The night the lights went out | Mark’s Remarks


Recently, we had a power outage that was, I thought, wonderful. It seemed everything halted for a time. We lit candles and sat around in the quiet, really enjoying each other’s company. We had conversations. After a while, some of us read by candlelight. I expected Abe Lincoln to come in at any time and start doing his arithmetic on the back of a shovel with a piece of coal.

I remember being a kid and being at my grandparent’s house during a storm. I remember almost everything that went on that day.

We gathered there because some of my aunts and uncles were visiting. We were also lucky to have great-aunts and uncles there, too. It was a bit of a mini-family reunion.

My grandmother, never one to skip chores or rest much, had her “warsh” out on the line. Since it was a Friday night or a Saturday, she must have been washing sheets and “bedclothes” for guests who would be sleeping there that night. Her regular wash day was Monday.

One of my aunts came out in the yard and summoned the rest of us to help bring in said “warsh” and we all headed for the clothesline that spanned the entrance to the barn lot.

I remember the bunch of us going as fast as we could as the raindrops began to fall. My taller cousins grabbed the clothespins and dropped them into the bucket I held. Aunts and my mom grabbed the sheets and folded them as best they could. We ran into the house in one big bunch, panting with exertion as we made it to the screened back porch.

I lingered with some of my other cousins and uncles and grandpa in the “carport” and watched the storm blow in. As usual, my grandpa sat there with flyswatter in hand as the flies were in a frenzy right before the storm. I’ m sure there was a homemade ice cream freezer sitting around somewhere for some of us had already taken our turns on the crank. Uncles smoked pipes and cigarettes, which glowed as darkness set in.

The storm blew in and the wind whipped through the garage. Rain began to fall, and as we scrambled to fold up lawn chairs and put the garage door down, I remember looking up at the little windmill on the clothesline pole turning at a breakneck speed.

We all gathered in the kitchen, dining room, back porch and all around the house for the evening meal. I don’t recall what we ate, but I can tell you it was probably something you’d all like to sample. The ladies of my family were some of the best cooks around. When they all got together, it was something. The sounds of a large family enjoying a meal seemed to drown out the storm.

Supper ended and the dishes were done up. The men once again retreated to the garage as the rain still fell. The ice cream was brought in. I’m sure there were cookies and probably a pot of coffee around, too.

Right after we had enjoyed the ice cream and other desserts, another storm blew through. One could always tell what direction the storm was coming by going to either the front porch or the back. This one seemed to be coming from both directions, which my grandma always said meant trouble.

Somehow, everyone seemed to huddle in the living room, a few of us spilling into a side bedroom and the dining room. The living room was part of the original house, which had been a log cabin at one time. I’m sure it was one of the sturdiest rooms in the house. None of us seemed to wonder about going down to the old, dark cellar, which was a spooky and unwelcoming place.

Right at the end of the storm, the lightning and thunder still putting on a pretty good show, the power went out. This was a good-old fashioned country storm. Because it was the early 1970’s, power outages could last a while.

But this one ended up being one of the most memorable of my life. My funny great-aunt told stories about my grandmother and her other sisters when they were growing up at the house in the country. The rain continued to fall as the storm died out. Windows were opened. Breezes made candlelight flicker and the power stayed off.

My great-aunt talked about trips to the outhouse and how once she had opened the window and tried to avoid a trip to the outhouse by hanging her posterior out the window. “Dad always wondered why those screens down below were getting so rusty,” she said. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Everyone enjoyed those bellylaughs that always made you gasp for air and feel as though you’d done a bunch of sit-ups.

Not to be outdone, my grandfather talked about running home after church on Sunday night with his brother to go in the chicken house and upset the chickens.

They would secretly giggle in the other room as they’d hear his father going for the shotgun and inform Grandma Minnie there must be a fox sneakin’ around out there.

Each aunt and uncle took their turn, and the cousins and I were treated to a little history mixed with funny anecdotes and pranks. I believe evenings like that encouraged my love of history, laughter, pranks, and also helped me realize the importance of family and of never taking myself too seriously.

We were all a little disappointed when the power finally came back on. The ladies hustled out to the kitchen to do up the dessert dishes. Games among the cousins resumed. My grandpa undoubtedly switched on Channel 14 out of Evansville to see what the crazy weather lady, Marcia Yockey, was saying. The bustle of the house continued.

But the memories of that evening remained. I don’t know that we were ever all together like that again.

And even to this day, I look forward to power outages.

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