I'm sitting in front of a nicely matured fire, my feet warming on the hearth, sipping a glass of hot cocoa (with baby marshmallows - yum!). Outside, the wind has picked up a bit, the temperature is down to 21 degrees and still dropping, and the snow continues to fall madly, adding relentlessly to the eight inches already accumulated on top of the inch and a half of sleet and ice we got this morning. The power was out for a couple of hours early this evening, hence the fire, but its back on now, and I'm all comfy. It's nice.
But...it did happen often, when I was very young.
And the winter that I was seven years old, is the instance that really stands out for me.
My single mom (dad took off when I was three, never to be heard from again), big brother, my little sister, and me, sleeping in the same bed for three nights during a terrible snowstorm in Denver...it was so cold. I remember wondering if I would ever be warm again...
Our electricity had been cut off, you see. My mom had missed several days of work, as she had to care for my sister, who had gotten pneumonia...so with the doctor's bill, the medicine, emergency room visit for the 105 fever, etc...well, there just wasn't any money for the electric bill (we didn't even have a phone until I was 10)...so our electricity was turned off.
Granted, this was back in the early 70's. My mom never asked for help, but I know the neighbors pooled some money together and got our electricity turned back on...and they left us a big huge box of food, too...first time I'd ever had Frosted Flakes...
Now, I'm not complaining, or crying on your shoulders, nor seeking pity, sympathy, etc. My life is freaking great. I'm successful, recently signed a contract for my second novel, I have been married - very happily - for 17 years next Spring to my smoking hot stripper wife (just kidding about the stripper thing, hon...kinda...!), I worked my way through school, as did my sister and brother, and between us we have two Masters and a PhD. Oh, and my mom went back to college and earned her PhD at the age of 55 - gooooooo mom! She still teaches anthropology, even though she's like 800 now...kidding, mom...kinda...!
So, it seems, given what I've seen in my own life, that in America there exists a kind of cultural inertia concerning utilities. America has been fully electric now for what? - only a bit over a century? And when electric service was being introduced, it was, for a long time, considered a luxury by most Americans, as were other utilities, like running water. It took decades to electrify the entire country, and the impression of electricity as a novel thing, as a luxury which people could live without, still clings as a cultural artifact today.
Well, maybe. But allow me to explain why I believe this is so:
Because your electricity can still be cut off, no matter the weather.
I know this is true, because I just helped someone get their electricity turned back on today, in the face of this massive winter storm I am watching out my window.
I asked the clerk at the power company if they would have turned her power on without payment, in the face of the coming storm. She said, unequivocally - hell no.
The woman and her 6 year old son live in an apartment - with all electric heat. Her kid broke his wrist at school - but his mom still got stuck paying the bills, and nearly lost her job at - you guessed it - Walmart - for being two hours late getting her kid back from the hospital...
If you can't gather some wood and burn it to keep your house warm in the middle of a winter storm - then electricity is a fucking HUMAN RIGHT.
It's not a fucking luxury.