Left Powerless Against Nature

The yellow glow of a tiny lamp in the kitchen is the only light to be found with the exception of an occasional bolt of lightning. It’s 1:30 in the morning, and the power has been out for six hours. I am trying to catch a few winks on the couch between helping the hubby fuel the generator. The godsend of a machine is keeping the contents of the freezer and fridge cold while supplying power for that single lamp.

The sound of the ticking battery-operated clock on the wall is the only noise to balance the otherwise deafening silence. Its ticking, a kind of monotonous cadence, is permanently stuck in my mind. Not that it isn’t to be expected when heavy rain and too many dead trees meet.

As the hours tick by I recall those childhood storms that plunged the neighborhood into darkness and quiet. Kids don’t fear such things, they make a game out of it. Parents scrambled around for candles and flashlights. When the power went out in the summertime it meant we could sit outside on the large concrete porch with flashlights in hand. Sometimes we even slept there to escape the stifling heat of the house that knew no air conditioning.

Sometimes bouncing beams of light would walk toward the house as neighbor kids and adults strolled about, checking to make sure everyone was OK. There were no cellphones or laptop computers to instantly show us the weather radar or a website to tell us what has happened to our electricity. We just had to wait it out; sometimes minutes, often hours, but we made the most of it.

We pretended to be camping out. We cooked over an outdoor grill. We drank all the milk before it spoiled. And when the ice cream in the freezer was threatened, we did the right thing and ate every ounce of it before it melted. In the wintertime, a power outage was serious stuff. Houses get pretty cold fast without that old furnace pulling its weight. That’s when a woodburning fireplace was worth the ashes you had to clean out every Saturday morning. The fireplace became the central heating system as we wrapped in blankets and togetherness. It was a good place to roast a hotdog or marshmallow for an impromptu picnic by fire light. I recall a few ghost stories making the rounds during those blackouts.

I wish I could say I was having fun early Friday morning when dawn broke and still no power. I looked at the two loads of laundry I had planned to do Thursday evening after work. The church linens would have to wait another day to meet the ironing board. I groaned at no hot water for a shower or cup of tea.

In this country we are spoiled with the riches of clean water, proper sewage treatment, natural gas and electricity.

We take so much for granted with everything in our lives that requires power. Sometimes it does us good to experience such outages so that we can appreciate just what we have. I am rethinking that clock on the wall, however. Tick, tick, tick.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.