas, which is when we learned my brother was taking his whole family up to a Bangor hotel for the night to get a hot meal, enjoy the luxury of power and let the kids swim in the indoor pool. When I learned there was another room available right across the hall from my brother and his family, I secured it so we could all meet up that night and get a much-needed break from the ice crisis.
Before heading up to Bangor, Shane and I went to visit with my boyfriend Mark and his family, where we hung out, talked about the events of the week and wondered when Waldo County would return to some kind of business-as-usual.
We had a good time, and after a few hours we all made the trek up to Bangor to find my brother.
Riding up Route 1, we didn't see the glow of Christmas lights until we reached Winterport, a sight we were so grateful for since we couldn't enjoy the glow of the lights in our own homes.
Then, as I stopped to fuel up, we saw them — a procession of about 15 out-of-state power trucks making their way through town, garnering honks and waves of thanks and appreciation from all they passed as they drove along.
We got to the hotel and found my brother and his family almost immediately, after which I checked in, took a much-appreciated shower and visited with my family for the remainder of the night. My son and my niece and nephews spent much of the night swimming in the pool, while us adults sat around talking about how nice it will be when our home county will look and feel more like home again.
By Friday, the power was back on in Swanville, and my landlord, Tom, worked really hard to repair broken water pipes so Shane and I could return home safely. Thanks, Tom!
I think this will be one of our more memorable holiday seasons, but not just because it was so unusual. I will never forget the kindness I saw others show in the wake of the storm; the lending of generators to those in need, the sharing of Chinese takeout on Christmas Day, the help of a landlord with letting a tenant and her son come back to their home, and my parents opening their home to my son and me in the meantime.
The biggest gesture of selflessness, though, came from the hundreds of power crews who came from outside Maine to help us in our time of need instead of spending the holidays at home with their own families, and the many American Red Cross staffers and volunteers who traveled here to open the emergency shelters around the region.
That kindness will never be forgotten.
Maybe someday, many years from now, my son will include all of those details when he tells his children stories about how he survived the Ice Storm of 2013.