I rarely ever clean out the freezer. As I rarely ever clean out closets, content to keep doors jammed shut against chaos that reins within.
And most years I can get away with that, ignoring closets (as well as kitchen drawers).
But not freezers. Not when we lose power for days and days from hurricanes.
Which seems to have become an annual occurrence! I was forced to clean out the freezer just a year ago, after hurricane Irene! Everything went bad quickly then. I tossed out bad chicken cutlets (and sausages I didn’t even remember buying). Was forced to mop up meat juices and melted pops, had to wipe down the freezer completely. Until it was spick and span! You might not want to lick my floors, but you could have licked our ice trays!
This year before Superstorm Sandy hit, my freezer was back to its usual chaotic state. You could no more find the frozen waffles crammed behind piles of frozen veggie bags than you could a clean crumpled face towel lost behind jumbled toilet paper rolls in the linen closet.
But the ice bags worked! We held onto our frozen meats for a good five days! Longer than Irene, when all I did was try to keep the fridge and freezer doors shut except for daily hungry family meetings as to when to grab cheese sticks or defrosting lamb chops.
Sadly, the ice bags did finally begin to melt. And it was time to surrender. To cleaning out the freezer again. (Nevermind the fridge; that stuff all went bad much sooner. Sour milk etc.)
I dumped the ice bags in the sink. Pulled out what was left, waterlogged frozen waffles; rotting fish sticks I couldn’t bake; melted pops we’d neglected to scarf down as soon as the power went out (lesson learned: devour all ice cream and sugary frozen desserts first). And shoot. Bacon! Too-long defrosted. Into the garbage.
Any ice blocks that still remained I shoved into a tiny cooler, along with butter sticks and fruit cups just to keep cold so the boys could bear to eat them.
Then I went at it, sponging up old spilled coffee grounds (we freeze our coffee) and whatever ancient frozen goo that had finally melted enough to be wiped up.
Until…spick and span! Once again!
I was pleased and proud of my clean freezer. I could open it at will, to admire its (howver dark) pristine cleanliness, as it would still be days until we’d regain power and I could actually restock it.
By the time the power came on, we were left with those few lone sticks of butter. I heard they don’t go bad?
Otherwise, in the sudden bright light of electric, the rest of the house was filthy; leaves everywhere from trekking in and out with firewood, and lots of boys passing through with plastic swords; more fun than sitting in front of blank computer screens.
Wish I could say I’ve come away with some revelations from having been in the dark – only eight days (not nearly as long as for some) that seemed an eternity. I wish I could say we cozied up with board games. We didn’t. We fretted. We sat in the dull glow of Iphones, and continuously cranked up the hand-cranking radio to keep up with the disastrous Sandy news:
Listening to the blow by blow of people swimming away from their houses, or crushed by trees, and of one hundred homes burning down, leaves you despairing and claustrophobic, trapped by your own helplessness in the dull small circle of a battery lit lamp.
We are blessed with this and offered up its warmth to neighbors:
And a gas stove we could light and actually cook on (when we still had food to cook).
Oh! And a 30-something-year-old drip coffee pot that I remember my own father making coffee in every morning. It never once has malfunctioned! (How many electric pots have I had to replace since then?) We were the lucky few who didn’t wait on mile long deli-coffee lines (before those lines were replaced with gas ones).
Otherwise, if not blessed, we are damn lucky. All our rotting trees were taken by Irene so we were not left with such tree sculptures as our neighbors:
Or cars crushed…
We all made due, as even our neighbors who were partiularly innovative when their mail box broke off its designated post:
Even now, with power back and the luxury of reconnection with the cyber world, normal does not feel quite like the old normalcy. There’s a new hitch to it; it’s far more precarious than I’ve ever known it to be. We didn’t lose our home. We didn’t lose our lives. All the same. I wonder. A lot. Not only about whether my children will grow up remembering hurricane days more than snow ones. But about how “normal” may no longer mean simply returning to old routines. Normal now seems laced with an uncertainty that is perhaps just that. The new normal.