We recently went through a seriously unpleasant sixteen-hour power outage. We spent the morning working in the yard—no problem. But as the hours stretched out and the house got darker, I had to make an effort to stay calm and OG almost went off the deep end. It got me thinking about how much more dependent we are on our electric-powered devices that we used to be.
Sixteen hours isn’t that long. Why was it so difficult? The first year we were married, a massive spring ice storm paralyzed the city and yanked the power line right off the back of our house. It was cold and snowy, and we were without power for five days. I remember having to sleep under a down comforter in a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and never being able to get warm. We still had hot water, so we could shower before work, and I dried my hair in front of the gas fireplace. Our furry cat was happy as a polar bear, but I was quite cranky. I can’t remember what we did for food since we had an electric stove, but somehow we survived.
About fifteen years ago, we had major summer storms two years in a row in Minnesota that knocked out power for several days. The first time, we lost all the food in our fridge and lived out of a Coleman cooler. After that, OG bought a generator. The second time, we saved our food but had to deal with a crazy neighbor who couldn’t stand the noise of the generator. We were without lights, television, and air conditioning. However, it stays light until nearly ten o’clock in the summer in Minnesota and the evenings are usually comfortable, so I don’t remember it being too bad.
Fast forward to the present, and many things have changed. The recent outage came at seven o’clock in the morning and lasted until eleven that night. Because we now have the latest energy-saving, on-demand hot water heater with an electronic start, we had no hot water, and I’m much too old for cold showers. Besides, our lovely new gas fireplace is all-electronic, too. There’s no way to manually turn on and light the gas, so I couldn’t have dried my hair that way anyway. Our cordless phones didn’t work to call the utility, and when I used my cell they just referred me to their website for updates. Fortunately, we had a battery back-up for the modem and router, so we had internet—but only for a few hours. For the rest of the day, we relied on my cell phone and tablet. If they hadn’t been fully charged, we would have been out of luck.
I was able to light the gas stove with a match, but the microwave and oven were out of commission, so it was soup for dinner. The situation got dicier as night set in. We sat in the pitch black living room, huddled next to a pair of fluorescent Coleman lanterns. As a retired gentleman, OG is much more dependent on television than I think healthy, but it is what it is. Since this happened on a Sunday, there was no football! He tried to read a little, but I think he spent most of the evening sitting with his eyes closed, trying not to explode. I fared better. I read more than half of Jannine’s Every Move She Makes (excellent, by the way!), but it was exhausting in the dim light with my old eyes. It was a very long evening. I have never been so relieved to hear the beeps and flashes as our appliances came back to life a little after eleven.
There are several reasons this outage was so much more difficult for us. Previously, our daughter was still at home. Children are distracting—they engage you; they have needs; they make noise. This time it was just the two of us in the silent darkness that set in by dinner time. Previously, we had hot water—you never know how much you miss hot water until you don’t have it. But possibly most significant, it pointed out how much we’ve come to rely on our gadgets to fill our time and attention.
Many people enjoy camping to get away from the constant electronic hum of modern life, but for better or worse, OG and I are not among them. Next time we lose power, I’m taking him to a hotel!