The Portugal Years: Year Five – Part 3, The Aftermath

It wasn’t just the television that we missed. My washing machine would not work without “light.” Not a happy thought with a toddler in terry cloth diapers being potty trained. Night came early in November and even earlier when there was “no light.” And there were the clothes and other items that we had stored in the garage under our flat, plus the stench from the mud and drowned livestock. Some of the baby clothes were irredeemable.

No refrigerator meant “to market to market” every day. Milk was the ultra-pasteurized in a box kind, which was better than nothing but did not taste like fresh milk. We were thankful for our propane gas cooker as we tried to create some  kind of “new normal.”  At least I could cook.  I read books to Bethy, and she played with her dolls and dressed up in my cast-off clothes to entertain herself.

The back garden was one deep puddle of river mud. The grasshoppers were not impressed. One sunny day my friend Ana Maria and I opened the windows on the varandas to help dry out the humidity. When we opened the windows, a five-inch-long grasshoppers hopped in. It was some time before I stopped freaking out. The back varanda was, for a time, abandoned.

One morning I decided that while the refrigerator was empty, I could easily clean the inside of it. It was large  for a the Portuguese appliance, but it was short enough that, at 5-feet 8-inches of height,  I could look over the top of it. I got a sponge and a bowl of soapy water and opened the refrigerator. Then I stepped back. The air carried the reek of death. I had missed one small package of chicken livers, and they announced their presence rather strongly.

I always started dinner early so I could have enough natural light to cook. When Harry arrived at home after the sun set – around 7 p.m. –  we ate. Since it was fully dark by that time, we rinsed the dishes and left them in the heavy-duty marble kitchen sink to wash in the morning. The ants, whose homes the flood disrupted, took a little longer to surface than the grasshoppers. I woke up four days into our adventure to a kitchen overrun by the displaced ants. Cleaning up the kitchen by candle light became our romantic evening activity.

We didn’t have to wait as long as Noah did for the flood to end; we had no electricity for only 12 days. I can sympathize with Mrs. Noah in the cleanup afterward though. Some of the things in the garage were salvageable. Thanks to the neighbor, we had our car. And we were not harmed (though we harmed a few ants and grasshoppers). Bethy’s last Christmas as an only child lay ahead, and 1984 would arrive just before her baby sister would arrive.