We have all experienced it – the sudden flickering of lights, the odd noises as appliances or fixtures attempt to cope with sudden changes in current coursing through their wires – and then it all stops. I experienced this again the other day, but for the first time I actually sat and thought about it.
The good news is that my outage was not during extreme hot or cold weather so that a few power-less hours were not dangerous or terribly uncomfortable. It was also not raining hard, so there was no doubt that the battery backup on my sump pump would work if necessary. But silence has, in our over-stimulated world, become hard.
I noticed how dependent I have become on electronic devices for passing time. I was working at home for the day and the thought flitted through my mind – “great, I can’t work, but maybe I can relax and watch a movie.” Nope. My laptop battery was topped up, but its life is not tremendously long and my wifi and modem were down too, so no internet.
The cell phone was still good and the 5G signal at my house is strong, but again, battery life is not unlimited and I did not know how long it was going to have to last. I recall when landline phones did not rely on electrical power beyond that supplied in the phone wiring. I once worked at a place where the phones worked but the bell that rang when a call came in did not. I was given the job of sitting at the telephone, punching each of the business’ five lines one at a time, over and over, and answering with the business name. Then I waited for the count of 3 to see if anyone was actually on the line. I actually got a couple of calls that way. Life was hard back then, but did not rely on a cell phone’s charge.
Marianne suggested that maybe a run out for a snack might be in order. She was recovering from some outpatient surgery and we all know what coming out of anesthetics will do to a person’s willpower and appetite. But then I thought about how much work would be involved in getting our electrically operated garage door disconnected in order to release a car from captivity. We still have one of the old-school wooden doors, and it is h-e-a-v-y. Yanking on the little red rope to disconnect it from the opener is easy enough, but getting it hooked back together is a 2 person job that would have required Marianne to hold the open door up higher than the springs want to hold it so I could line up the latch mechanism for re-connecting. But in her condition, it was best for her to avoid any such exertion. So we held off on the drive-thru snack.
Mealtime was not a disaster thanks to our gas stove – at least once I found the kitchen matches so I could light a burner. About three times – I forget how easy it is to turn the dial too far down so that the flame goes out. I was thankful, as lots of folks with an electric stove would not have this luxury. I gambled and got into the fridge a couple of times – this outage wasn’t during a raging storm that suggested downed trees and lengthy service interruptions, and I bet on it not lasting hours and hours.
Sitting in a darkening house as late afternoon transitions to evening makes you think of how prior generations had to entertain themselves. And reminded me that we really need to learn the rules for gin rummy or some other card game suitable for two players. We are euchre people and we very rarely have a second couple as guests when the power goes out. But at least there were two of us for conversation and company. Time away from electronic babysitters is much less jarring when there is someone to share it with.
We did once have company when the power went out for several hours one summer afternoon, and it was a pretty good time. Marianne’s sister was visiting and some of her kids were roughly the same age as our kids. The youth went onto our screened porch and played board games while the adults made do with conversation. Aided by gin & tonics. I ran out and found a store with ice, and a bag of same went into a cooler – which was all we needed for the afternoon’s refreshments. I recall thinking at the time how it was just like summer afternoons spent during my childhood, when there were no electronic games and the only television was usually sitting turned off in the room where the adults were chatting. It was actually a bit of a disappointment when the lights finally came on around seven or eight pm, as the re-starting of the electricity served as a signal for the party to wrap up.
But we had no guests and no party, so time was passed in other ways. I did not open a book – reading a book by candlelight is not as pleasant as you might think, given how used I have become to bright light for reading. Fortunately I am a book-book guy rather than an e-book guy, so the option remained available if things came to that.
Marianne opted to lie down and doze and I decided that her plan was a good one. The dozing stopped at about seven when appliances began to beep and the darkening room was bathed in light from the ceiling. A snack was had from a nearby drive through and television was watched for the rest of the evening. But even though life had returned to normal, I missed the brief detour back to 1921 or 1871 or whenever else might have found someone like me in a dark house with a need to find some way to pass the time.
Image Credit: Candle photo via Pixabay, free use/no attribution license