The thought behind the old saying about not missing the water ‘til the well runs dry applies in spades to electric power. You go along, taking the lights and washers and dryers and refrigerators and TVs and all for granted until a tree blows down on the power line or an ice storm or something else comes along to disrupt the power supply. Then you realize, as you grope in cabinets and closets for candles or lamps you put away — you can’t remember exactly where — for just such an emergency, just how dependent we are on the energy that travels back and forth over those wires. The youngsters wonder, when they happen to think about such a gross situation ever existing, how we old-timers ever got along without electricity.
I know you’ll find this difficult to believe, but I, young as I am, can remember when we didn’t have it. I was six when they hitched us to the power line, and we were uncommonly lucky. A whole bunch of my kinfolks who lived just a couple of miles up the road didn’t get electrified for still another nine or ten years. So I had many years to observe at first hand the business of getting along without something that is now considered pretty close to basic food and liquid requirements on the list of necessities.
Take lights, for instance. Those coal oil lamps you probably have for emergencies, the ones that cast that feeble, yellow little light, were our only sources of light after dark. In retrospect, that pretty well clears up the question about why people used to go to bed so early. If you really wanted to get fancy, Aladdin lamps put out a much brighter, whiter light. Uncle Kent had one of those. Gosh, it was maybe as bright as a 40-watt bulb. Some people thought that all that brilliance probably wasn’t good for your eyes. We’d light a lantern to illuminate our pre-dawn milking and feeding chores at the barn, just hang it on a nail. and its dim to practically non-existent (depending on how smoky the globe was) glow would light, and seemingly, warm a little bit, the hall and stables.
Our refrigeration facility was the well, into which we would lowera metal cylinder that was built specifically to hold two half-gallon Mason jars of milk. We lowered the milk gently, because a cup of spilled milk in the well meant that the well had to be drawn completely empty to get rid of the dead-rat taste and the smell of the milk-contaminated water.
The washer was Momma and Octagon soap and a rub board and a battling stick and tubs and wash pots and a fire, and hundreds and hundreds of gallons of water, or so it seemed, drawn from the well by me. The dryer was the sturdy clothesline that ran between the big red oak tree and the pine that had the bluebird jug hung on it. We didn’t usually change shirts a couple of times a day back then, needless to say.
The stove was a wood=burner. The water heater was the kettle that sat on it. Before we switched to an electric stove, we moved up to the Rolls Royce of wood stoves, a Home Comfort, with even a hot water reservoir. Our cup ranneth over.
There was no TV, of course, even if we’d been hooked up to REA’s main transmission line. Some people in the community had battery radios, and wind-up Victrolas to play their Jimmy Rodgers records on, but most folks got along without them.
There were no electric shavers, can openers, stereos, vacuum cleaners, tooth brushes, hair dryers, knives, knife sharpeners, shoe shiners or blenders; no electric mixers or Christmas tree lights or outdoor floodlights or vibrators or extension lights or thermostats or fans or air conditioners or heaters. No electric anything.
In even the remotest areas today electricity is now about as common as breathing. How in the world did we ever get along without it? But we did, and strange as it seems, hardly realized at the time that we were missing anything.