When The Power Goes Out

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

20 thoughts on “When The Power Goes Out

  1. We live in an area with lots of trees so almost every year a wind or ice storm knocks out power and it takes the hydro company 2-3 days to fix it. The first 24 hours is fun. We have a generator that we start to make coffee or make sure the fridge stays cold. But it’s so loud we only leave it on for about 20 minutes at a time. I have a headlamp for cross country skiing that I use to read. We have a fireplace and a battery operated radio so it’s an adventure …. at first. By the end of day 2, the novelty has worn off and we can’t wait for the power to come back on.

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    • I cannot recall the last time we went over 24 hours without electricity, and I can easily imagine that I would be very, very over any romantic notions about an electric-free life by that time. I love the idea of the headlamp for reading!

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  2. Nice story… Our power went out this summer with the strange lightening/thunder storms we were having. Like you said, it brings us back to our childhood where if we told our parents we were “bored,” they would tell us to FIND SOMETHING to do. Electronics have taken over our life. Lately, I’ve been longing for a beach vacation… leave cell phone in the room, just bring my book to the beach – REST MY BRAIN! LOL In some ways, COVID and isolation has been good for that — eating at home again, not being around a lot of people, etc. It gave time to pause and to think, what do we really want in these last years of our life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I got a little beach reading in a couple of weeks ago – and it was glorious. And how well I remember the parental responses to the whiny “I’m bored”. “Go outside” was Mom’s go-to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My father with younger grandkids will confiscate cell phones, Ipads, etc. I tells them they can check messages 2-3x a day, other than that, they need to enjoy life the “old way.” Ride a bike, carry some firewood, rake leaves, mow his lawn, skip stones at the pond, catch tad poles… Basically, back to the basics of enjoying being outside, letting your mind be free. Kids need parents/grandparents to take an interest in them, not let them get lost in social media stuff, which is causing a lot of mental illness in young people. Well, we’re navigating a whole new world, where everyone seems to go into their own rabbit holes, right.

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  3. This is certainly an event in which reactions differ by person and over time. My father, who will be 78 in December, had no electricity in his home until he was 11. So to him a power outage brings back warm childhood memories. He almost seems to enjoy it.

    Conversely, there was a power outage in the area the other night subsequent to a storm. A 34 year old coworker told me his wife woke him at 2 am to inform him the power was out. She was apoplectic about it, primarily because she could not hear the baby monitor, and wanted him to go start the generator. His response was “you have to be sh!++ing me” before he rolled back over and went to sleep.

    For Marie and I, it’s an annoyance but so long as the weather isn’t overly frigid, or the contents of the freezer aren’t in jeopardy, we tend to be just roll with the punches. Having been gifted a generator has been helpful but it’s only been used to power electric yard tools.

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    • I have toyed with the idea of a generator but have never pulled the trigger. A neighbor popped for a whole-house generator system a year or two ago and has been pretty satisfied with it – although he did say that he turned off a bunch of his outside lights during one power failure purely out of a desire to not rub his neighbors’ noses in their lack of a generator.

      My stepmother lives out in the country and in bad weather her power can go out for days at a time. She and her sister (who lives down the road) both had to spend several days in a hotel during one such stretch during a cold winter. Our biggest worries are the refrigerator/freezers and the sump pump.

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  4. As a city dweller, I never remember having the power go out for more than an hour or so. I recently had a 5 hour outage, unheard of, because I think my local power company has cut line workers down to the bare minimum to pay higher dividends to their shareholders. On top of that, our power prices are high! Just a few years ago I ran my air conditioning almost all summer in Zionsville, and my bill from my electrical co-op was about 27 bucks a month , it’s more than double that to run my air a couple of times a month here in Milwaukee now.

    Fortunately/Unfortunately, I’m turning into an old man, i.e. my father; so I have a small selection of cheap LED flash-lights all over the house because I can’t read the thermostat (in broad daylight!), or see a dial on something. When the power went out, I had light all over! Also, when I lived in Indy/Zionsville, I bought what I refer to as an “old man radio”, which is basically a radio that mostly runs on batteries, AM/FM, with a 5 inch speaker. I bought it to listen to the Jazz station WICR, when I was on my porch and reading the NYT and smoking a cigar. Weirdly enough, it is NOT a pocket radio, and hence instead of running on 2 AA’s, it runs on 4 “C” cells! I used it the 4 years I was in Indiana, and then Sundays for 3 years here, and it made it though the 5 hour outage, no problems! I bought it 4 new “C” cells afterwards, just to be nice!

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    • Haha, we all turn into our parents at some point. We know right where our flashlight is and I also have a battery (with a wind-up backup!) weather radio that I got from my mother.
      The other benefit of a power outage is that it gives us an opportunity to dig into the lifetime candle stash that Marianne has accumulated. 🙂

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  5. Thank goodness my mother raised me to be a reader. During the few times we’ve lost power for an extended period, I simply pick up a book and lose myself in reading. It relieves the stress of thinking about the long-term impact of the outage. Plus, my Kindle lasts a week without a charge so I don’t worry about conserving its power. We have one landline phone that does not require power. We keep our cars outside. Every now and then I’ve been tempted to invest in a generator but our power supply is too reliable, even in these rural parts.

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    • Wow, that is a long battery life on your Kindle. I have never made that leap – there is something about the tactile experience of fingers on paper that is part of the book experience for me, and I am unwilling to give it up.

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  6. You’re fortunate that this latest power outage was in September. In my experience, 97% of power outages around here occur in either the blasting heat of July/August or the frigid cold of January/February. I suppose if we had a generator that could just power the a/c or boiler, then my stress would be greatly reduced.

    But another aspect of stress is that typically about 3.5 seconds after the power goes out, Margaret starts worrying that all our food is going to spoil. And I think she spends most of her time during a power failure piecing together a mental ledger sheet of what is in our freezer and refrigerator, and putting a dollar value on it. That’s pretty stressful too.

    Other than those two things, I guess power failures don’t bother me much.

    Amusingly, we have friends who live a few blocks from here and they have the misfortune of living on a street that seemingly loses power every time the wind rustles the leaves. We often call them to see if they’d like to come over, but they always say they like the relaxation, and they usually set up a tent in the basement for the kids and make a game out of it. Good for them.

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  7. We lost power a solid week after the Derecho on June 16, 1980 hit SE Michigan. And, we’ve lost power in the Winter which was NOT fun in the least. A neighbor made hot coffee and oatmeal on an outside grill. Due to all the erratic weather these days, I’d like to get an instant-on generator. My house is small, but it is still quite costly for an entire home generator, though just getting juice for the circuits for the kitchen to avoid losing refrigerated and frozen foods and also the furnace to avoid cracked pipes appeals to me … also I have no family that I could stay with which is worrisome. I watched this video earlier tonight – it is nice to share on this post about having no power. What a wonderful woman:
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/steve-hartman-on-the-road-houma-lousiana-linemen-meals-angel-flood/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I worry about some aging relatives who live in the country and get socked with outages far more frequently than I do, so I understand your concern. Yes, those built-in generators are not cheap. But as you note, things that can happen without heat in your house are not cheap either. I wonder if homeowner insurers offer a discount for folks with generators?

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      • Yes, I dwell on power outages in Winter all too much. That is a good question about a homeowners insurance discount if you have an instant-on generator. I would think it would be. We’ve had so many storms in Michigan this year, many with repeated outage events that last five or more days, that people have become quite outspoken about it. Our energy provider gave homeowners a $25.00 check and they said it was not enough – it would not be at the price of perishables these days. Plus, many people are still working from home, so they are out of luck with no power. I had no idea how expensive it was for a portable generator and someone in the City Facebook forum said they were paying $18.00 daily for gas to run their portable generator. I was surprised about that amount.

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  8. We took my father for a few days into cottage country, and rented an Airbnb by a lake (Ahmic Lake near Magnetawan if you want to look it up). A storm rolled through in the evening around 7pm and the power went out. The cottage had a generator, so I went to check it out but it looked non-functional and a text to the cottage owner confirmed it. We had a nice evening of talking by candle light and turned in, the worst part was that when the power came on after midnight so did all the lights!

    When my daughter was young I read her all the Little House on the Prairie series, The Long Winter describes how to keep busy under those conditions. There was a lot of sewing, fiddle playing and pancake making as I recall.

    A power outage is a good reminder of our societal interdependency, and that we collectively need to keep the bills paid.

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    • Yes, isn’t that the worst when you awaken in the middle of the night to all the lights on? We have a couple of bedrooms with ceiling fan/light controls that result in this every time power is interrupted, whether the light was on before or not.

      Mmmm, pancake making sounds like an excellent idea! And your point about societal interdependence is a good one. Sometimes an outage brings neighbors outside to talk and help each other in ways that don’t often enough happen under normal conditions.

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  9. I remember the big summer blackout that hit central Canada and parts of the eastern seaboard in 2003? I think that was the year as I was off work and at the beach and had to drive home through many busy intersections with no traffic lights. The power was out for 24-36 hours – longer in some places. It was July and hot so the worst part was no A/C but all the neighbours sat outside and talked, with bonfires in the backyard and candles in the windows which was nice to see. And it was so very quiet, eerily quiet. The other bad thing was no coffee. I drove into town as I had heard that one of the Tim Horton’s had a generator but they were closed when I got there. After that, they significantly upgraded the systems, so that kind of interconnected overload event would not happen again. On the rare occasion when the local hydro goes out, it’s usually back on in a few hours, and you can call the Ontario Hydro Outage phone number on your cell phone, and they will give you an (usually correct) estimated time the power will be restored, and then send you a text when it is. Useful for planning what to eat for supper. I only remember the power going off once for a long time in the winter – when I was just home from a southern vacation – so no heat was a shock but again the biggest issue was no coffee! A gas stove would be useful. My dad said they never had hydro installed on the farm until 1947, after the war, and it was a big deal to have hydro in the barn, as they didn’t have to milk the cows with lanterns!

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    • My mother grew up on a farm and they did not get power out in the country until 1939 – she was only six then, but carried memories of that time for the rest of her life.

      No coffee would be the worst! You make me think that one of those old-fashioned stovetop percolators would be a great addition to my storm preparedness kit.

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      • Very Little-House-on-the-Prairie! I had one of those small plug-in Poly-Perk percolators for my dorm in first year university – it was orange, a popular color then, but oh the smell of fresh perked coffee, even if it was a pain to deal with the grounds. It’s why I have a French press coffee thing I never use. My mother had a white ceramic Corning Ware stovetop Percolator too. She thought it an amazing thing when our Michigan cousins told us about the new drip Mr. Coffee makers. The evolution of coffee machines could make a whole blog….

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