The tornadoes that devastated much of Alabama recently left Huntsville without power for five days. It was an interesting experiment - living off the grid. We were very fortunate to have water the entire time and, as we gathered around our small transistor radio to listen to the fate of hard-hit areas, we felt blessed beyond words. Although I did spend some of that week with out-of-town friends and family (I'm a city girl at heart,) there were lessons we learned during those days without electricity, so I thought I'd share a few here:
1.Neighborhoods are important. Everyone looked out for each other, bringing ice when we were able to find it, cooking freezers full of thawing meat in block party barbecues, sharing candles and batteries, beer and stories. Local groceries and drug stores opened until supplies were exhausted - which boosted moral, too. The lines were long and the stores were dark, but shopping for a few goods gave us a feeling of normalcy that calmed fear of the "unknowns" ahead.
2.Electronics definitely hinder social life. When the cell phone batteries died, the video games couldn't be charged, and the TV shows were dark, folks talked. They met neighbors they didn't know. Parents and grandparents told kids stories they hadn't heard. Friends biked over to chat on the porch. Conversation became king, just for a little while - and it was really nice.
3.Generators aren't necessary. When people we knew bought them at huge prices, and I asked them what for, they told me the refrigerator, the TV, and the hot water heater. We did fine without all three, although I have to admit the hot water would have been nice. One of my students said they ran the garden hose in through the window and washed the soap off with water warmed by the sun, which sounded lovely. Generators, by the way, make a lot of noise. And the night quiet was a pleasant new sensation too when dusk-to-dawn curfews stopped all traffic on the roads.
4.The night sky really is beautiful. I don't know if I'll ever again see the stars without light interference from anywhere in the city. It was quite a treat. And while I admit it was a little unnerving not being able to see the proverbial hand in front of my face, the blanket of total darkness was intriguingly novel.
5.Family is all you need for a party. My birthday happened to fall on the first night we were without power and my family threw quite an innovative soiree. Dinner cooked on the gas stovetop and grill, candlelight in the backyard - even a no-bake homemade cookie cake with chocolate topping. It was magical night and a birthday I won't forget.
My heart hurts for the people who lost everything and for grieving family members of those who died. I am incredibly grateful for the safety of my niece and nephews in Tuscaloosa, one of whom crawled out unharmed from a house that was destroyed around him. I am thankful for my family, my friends, my home, and my neighborhood - and for the newfound knowledge that, if some future emergency requires me to live like a pioneer for a while, all will be well.