Involuntarily Amish

Sage and Chaussette watch the show.

Sage and Chaussette watch the show.

My family awoke yesterday to appliances that were sullenly dark and silent. I attributed their lack of juice to a storm system that had moved through the area the previous night; although it had obligingly skirted around us, I figured it might have knocked out some key player further down on the grid. However, after a couple hours of continued silence and gradually warming refrigerator contents, I thought it best to call the power company.

It was a good thing that I did. As Brian, the electrician who arrived first, explained, this short had nothing to do with the storm and affected only us. (Our house is the only “English” one on the road, so not much is to be gained by comparing the state of our lights to that of our neighbors.) He cheerfully assured me that once the locator guy arrived and found the fault, they’d have it fixed in no time. To his credit, he patiently admired Sage’s apple-flinging mini-trebuchet and the headlights Paul had just installed on his Power Wagon. I was alarmed for a moment when Sage extolled the virtues of his new boxer briefs; he came disturbingly close to demonstrating how their “penis-hole” works to Brian, who seems to be an utterly decent man who should NOT have to endure incredibly awkward situations with five-year-olds. (Apparently, Sage’s regular briefs had been creeping up on him, resulting in some truly embarrassing butt-groping on his part, and he’s thrilled and delighted by the Boxer Revelation.) Fortunately, I was able to convince Sage that a demonstration was unnecessary, and we moved rapidly on to a new topic.

Reinforcements arrived shortly thereafter, and Brian chatted cheerfully with a colleague while the locator guy scoured the area with his magical short-finding device. “We’ll have you back on-line in two hours, tops,” Brian assured me.

Alas, ‘twas not to be. The men’s expressions grew progressively grimmer as they scoured the ground, increasingly frustrated by the simultaneously omnipresent and elusive faults they were detecting. Turns out that the WHOLE wire, all the way from our electric box to the nearest pole, was corroded beyond salvaging; it all had to be replaced. My alarm was considerable at this point. Although our refrigerator had been fortunately barren, the chest freezer was stocked with the best part of half a bull in various forms, the legacy of my dear friend and the doomed but appropriately named Hamburger. I’d bought the mound o’meat from her as a conciliatory gesture to my carnivore husband after I’d gotten my puppy despite his objections. Now, several hundred dollars worth of food, as well as my beautiful gesture of devotion, were in jeopardy.

Eau Claire Energy Cooperative to the rescue! Instead of shunting off my problem to a later date as I’d feared they would, Brian and his colleagues called in even MORE reinforcements and heavy equipment, then embarked on some major digging to unearth and replace the buried cable. It was a five-year-old boy’s dream day: the growling of backhoes accompanied the pounding of the siding guys’ hammers.
At one point, Sage approached a large pile of displaced dirt and squealed with delight. “Look what I found!” he exclaimed proudly. “It’s a banana peel!”

He was clearly under the impression that he’d made a major archeological find, possibly evidence of a prehistoric snack, and he was a bit disappointed to find out that it was Brian’s lunch.

“That’s all I brought,” Brian explained ruefully. “I didn’t really anticipate being out here this long.”

Even so, he and his fellows soldiered on manfully despite their hunger pangs. Sage was entranced until the moment when we were obliged to depart; only the promise of seeing his best bud at daycare compensated for lost hours of backhoe-observation. I dropped him off and proceeded to work, then to a much-anticipated Ladies’ Night dinner with my friends.

The dinner was wonderful—I would be hard-pressed to tell you if I enjoyed my friends’ company or the blessed, blessed silence more—and I didn’t think much about it when my husband called toward the beginning of the meal. “The power is back on,” he told me. “The power guys were just leaving when I got home.” This was about 5:00 p.m.; I hoped for Brian’s sake that someone had gone foraging on his behalf. My compassionate aspirations were interrupted, though, when Paul continued. “Do you know what that funny smell in the kitchen is?”

I’d noted no such thing when I’d left and told him so, then promptly forgot about it. I was brutally reminded of our conversation, though, when Paul called again toward the end of Ladies’ Night.

“I figured out what that smell was,” he said. “The motor on the refrigerator was smoking. Could you pick up about six bags of ice on the way home?”

The power was restored, yes, but the day was not without a casualty: our aging refrigerator must have succumbed to the strain of trying to re-cool itself after its day as an Amish-style appliance. Normally, I’d have been panicking about adding a $1500 appliance purchase to our already considerable mountain of debt from the siding project. Fortunately, I was still sucking down a strawberry margarita and was uncharacteristically Zen in my response.

I purchased the ice, and Paul got most of our food into our two coolers while I mentally praised myself for lacking the will to grocery shop. The venerable chest freezer wasn’t as delicate as the refrigerator and promptly had the meat, as well as the refrigerator’s freezer contents, suitably chilled: Hamburger’s sacrifice was not in vain.

As I type, our new refrigerator is humming in its predecessor’s place. As much as I love my Amish neighbors, a day of living Amish-style was more than sufficient to convince me that (despite my environmental guilt and aspirations to self-sufficiency) I’m nowhere near ready to go gridless. I’m incredibly grateful to Jared and Sean, who uncomplainingly spent most of the day working on the siding without access to power, and the men from Eau Claire Energy Cooperative who left whatever other work they had to do and spent most of the day getting power back to our house, even though we were their only customers in the area. I can only hope that Brian’s banana sustained him and that he was able to eat a manly and satisfying meal after his ordeal in Amish country.


  1. This is a great post. It reminded me of the two years I spent in a rural village in Indonesia. Every other day we had electricity during the day (all 1200 watts for the entire house), and if I was lucky on those days, the water pump would also work. While I survived those years, I am now one grateful woman for consistent current. 🙂

    1. Wow–is there any place you HAVEN’T been??!! I know what you mean about the gratitude for consistent current. I’ve got consistent environmental guilt to accompany it, but I can’t help rejoicing in my delightfully cold new refrigerator. > Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2013 11:37:28 +0000 > To: >

  2. We experience off the grid usually during hurricane season. So far this year, we haven’t had to worry about stuff in the freezer thawing! I love the title, Rebecca.

    1. I’m glad to hear that your freezer is humming away happily so far; I hope its peace isn’t disturbed! The experience really DID make me appreciate modern conveniences, though, much as I hate to depend on them. At least I’m in the right neighborhood for learning survival skills if the grid does fail… I hope all’s well with you. Are you back from your trip yet? I hope it’s going and/or went (depending on the timeline involved) smoothly and relaxingly! > Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2013 19:20:51 +0000 > To: >

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