Rural Living

Rendered Powerless

A Lesson in the Value of Strap-on Headlights


by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer


Margo Oxendine

Folks in far western Virginia were clobbered by a surprise storm June 29. It was sneaky and swift and wicked.

I had just returned home from Covington, where it was 103 degrees. I bought $200 worth of groceries, in preparation for houseguests during July 4. I put away the fabulous foods, took a shower and washed my hair, which proved to be quite fortuitous.

Ten minutes later, reading in my chair, I noticed the sky looked darker than it should for early evening. And then I spotted something else: The Green Tinge.

I learned during my time on boats in the Gulf that whenever the sky takes on a green tinge, it is time to batten down the hatches, hurry toward shore, and pray you make it.

I darted outside to take down the laundry. The wind picked up and twigs began to blow off the trees. Back inside, the curtains were sucked into the screens. Thunder rumbled. And suddenly, it was upon us: the wildest, scariest storm I’ve ever experienced.

I’ve been tossed at sea with waterspouts dancing madly and lightning striking the mast. But I’ve never been so frightened as I was the night of June 29. I could hear a roar, and big trees crashing down around my house and onto the highway. The power blew in an instant.

I think the scariest thing about it was that I had absolutely no control whatsoever. And I’m a girl who likes control.

Would a big pine tree crash into the house? It sure sounded like it could.

I almost panicked, but I learned long ago that panic can be death. Brownie panted loudly, dancing in a little circle. I figured the best thing to do was to get us out of there and down to the end of the driveway, near a concrete-block building with no tall trees around it. We’d be safer waiting there. I picked up Brownie and — optimist that I am — a bottle of water, a book and my cell phone. In the car, I figured, we’d have light, and the radio, and I could read until the storm passed.

The joke was on me. The driveway was completely blocked by fallen trees. I hurried back inside, carrying Brownie. Both of us were shaking.

Thus began six long, hot days of living without power. All the expensive, fun food in the refrigerator and freezer spoiled, except for the few things a friend and I grilled outside the first three nights.

By the third night, we were on our “last supper.” It was fish, and we just hoped it wasn’t “Ptomaine Tilapia.”

I discovered the smartest purchase I’d made in years. At the time, it was an impulse buy, but that “miner’s headlamp” was invaluable: I could strap it on and read until it was time for bed.

I never did adjust to not having coffee when I arose at 5:30 every morning. And working as a storm-covering reporter was daunting, considering I was power-less. I’d write until my computer battery was spent, and then go set up an office at the corner of my friend’s kitchen table.

During my ordinary life, ice is unimportant. I never even turn on the ice-maker. During a power outage, though, ice becomes a special Holy Grail type of quest. A power-line worker I took a photo of gave me a bag of it on Day Two. I was happier than if it were a bag of diamonds. Another worthless thing I came to treasure was a small cardboard fan. I waved it until my hand hurt, and then I switched hands.

The BARC Electric Cooperative guys and power crews from far-flung locales worked night and day. Most of Bath County was back on in short order. But my big trees had caused a lot of damage; they’d mangled power, phone, and cable lines. Up and down the highway, lights twinkled and TV sets glowed in the night, while I fanned myself with cardboard and read by a light strapped to my head.

I was never so happy than when the BARC guys showed up in my driveway. They’d been at it for 14 hours a day for six days, yet they managed to smile and joke around and do their job quickly and competently.

Here’s the quirky thing: A couple of them didn’t have power back at their own homes yet. Now, isn’t that the truest demonstration of “cooperative living”? You bet! And thanks. 


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