Nowhere Near Three Cups of Tea but Neighbors Nonetheless


In 2003 an ice storm paralyzed the city where I still live, taking down power lines, leaving Lexington cold and dark.

At Briarwood, the government-subsidized housing complex I called home, branches bent under the weight of so much winter weather, trees seemed to hang their icy heads in shame, sorry for the light-less, tea-less inconvenience of it all.

The storm moved through the night of February 15th, so we woke up Sunday the 16th with 2 inches of ice coating sidewalks, streets, and trees.  Eventually, most of Lexington was without power, as the storm unexpectedly intensified as it moved through the state, leaving utility companies scrambling to repair power lines downed by fallen trees–trees that, in some instances, smashed cars and damaged roofs.

When I woke up in the wee hours of Sunday morning (2:30 according to my journal), the power was already out in my apartment.  At the time I lamented not having enough light to read or write by, not anticipating then that I would be without for 6 long days and nights to come.

Admittedly, this comes nowhere near the 13 day stretch we went without power in Haiti last summer, but at least in Port-au-Prince I’d grown accustomed to going without.  There we rarely had electricity for more than 8 hours a day, and many Haitians never have any.  They really deal with darkness at night, every night.

However, in the winter of 2003, I hadn’t been to Haiti; I was a newbie when it came to power outages.  And since I had only an electric stove, I had no means of even boiling water, no hot water for those strong cups of hot tea I used to keep me going, ones I could have used to keep me warm, as well.

With no electricity, it was also difficult to get news—no T.V.—no radio.  Eventually, I rounded up enough batteries to power my boom box and began hearing predictions that we might be without utilities for 3 to 7 additional days.

Officially, then, Briarwood was to have been evacuated—residents sent to shelters nearby that generated enough power to keep the heat going and lights on.  Some residents went to stay with family, but for most Lexingtonians, local relatives were also doing without, unless they had managed to secure an hotel room, all of which were booked in the city and surrounding areas once it became clear Lexington could remain cold and dark for days, if not weeks to come.

However, unofficially, many residents remained at Briarwood, especially those with pets, as no animals were welcome at shelters.  To accommodate these folks, the management, maintenance staff, and younger, able-bodied neighbors like myself pitched in, making sandwiches and coffee, which we delivered door to door.  I don’t remember how we made the coffee, especially for so many people, but I have some vague recollection of Terry, the maintenance supervisor securing a small generator that produced enough power to fuel a few of these endeavors.

The second floor craft room in the building where I lived (one I’ve written about before) was a hub of activity carried out in semi-darkness, even during daylight hours, since the room had only one small window.  There we gathered in a spirit of strong, if dimly lit, camaraderie, sharing food we knew we’d lose without refrigeration.  Some residents with grills on their balconies even managed to roast meats that began thawing in freezers—meat that would definitely rot if not eaten—hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken, more and more a carnivore’s delight as the week wore on.

However, with no means of producing heat, our apartments became colder and colder.  Thawing meat meant increasingly freezing temperatures in my living room, until on day four of our ordeal, I was wearing five shirts, three pair of sweat pants, and three pair of socks.  By day five, I was officially miserable.  With no natural light in my bathroom, I struggled to brush my light by candle light and began to crave a long hot bath—not to mention a decent cup of tea.  I lament in my journal about being unable to boil water, even to heat it warm enough so tea would steep before cooling in my increasingly cold, dark kitchen.

But just as the dim half-light was becoming a way of life, power returned late on our 6th day of doing without.

And even if the local utility companies had taken longer than we liked to get things up and going, even if I hadn’t had a single cup of tea, we residents of Briarwood had gotten along.

We’d played board games—Monopoly and Clue.  We’d fed one another, helped one another, drank coffee instead of tea.

We emerged a stronger community than we’d been before the storm stranded us together on those dark and icy February nights.

We cared.  We shared.  We became neighbors all over again.

20 thoughts on “Nowhere Near Three Cups of Tea but Neighbors Nonetheless

  1. I think I would have been officially miserable after 5 hours – not 5 days! I remember this ice storm on the news. We’ve had a couple in Portland since I’ve lived here, but nothing as bad as what you experienced!

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    • Hey, Paul–it’s great to hear from you! Thanks so much for stopping by and congratulations on your FP-ed a couple weeks back!

      The fact of the matter is, I can descend into madness with no real external prompting–yeah, I know, it’s sad, but true!

      Hope you’re having a great week!

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  2. This reminds me of our winter just gone – we were without water for 7 days as the entire system had frozen across Belfast. I seriously thought I was going to seize up from the cold myself. So much we take for granted – Haiti was featured on a local programme about Rory McIlroy last night on BBC (he had gone as a UN Ambassador)and I thought about you two! I can relate to the lack ability to make tea too – awful! But you did find the positive, the human connection 🙂

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    • Wow–we were without water for a few days in Haiti, and I swear it was way worse than not having electricity! That must have been miserable–cold and no water!

      Wish I could have seen the show you mention. Did you enjoy it?

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      • I did enjoy it Kathy – it was a local BBC N.I. programme following Rory before and after winning the US Open and it just showed a wee clip of him in Haiti – he said it helped to put into perspective how unimportant golf really is when you have people living with so little.

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  3. I’m a wretch if I’m without power for a few HOURS, so I can’t imagine going a few days in such frigid conditions. You did well to foster the human connections during that time!

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    • It was an advenure in thinking positively and making the best of a cold, cold situation! Glad you think we did well! I imagine you would have risen to the occasion yourself!

      Thanks for reading, Dana!

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  4. In situations like that, it seems like it is either that people all come together to help each other…or it’s every man for himself. So glad you live in a caring community who helps each other out. 🙂

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    • It was a great place to live for a while. I’m glad to have moved on, but it really was not as bad as some folks might think government-subsidized housing would be. In fact, it was a great place to bond with neighbors. Thanks for reading, Mark! Hope you had a great 4th of July!

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  5. Great post. I remember an ice storm in Iowa as a kid and having to stay with an aunt and uncle in town for several days. When we lived in Minnesota, our power went out regularly, but we had a wood-burning stove and peed outside in the woods. HooHoo!

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  6. It is amazing how experiences like this pull communities together – it shows us all the wonderful side of human nature.
    I love this memory of Briarwood; keep them coming.

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