As a kid, I always enjoyed listening to my grandfather talk about life in the 1880s and 1890s when he was growing up on a Penobscot Bay island. As young as I was I still would marvel at stories of how they somehow managed to live without telephones and televisions and central heating and indoor plumbing and hot showers and Saturday morning cartoons. Sure, we could do without those things when we were up to camp in summer and fall, but we always knew those essentials were still available to us back home and we knew we’d soon go back to them and we were always mostly glad when it was time to leave camp and go home.
Grandfather never tired of telling about the bitter cold winters they had when the temperature would remain below zero – night and day – for days or weeks on end.
“How did you manage to stay warm,” I’d ask, and he’d just say, “We managed.”
“We didn’t have to worry about what would happen if the power went out because there was no power to go out. The only ‘power’ we had came from our own arms and from horses and oxen and as long as they were fed and cared for their power never went out, either.”
“Then we had a giant Clarion in the kitchen that could pump out enough heat to warm up half the downstairs rooms. The big parlor stove took care of the rest. All the downstairs ceilings had vents so all that nice heat would drift up to the bedrooms and keep them pretty decent.”
It all sounded pretty simple. If you had to go to the mainland for one thing or another and the bay was too frozen over you just didn’t go, that was all.
“So what would you do?” I’d ask.
“We’d fill the stoves and the wood boxes and then we’d read or talk or make bait bags,” he’d say.
Life in winter in Maine sounded almost pleasant the way grandfather described it. You worked hard all spring, summer and fall getting the garden planted and tended and then harvested and the firewood all cut and stacked indoors. Then come winter you mostly relaxed – after making sure the animals were all fed and watered.
I was thinking of all this the other morning after things calmed down a bit. We were concerned for a while because the power went out and we had no idea when it might come back on.
It was about 5:30 a.m. and the reading on the kitchen thermometer was minus 3 and I was just standing there in the kitchen after having made a pot of coffee and built a roaring fire in the Queen Atlantic. Without warning the house went black.
I managed to find the box of matches and lit a few candles. Using candlelight I then fired up a few kerosene lamps and dug out our battery-powered lights, making the kitchen look pretty good.
Before long my wife was up and we managed to cook breakfast without much trouble. When that was all done we just sat there in the dim light.
Now, what do I do? I had planned to spend the day writing but couldn’t do a thing without my computer. Couldn’t watch television, either.
We found out later that a woman in an SUV on nearby Route 26 took her eyes off the road to reach for her cell phone – one of the great conveniences of the new millennium – and she went off the road, snapped off a utility pole, cutting off power and, for about six hours, making life most inconvenient for a few hundred people.
I don’t know what the moral of this story is, but I bet my grandfather would be able to find it and express it to me in his colorful way.