Hurricane Irene was, relatively, nothing more than a big storm when it came through Maine. But it did bring back memories of our family’s experiences with Ivan, Dennis and Katrina: the quiet, deserted streets; the sound of generators at night; the darkness; the worry.
We lived without power for more than a week after those hurricanes. (New definition of hell: August in Florida without air conditioning.)
By 10 p.m. Sunday, however, Irene still had not taken our electricity. I was baking cookies and mentioning that the day had felt like a long snow day, with the notable absence of the roof rake and snowblower.
Which doesn’t mean the possibility of losing power wasn’t on our minds. The lights occasionally flickered, and our children stopped midbite, their cookies hovering over their plates, to look up at the ceiling. Losing electricity is a common concern when you are a kid, because on the scariness scale, being in the dark ranks just below someone reaching out from under the bed and grabbing your ankles.
And really, adults aren’t that fond of the dark either. We only put on a brave face for the children. Once, when our power suddenly went out in Florida, I jumped out of the bathtub and ran through the house screaming and slipping on my trail of suds. Dustin told me later that I had set a bad example for our boys. Since then, I’ve gotten better about being in the dark. In fact, when we lost power during a family vacation in New Hampshire a few years ago, I helped our family make the most of it by suggesting that we play “Two Truths and a Lie” by candlelight.
Still, at 34 years old, I continue to fall asleep with a night light.
So I had my eye on the chandelier overhead, too, even as I told our youngest son, Lindell, 4, that “losing power is like sitting around with your eyes closed.” Total bologna. Losing power is like trying to get a bug out of your eye and putting your activities on an indefinite pause. It’s walking into the bathroom and, out of habit, flipping on the light switch, even though you have a flashlight in your hand and you know the lights won’t work. (What’s up with that?) It’s eating cold cereal and reaching into the fridge super fast so that you don’t let cool air escape. It’s searching for flashlights and then realizing your children have used up all the batteries during light saber duels.
I did not want to lose power.
Then Lindell started crying.
Lindell: “What happens if we lose power?”
Me (eyeing light fixture): “Then Mommy can’t make any more cookies. That is all.”
Lindell: “Who will fix the expricity?”
Lindell: “Yes, the expricity.”
Me: “Men and women from the power company will come during the night and fix the lines, and then we will have lights again.”
Lindell accepted this last reassurance, and about an hour later, he fell asleep.
That’s when the power went out.
Dustin found some flickering, battery-operated pumpkin lights and set them on the dresser. I rubbed my eyes as they adjusted to the new conditions. Then I lay in my bed, staring in the direction of the ceiling and hoped that the recorded message from the power company — the one saying to expect days-long power outages — was wrong. When I went to the bathroom, I flipped the switch and cursed myself. Eventually, I fell asleep.
The next morning, the lights were on.
Me: “The lights went out last night, Lindell, and you didn’t even know it.”
Lindell (eyes wide): “Did the invisible men come in the middle of the night to fix it? Did they come in our house while we were sleeping?”
I realized Lindell thought the power company was something like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. And I can see how that might be a little scary to a 4-year-old. I took him outside and showed him the cables stretching across the telephone poles and to our house. I told him that brave men and women — real ones, not invisible ones — get in special cranes on trucks and fix the lines so that we can have light.
I didn’t know if Lindell was disappointed or relieved. Probably a little of both.
But isn’t that the way with most of modern-day’s “expected” utilities? We don’t think about electricity until we lose it. We don’t think about men and women who work on the lines until we need them. We complain about the lights being out, then we forget to marvel at how quickly they return. While we are waking up and starting our day, the people who brought us restored light are crawling into bed after a night’s hard work.
Much like the military, it’s a service that goes unnoticed and underappreciated until we need it. Today, Lindell and I are both grateful and amazed.