Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

July 2012: What a difference a year makes

A year ago this week the brittle grass had all but given up.  Vegetables that had flourished briefly in the spring clung to life only because of daily watering sessions that both my wife and I were already tired of providing.  Normally, we’d hit a wall by early August, but this year, after having reached the 80s eight days in March, after breaking high temperature records twice in May, and after enduring the sixth warmest and fifth driest June on record, we’d already had it.  And it was just beginning.  Patience was wearing thin.  Tempers were short.

On July 1, I road home on my bike from my Sunday morning gig at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, and on the way noticed a distinct line of foreboding clouds to the west.  As I neared home, I saw people watering their flowers and I shouted out, “There’s rain coming.”  I made it home, and my son and I took out lawn chairs in the back yard to watch the approaching storm, a welcome sight after such a dry June.

We lasted about thirty seconds.

The violence of our annual Storm of the Century forced my family and me inside and into the basement, where we could hear from outside the cracking of tree limbs, followed by the all-too-familiar sound of our electricity shutting off, as our smoke alarms yelped out a short, high-pitched siren of protest before falling silent.

A half an hour later, the sun was out, and our neighborhood spent that afternoon surveying the destruction, comparing stories and pulling branches to the curbs, careful to avoid those areas that had downed power lines (my house was one such area).  The destruction outside was far short of the images we’ve seen recently from Missouri and Oklahoma, but for the residence of north Elmhurst, this was close enough.  My poor tree in the back yard had shed yet another limb (one a year for the past three years), striking my neighbor's newly installed roof and gutters.  Neighbors across the street had a new hole in their roof, and down the street stood an invisible SUV, fully-encased in the branches of a downed limb.

And then the heat came.  The whir of generators could be heard all around us, a constant drone that only added to our frustration, because none of the sound was to our benefit.  We emptied our freezer and refrigerator and took the contents to our neighbors who still had electricity a block away, and as we put the last of our groceries into their freezer, their electricity went out.  It seemed that saving the chicken we’d purchased at Costco was not to be.

Our son was leaving for camp the next morning, and we’d planned on making a meat loaf for his “Last Supper,” but now we had to improvise.  We got in the car, heading down Roosevelt, expecting to find a restaurant open somewhere.  There was.  One.  Almost seven miles away.  Boston Market experienced what was probably its busiest Sunday evening ever.  From miles around, people had flocked for roasted chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn, as the storm had shut down power as far west as Wheaton, through Glen Ellyn and Lombard and into Villa Park and Elmhurst. 

I summarized the mayhem in a text to my brother who was out of town…

Lines down. Transformer on fire.  Poles off kilter.  The works.  No flooding though.  If it weren’t for the heat I wouldn’t really care.

Ah, but there was heat.  That evening our second floor reached 94 degrees, as temperatures outside his 98.  On Tuesday we hit 96 with a low of 77 and still no electricity, and my wife, who was enjoying a day working in air conditioned bliss, texted me at home…

Any progress?

I texted back…

If u consider nothing as progress, then yes.  There’s progress.

That evening I decided to get the hell out of my hell-like home and go to York High School for a community band rehearsal, where we practiced in air conditioning and shared stories of the storm.  I was one of the few left without power.  Then I received the most welcome text ever from my wife…

Power is on!!!!!

I arrived home, and we aborted our temporary sleeping quarters in our relatively cool basement, and returned to our bedroom with the air cranked.  The next morning we took off for New York to see my sister-in-law, and here’s what we left behind:

July 4th, 102 degrees

July 5th, 103 degrees

July 6th, 103 degrees

All three days were records.  We’d go on to have our third hottest July on record, with not one day offering a high temperature of less than 80 degrees. 

Today, July 2nd, 2013, we expect a high temperature of 73.  Our grass is lush and green.  Our vegetables our flowering.  Our power is on.  True, we haven’t really had to use our band new air conditioner much this year, but that was to be expected.  And really, if we could have the summer we’re currently having every year from here on out, I’d be happy to never use our air conditioner again.

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