Power Outages

They were on fire.

Tall burning pillars of what were once trees were on fire, and scared, I went running into the kitchen to tell my Mom.

It was the 5th of July 1980, the day after Independence Day. We had no power; a huge storm system had moved through the night before, with tornadoes and high winds. Our large elm tree had broken with the wind, missing the back of my parents’ new silver Mazda by about 3 inches. Trees were down all over Mount Prospect. Debris and litter were strewn all over the place. Some people were unlucky, and had rooves damaged or windows broken, or, like my soon-to-be-first-grade teacher, had her brick chimney collapse on her house.

So, after a short sleep in that morning — with a long night spent huddled in a basement who could blame us — my Mom decided to make some breakfast for us, and stood at the gas stove stirring a pot of something. She asked me, in turn, to keep an eye on my baby brother Brian.

Sitting in what is now my parents’ bedroom, watching my brother Brian sleep, I heard a crackling noise. Then more crackling. I couldn’t see out the window — in my parents’ place, the windows are high up on the wall — so I stood on the bed in the room to peer out the window.

And that’s when I saw it.

Our neighbours two doors down had two large cottonwood trees in their backyard. These trees must have been about a hundred feet high if not higher. They were amongst the tallest trees in the neighbourhood.

And they were on fire.

I rushed to my Mom and told her. She didn’t believe me — to this day, she said it was because I had an overactive imagination (which is still true to this day) — until the firetrucks came racing down our street.

Ends up that with the strong wind, the power lines — strung together with the telephone, cable, et cetera and accessable from power poles running through our backyards — got stuck in the tree. With the winds still moderate, the power line rubbed against the tree, exposing bare wires and… you get the idea. The feedback triggered the power outage (we had just woke up and the power was out) and must have done some pretty major damage because most of the town was out.

Now, I’m taking this from the memory of a six year old, so… some areas are a bit fuzzy, but I do recall being without power for 3 days in the middle of summer. I don’t remember being uncomfortable or angry or anything negative. It was what it was: an act of God.

As you may have read in Noel’s blog, some Aucklanders and North Islanders have been without power for a few days due to a storm that hit. And, it seems, some of them let no opportunity to complain go by.

I don’t remember that happening in our neighbourhood. Neighbours helped one another, made sure they could help out and share what they did have. BBQs seemed to be the norm for dinners. People got on and did what they had to do.

Maybe it was a different time. Lots of people had no power; other people had been or were trapped in their houses. So maybe they were thankful no one in their family was hurt and, hey, having no power for a few days was just an inconvenience and nothing more: no use moaning about it.

With that I share with you a scary but exciting small part of my life, from a time where a power outage caused by high winds and storms was an exciting adventure, not an opportunity to bitch to as many news outlets as you could.

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