When the Power Is Out, What Do We Turn Into?

Posted 09-28-2011 at 07:40 AM by Monica Beyer

Before Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc in the northeast, we had some severe weather here in Missouri. An outrageous thunderstorm blew through, scared me to death and killed our electricity. Fortunately we had little damage, unlike many families in town who lost enormous trees, like our next door neighbors.

We were without power for 1 1/2 days. We lost the contents of our refrigerator and freezer and I realized how amazingly dependent we are on electricity. No lights …  no matter how often I went down the darkened hallway and flipped the switch, I never got used to it. No stove. No microwave. No refrigerator. No washing machine. No sewing machine. No central air conditioning. No interwebs! And it bloomed up into the mid-90s the next day, and the day after. The air in the house became still, moist, hot and stinky. Willow’s bedroom reeked. Our trash reeked. It was just gross.

We played games and told stories and tried to make it fun. Flashlights and lanterns retain their fun even when you’re hot and sticky.

We stayed in the basement that first night because it was cooler down there. I slept in one of my sons’ beds (who had excused himself to a friend’s house for the night) which is a twin. I shared the bed with my 20-month-old toddler and my older daughter slept on the floor. Willow is a huge bed hog and I didn’t sleep well at all the entire night. Even though it was cooler down there I still felt warm and uncomfortable with no circulating air. It was completely silent in the house too, which added to my discomfort.

The second day I declared I was finished with this nonsense and was ready to book a hotel room. Happily … amazingly … at 11:30 (36 hours almost exactly from the outage) the power came back on.

It did lead me to think — people lived without electricity for hundreds of years. People had no circulating fans, no air conditioning, no stoves or ovens, no refrigerators. People slept on the ground, happily, or at least without complaint, at some point in our history.

As technology grows by leaps and bounds, do we become wussies because of it? Can you imagine leaving your house without your cell phone? When I was driving around as a teenager, I felt no wave of panic if I didn’t have a lifeline in my bag, because there weren’t any around at the time. People who grew up in the 30’s didn’t go nutty if their air conditioning went out. Early humans didn’t groan and phone the electric company when a tree fell on their power line and they needed to cook, or work online, or do the laundry. They were more worried about being eaten by wild beasts and finding a safe place to sleep and care for their little ones.

Are we losing a bit of our humanity as we progress, or are we gaining new insight and amazing new possibilities? Or a little of both?


About Monica: Monica has been writing professionally since 2000 and has two published books — Teach Your Baby to Sign and Baby Talk. Her writing appears in a number of websites. The mother of four children, Monica is a cloth diaper and natural parenting enthusiast. She also sews custom fleece soakers at Mama Bird.

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One Response to “When the Power Is Out, What Do We Turn Into?”

  1. Havah on September 28th, 2011 5:22 pm

    … I remember having similar musings during our last major powerout … only ours was on the other end of the weather spectrum. An ice storm blew through – and blew out – much of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State last Thanksgiving week. Let me tell you, that was a thrill … our food was fine, but trying to keep a 1-year-old and 4-year-old not only occupied, but warm in subfreezing temps and short days … yeah, that was a tad overwhelming. It suddenly struck me how dependent society has forced us to be on transportation and electric power: if it hadn’t been for my dad’s generous loan of a small generator before the season hit, we would have had NO source of heat. Since our well pump was also without power (a large pump for 4 households), we also had no running water (fortunately I had been raised to fill the bathtub for toilet-flushing whenever a windstorm was coming). And the roads were too dangerous to go anywhere.
    One thing’s for certain: next time we move, I’m insisting on a rental that has either a woodstove or at least a fireplace from which I can safely run a propane emergency heater. You’re right – even if we have the “know-how”, many of us just aren’t set up to deal with the real world sans-electricity.

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