This Fragile “Real” America

Candles and wine

If you live in an area beset by snow and ice at the moment, best wishes getting through this attack of the cold.

Last week, on Wednesday, my power went out for about ten hours. About noon, the electricity went off, and all through the evening I watched the thermostat sink lower, degree by degree. Additionally, the roads outside were iced over, and as we live at the top of a very steep hill, this made any attempt to leave the house quite risky. Of course, many other people in Tennessee had it much worse–we know people who went days without lightbulbs and heat. During the storm, trees fell on power lines and knocked out whole communities.

For us, even before the power came back on, we were able to have pizza delivered, and it is hard to feel apocalyptic with warm pizza in hand.

I live in East Tennessee. We are one of those parts of the American South, scorned by all the Midwestern states, where, whenever one inch of snow falls, the schools close, supermarkets empty of food, and people start writing goodbye messages on Facebook. And on the one hand, this is simply because of the hills. When one’s journey to the nearest major road involves going up and down three 25 degree inclines, it doesn’t take much ice to make the journey dangerous. While lots of people here drive trucks–Ford has certainly sold a lot of F-150s–these don’t seem to be the kind of truck that can drive uphill on ice.

On the other hand, however, I do wonder about the inherent precariousness of this way of life. I am just blogging here: I have no facts. It may well be my London heritage speaking, my assumption that “normal” human life takes place within a large city.

But the part of Knoxville where I currently live seems predicated on the idea, firstly, that one lives far away enough from everything to feel secluded, but close enough that you aren’t actually fending (even remotely) for one’s self. The whole premise of “West” Knoxville is that you can drive ten + miles to work, to collect children from school, to get a hair cut. There are a vast number of cul-de-sacs burrowed into these hills which, when you drive down them, seem on the one hand remote, even quasi-country-ish, but which are actually only a short drive to the new pizza franchise that just opened on Kingston Pike. It’s all absolutely dependent on cars: there are no buses this far from downtown; the distances are too far to walk. So when the road is cut off, or the power goes out, there’s nothing outside one’s own house, reachable by any non-car means, that can be of assistance.

West Knoxville is like a city-without-a-city, and it seems to be thriving. In terms of restaurants and shops opening, this appears the most secure part of greater Knoxville / Farragut, and it’s where the majority of the well off inhabitants seem to wish to live. Still, I keep wondering what would happen if the price of petrol / gas rose dramatically. How would this area continue to function?

Anyway. Post your winter survival techniques in the comments, and best wishes for the remaining snow and ice.

14 thoughts on “This Fragile “Real” America

  1. You need a generator. I have one and it starts as soon as electricity is cut off. I have heat, lights, when rest of area is dark. Airconditioning in summer months. A generator installed is well worth the cost.


  2. Hi,
    There was something familiar in your way with words. When I came across ‘London’ I wondered if it could be the British style that was connecting me. It is an assumption, I know, as there are other places with the same name. Would you assuage my curiosity?

    From my side of the pond, Scotland UK, I have heard about the very regular massive snow dumps that have been landing on you, also, the chaos and problems it has caused . Remoteness appears to raise the same issues where ever you are. In a country like USA, I, like many others have an expectation that there are the means and the technology, apart from family trucks, to work with your unusual weather patterns. You seem to have the same vulnerabilities that we have, only on a much larger American scale.

    I love your atmospheric picture of your candle light and the way you juxtapose your warm delivered pizza slice with it. Wishing you all the best.


    • Are you asking if I’m British? I am! I grew up in London, and I spent a lot of time in the Edinburgh / St. Andrews area, visiting my grandmother. I’m pleased to think I have an identifiably “UK” writing style, especially as I haven’t lived there for a good ten years now. About the weather: the ice is all melting now, Lowe’s has flower beds and outdoor grills for sale, and the weather forecasters are talking about Spring. So the ice-pocalypse did not last long. The only worrying thing was the loss of electricity.


      • Thanks for your reply Daniel, I am delighted to hear from you. I too, have a fondness for the streets of Edinburgh and St Andrews, for various reasons I have got to know them quite well. London UK is my stomping ground…so there you go! I am glad signs of spring have sprung with you, it’ll give you breathing space and a chance to research power back-up options.
        Relatives of ours near Boston, U.S have a generator as do their neighbours. They have had a lot of outages over the years. The neighbours have a petrol generator, the type with which you pull a cord to get it going, the relatives have gone higher up the scale and installed a fairly large generator that automatically cuts in when the power drop below a safe level. All the major electrical equipment and heating in the house is catered for. They have LPG, the generator also keeps the pump/s working.
        We, (me and the relatives) were discussing over Skype, how people your end coped with outages after we had fairly major experiences of it in Scotland this year. He talked about the generators people used just before and during the last snow dump they had. I even got to see the outside location of the generator, (courtesy of Skype). The relative showed me that he has his cell phone synchronised to his home electrical power system and the workings of the back-up generator. There are a lot of trees where he lives, depending on weather conditions, outages can occur anytime.



  3. The installed generator was around$1300. If you are renting, I suggest a portable generator, costs much less and you can take it with you. Peregrine

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  4. My grandmother was London born. Never forgave Napoleon. Admired lord nelson. Drank tea every afternoon. Deplored slovenly speech, had a distinct English accent. Dressed like Queen mary of Teck. Same silk dresses, hair style. If someone she deemed to be black Irish tried to join her in her pew in church on Sunday, she gave the person a resounding whack with her parasol. The sound echoed all over the church and church members knew what it meant. She scorned all non English people. She didn’t like me because I looked like my French fathers side of the family…dark hair and eyes. Her side consisted of blondes, red heads. She passed away long ago and would have enjoyed meeting you, sharing news of England.


      • Grandmother wanted to go to law school, be an attorney. However, she was refused admittance because of her gender. She purchased a set of law books, studied them and practiced law without a license. Her specialty was real estate law and she rarely charged a fee for her services. She was not a woman to be trifled with. She did not take divorce cases. Believed a woman should be able to straighten out any obnoxious male and gave copious instructions on how to do this. I never met my grandfather since he died before I was born. Probably died of terror. She had a beautiful face…straight nose, masses of hair, English rose complexion, blue eyes. Perfect posture, ram rod straight, head held high.. After drinking her afternoon tea, she told fortunes with the tea leaves which were loose leaves. Never a hated, low class tea bag. Peregrine


  5. I’m not sure tea bags were common currency here in the UK in your Grandmother ‘s time. She sounds like a real gutsy suffragist and a rebel.
    Your description of grandma’s physical attributes and her reading of tea leaves all suggest a Celtic lineage, (Irish/Scottish). Have you ever thought about writing a post on her with a photo, if you have one?



    • I don’t have a photograph. I didn’t like her, she saw sin where none existed. I was a very skinny, dark eyed, dark haired little girl. I had a sleeveless blouse she declared was sinful to wear, so, I couldn’t wear it. I was about 7 years old. Said if a man saw my bare arms, had a lustful thought as a result, the sin was on my soul, not his. This was most unfair, but my parents refused to let me wear sleeveless or short sleeved anything. My sisters and I were encased like mummies. She spent a lot of time in church, I assume atoning for sins she didn’t know how to commit. I think she would have been different if she had been allowed to enroll in law school as she desired. Was doomed to child rearing, a boring life .. She had a good brain. Gave rousing patriotic orations on our 4th of July celebrations. Extolled our freedom from British rule, all in a glorious British accent. People loved it and she was much in demand when a patriotic speech was needed.


  6. I inherited her teapot which was a curious blue black color. It had been brought from England when her family emigrated. They had packed it in a bag of flour so it wouldn’t be broken. I gave the teapot to my sister.


  7. My sisters and I were also encased in flannel petticoats that fell well below the knee. They were bulky things and we looked like walking mummies with all of the awful clothing we had to wear. I had straight, dark hair. Cut in a bob with bangs. Very skinny but looked huge because of my virginity saving wardrobe. Grandmother lived with us, none of her other daughters would have her. My mother was her youngest child and terrified from birth. I may not have been the nicest child. I recall standing by grandmothers casket after she died and saying to my sister “. Isn’t this wonderful. I wish she could die every day.” My weeping mother heard me, gave me a swat. As was the custom at a death, people brought cakes, cookies, etc. I was eating a cookie when I wished she could die more often. Understandable under the circumstances.


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