Anet looks on the bright side, even when the lights are off

#454 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 2004, Hills Newspapers

It happened again this week, no electricity. Another tree fell, I guess, taking a power line with it.

The blackout began in late afternoon and wasn’t over until the following morning. And was I grumpy! I hated being inconvenienced, resented that I couldn’t easily read or easily cook by flashlight or candle.

I was cold and feeling sorry for myself. Felt sorry for my daughter Annie too whose favorite jeans were still wet in the dryer. She’d waited until that night to write the bibliography due in school early in the morning. Now it could not be produced, at least not on our computer.

Anet, as almost always she is, was cheery. She told me she was sorry. (Sorry for being cheerful? Sorry that I was miserable?) She busied herself, producing from storage her emergency supplies: flashlights, candles, a tiny TV, small round-top lights turned on by tapping, and an old model telephone.

She even offered to make toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner, was willing to search out the ingredients, slice the cheese, assemble, cook and flip them in the dark and increasingly cold house.

“Methinks we are all far too dependent on electricity,” I grumbled. “Even with a clothes dryer that’s gas and a gas furnace, we can’t use them. And many people can’t use their phones or stoves either, can they?”

Anet knows more about these things than I do. I was right, and that’s why, she explained to me then, she’s never thrown a phone away. She keeps them, the kind that plug directly into a phone jack, to use when the power is off.

It is also why, she pointed out, she does not have at her house one of the newer pilotless gas stoves. “Those stoves have electronic ignition so no electricity, no flames.”

I sat down on the couch with Anet. She’d perched the baby TV on the coffee table, stacked on magazines. We peered at the screen. The game board on “Jeopardy” was about the size of a pack of cards.

And I complained. “I hate this,” I said. “I know,” Anet said. “This sucks,” I told her. And so forth.

After a time of this, probably because I was bored by my boredom, I surprised myself, probably Anet too, by saying, “It could be worse.” And I began to tell why I thought so, adding new imaginings as they came to me.

“My kids are older now,” I started. “They aren’t depending on me to fix their dinner in the dark. I don’t have to figure out how to get them to go down the dark hall to their dark bedrooms to go to bed tonight. I’m lucky.”

“But right now there’s a mom somewhere who’s just getting home from work. Her husband is on a business trip, or maybe she doesn’t have a husband.”

“Anyway, it’s pouring rain and she’s tired. She just got off BART, she’s cold and wet and she still has to hike up the hill to home. She’s worried about her kids, she knows they’re scared.”

“They were expecting to be home alone only half an hour till she got there, but it’s later now.”

Anet and I watched the little TV for awhile and at the commercial, I continued my saga. “She gets home, the kids are freaked out. Everyone’s hungry and the microwave isn’t working. Plus the mom can’t find any candles and there’s only one flashlight

“The kids are clustered around mom not knowing what to do. They don’t want to take a shower in the dark and they can’t do their homework.”

“One of the kids says loudly, ‘But, Mom, my poster has to be done tomorrow. Mr. Holman said so.’”

I thought some more and added, more morosely now, “And of course the kids start fighting. The mom’s telling them not to keep opening the refrigerator, and no, the toaster won’t work either. All the while she’s wondering how they are going to get through this very long evening.”

Suddenly I had a new thought. “Maybe she’ll try making it fun. She’ll tell the kids they can all camp out together in the living room, make a fire in the fireplace, bring their blankets and pillows, and sleep on the floor.”

“I could never pull that off myself,” I told Anet, “and neither could you, because neither of us think it sounds likes fun sleeping on a hard floor. But lots of people are camper type people and maybe they would enjoy getting together in the dark living room, playing word games, telling stories.”

Anet spoke for the first time in a long while. I think some of her cheeriness had gone as she listened to the tale I’d been spinning. Even with her good preparedness and resourcefulness, Anet would never want to be the pretend mom I’d been describing.

I know she was glad that right then, we didn’t have to do anything with young kids and no electricity.

“Drastic measures are necessary here,” Anet said. “This is when that women should dig deep and pull every ounce of energy out of her toes. She needs to put the kids in the car and take them out to dinner.”

“Then to a movie, or to a friend’s house, anywhere where there’s heat, electricity, food, distraction. And they should stay wherever that is until they’re all so exhausted they’ll fall into bed and immediately go to sleep.”

“Surely, tomorrow, the power will be on.”

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