Talkin’ Bout My Generator
I had just started writing this month’s column when the power went out. Again.
This is a regular occurrence around here. The Appalachian power grid is shaky at the best of times; during severe weather it’s positively neurotic. And not even severe weather. Sometimes I think it goes out because somebody looks at it sideways.
In most respects this is not a huge deal. We have gas heaters that keep the house warm if necessary, and a gas stove for cooking. There’s also a backup woodstove if we need it. Battery-powered lanterns keep the house lit, and if all else fails, we have enough candles to light a cathedral or Cher’s bedroom.
The problem is the cellar. There’s a stream running through it at all times. This water has been channeled into a pipe, which empties into a cistern. There’s a sump pump in the cistern, and when the water reaches a certain height, the pump sends it out and into a storm drain at the street.
The whole thing is a mystery to me. Nobody knows quite where the continuous stream of water comes from, or even how it gets into the pipe. Chuck, our local handyman who knows everything about everything house-related, says, “It just does. Don’t worry about it.”
Mostly, I don’t worry about it. Now. When we first moved in, I worried a lot. We weren’t told about the stream, or the sump pump, when we looked at the house, and the first time I sat here in my office and heard water running under the floorboards, followed not long after by a loud WHOOOOOOOSH, I panicked. I went into the cellar and stared at the cistern. Then I called Chuck, who came over and explained to me what was happening.
Understanding the situation helps. Now when the sump pump goes off, I barely notice it. And it goes off a lot. Especially when it’s raining, in which case the cistern fills up approximately every 10 minutes, setting off the pump. On those days it’s a continuous cycle of trickle-trickle-trickle-WHOOOOOOOSH. Visitors to the house often pause and look puzzled when they hear it. “Oh,” I tell them. “That’s the stream in the cellar. Don’t worry about it. Chuck says it’s fine.”
The only time I do worry about the stream is when the power goes out. Without power, the sump pump can’t work its magic. That means that when the cistern fills up, the water has nowhere to go except out into the cellar. And the cellar also houses the water heater and the furnace, neither of which particularly enjoys bathing.
As so often is the case, the possibility of this happening didn’t occur to me until it did happen. During a period of extensive rainfall over the summer, the power grid turned into a sulky teenager and periodically refused to cooperate. On one of those days, realizing that I was hearing a lot of trickling and no whooshing, I opened the cellar door to check on things and saw that water was slowly spreading across the cellar floor. I called Chuck.
“The sump pump can’t run without power,” Chuck pointed out. “You should probably get a generator for when this happens again.”
And so, we got a generator. Two, actually, because about a month ago I had to drive through a Level 3 snow emergency to get a second one when the power went out during a sleet storm and the first generator decided it no longer had the will to live. The new one fires up with no problem, though, and has already twice saved us from having a cellar filled with ice water.
So last night, as soon as the power went out, I fired up the generator and plugged in the sump pump, which cheerfully spat a cistern full of water out of the cellar. It was raining heavily, so this went on all night. Meanwhile, the generator roared like a prehistoric beast out on the patio, its voice joining that of the generators our neighbors were using to run their homes.
You might think that this would all be very reassuring. You would be wrong. See, generators run on gasoline, and gasoline runs out. Usually, the power is out for a couple of hours and this is not an issue. But sometimes it’s much longer. Half the fun is that you just never know. So while our generator did its thing and the sump pump did its thing, I lay in bed wondering when it would all stop working and the cellar would become a swimming pool.
“Don’t worry about it,” Cubby said.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Chuck,” I told him. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael at michaelthomasford.com