The powerless family

Memories of living without power...


My grandmother would be ashamed of me. She was born in 1918, had 6 children, lived on a farm, owned a small shop, kept a husband and family in a huge house - all without electricity. Her children were well into school years when power was on at that house in rural Ireland. The past few warm weeks are warning us that summer is coming and the threat of power outages will return. The memories of a whole week of powerlessness, is still fresh.

Besides recovering from the disappointment that Halloween was canceled, we had to recover from the shock that the joy of building snow men in October, turned quickly to dread, as the freak storm took out power lines all over Bethel.  My initial fear of “what will we do to entertain the kids” was short lived. Our usual week of entertainment can involve surfing the web, watching TV, X-box or Wii. I thought that I would be driven demented with whining children.

That wasn’t the case. Our hierarchy of needs changed dramatically, as I realized we had no heat, no hot water and of course, no way to cook. Our laundry pile was slowly taking over the entire basement after 12 hours of useless GE machines.

All of a sudden matches were allowed in the house again as we tried to light our way through the dark house with candles. My stress level increased with every candle. My box of t-lights became the most important thing in the house as well as constant lecturing to the 7-year old about the dangers of fire.

By day 2 I was exhausted. School was canceled and I was working only a few hours a day. I managed to shower at work.  By day 3, we had evacuated the house and abandoned the candles. We had a brief farewell ceremony for the fish tank. Despite the fact that we regularly forget to feed them, I was sure that one week without heat or light would be too much of a challenge for their hardy wet souls. We left way too much food out for the cat, with several bowls of water, but he still managed to look as unperturbed as always.

As it turned out, our destination - our friends in Newtown, was also playing host to 3 other families who had decided to move out of their home for the time being. It was a zoo. We all had brought the contents of our freezer and fridge and managed to feed the entire small village that was gathering in one of the last remaining houses in Newtown with power.

As I returned every night to check the house alone, I felt like a cave women having to open the garage door manually. The cat greeted me with a sort of benign ennui. He was definitely getting fat.

The fish were still there day after day, but the house itself was decidedly lonely, dull and depressingly cold. Our home was a foreign place without power and I was powerless to do anything about it.

I felt desperate gratitude every time I drove past a repair crew on the road, while at the same time I wanted to shout out to them to please hurry up.  I sat in the car for hours at a time to power my phone and with relief was able to use my mobile FaceBook to keep up with friends.
As friends power was reconnected, the offers of assistance were being broadcast around  e-Bethel.

I thought of a grandmother who would return to a cold dark home in a country that sees rain on a daily basis. She had managed to feed her children, make a warm bed, drink endless cups of tea, host friends and family, run a small business and say decades of the rosary under her breath the entire time. My small choice of religious words were nowhere near as pious, as I realized by day 5 that there was no word of our street being reconnected.

 By day 7, we were probably the last house reconnected. For the first time in history, I ran through the house turning ON all the lights. We delighted in having a well-lit bathroom and a well-stocked fridge. The accumulation of dirt and dust was quite spectacular.  I was kept busy cleaning up dust bunnies for a few days and was even tempted to turn off all the lights just so I wouldn’t have to see the dirt.

As summer looms, I hope the memories of being powerless fade. Summertime, at least, means barbeques, traveling, walks in the park and hanging out with friends.  With fingers crossed, I hope I don’t have to return to any powerless days.

So, with great apologies Nanna, I know I’m made of the same strong Irish Catholic faith as you. I probably have your child-bearing hips. I just don’t think I have your power to live without power.  

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Marisa DiIorio April 22, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Thank you for sharing memories that applied to many people, (including myself). As a society we are so programed to electricity and technology that when it's taken away we find ourselves powerless. I also start thinking back to our grandparents and wonder how did they manage? There are people in this day that do not have power and are happy. I wonder sometimes if I can survive like they did? Probably not.


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