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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

We had a storm last night that knocked the power out for about 30 seconds. Twice!

That’s fairly unusual around here, which is surprising, because when it storms it storms, and you can feel the thunder rolling across the mountains and see the lightning cracking open the sky like a neon egg.

I’m amazed we don’t lose power more frequently, but we don’t. So when it does go out it makes an impression. Even 30 seconds is cause to gasp, especially when everything stops suddenly. It’s particularly shocking in an area where, if noise and light pollution were converted to actual tangible garbage, we’d be buried six feet under.

The power goes out and the TV goes off, the air conditioning goes off, all the air conditioners cluttering every square inch around the buildings go off, the refrigerator stops humming, the lights inside and outside up and down the streets and driveways black out.

That’s what it used to be called – a blackout. Like a few pixels are ripped out of the fabric of space-time and you’re frozen in a moment of absolutely nothing.

It was a great source of angst for the parents and a great source of excitement for the kids.

My how times change! I imagine there are far fewer kids out there these days who are excited by spending an evening in the dark, losing their TV and tablets, no internet or X Box.

Blackouts as a kid meant candlelight, which in itself was an adventure. You somehow had to navigate from room to room, bedroom to bathroom, kitchen to living room by the glow of a candle. The whole house was drenched in shadows, every corner something you’d never seen before, full of any possibility.

You couldn’t cook during a blackout, so you rummaged through cabinets for something to turn into a meal.

That was fantastic, since peanut butter and jelly was always on the menu. Ritz crackers and cheese, cereal for dinner, and ice cream that you had to eat all of before it melted.

You were only allowed to open the refrigerator as infrequently as possible, and you had to get in there and grab what you wanted and get out so it retained the cold for as long as possible and didn’t leak out into the steamy summer air.

Which of course meant we suddenly very much needed juice and apples and the turkey and cheese. It was like a little race against death to whip open the door, grab your food and slam it shut, hoping the milk was still safe.

How is there anything better as a kid than sitting around a table in the dark, eating your way through whatever you could find as if you were fending off starvation in the apocalypse?

The only technology back then was a TV, so it was no great loss to spend an evening without it. Nobody had withdrawal from Instagram or immediately posted on Facebook to announce it to the world. You sat around the table in candlelight, eating ice cream and playing cards or board games, and wishing the power would stay out for about a week.

If you had batteries for your radio, you could still get a station with weather or music.

Later, my parents bought a generator for the house because six kids in an all-electric house without electricity was asking a lot. No oven or stove, no water to drink or flush toilets.

The generator could only power part of the house, but it was enough to keep the refrigerator cold, have a functioning bathroom and a few lights in the kitchen.

It was less exciting but it still felt like a mini vacation from life as usual. Everyone congregated in the part of the house with the electricity, not in your extra-dark bedroom or the basement, and you sort of huddled in that one space like survivors of a shipwreck.

We were dramatic, what can I say.

Blackouts were fun.

When we lost power last night, my first thought was crap, I should have charged my phone. Because even in a blackout you’ve still got a few hours of card games before the battery dies again.

My second thought was crap, I should have charged my laptop. You don’t need internet to blog.

My third thought was well, I wasn’t planning to cook dinner anyway so… watermelon anyone?

And for about six seconds I thought…. my god, is this was peace feels like?

My response to blackouts may have changed but there is still one thing that hasn’t. Whether the lights go off for 30 seconds or three days, I will walk into a room and turn the light switch on every time.

Photo: storm clouds rolling in.