What a mess! Friday, July 5 was a day that should be recorded.
Connie and I had been to Spencer for me to get a shot in my eye for macular degeneration. We drove home to Arnolds Park and then drove over to Village West for a memorial get-together for Bill and Ruth Schwarck. The four children of Bill and Ruth were there and we had a marvelous time reminiscing. Ruth's legacy appears each Fourth of July when the fireworks on West Lake Okoboji amaze the spectators as she spearheaded the efforts to fund the project for many years. Thank you Ruth! We left Village West about 11:30 a.m.
The traffic on the west side of West Lake Okoboji was fine and, after passing the junction of Highway 9 and 86, we sped along east. Our destination was Wal-Mart to pick up some prescriptions. The traffic at the junction of Highway 71 and 9 was backed up some, but knowing the amount of visitors to our Lakes Region on the Fourth nothing registered as a problem.
We lucked out and drove into a "handicap" parking space near the east entrance. A young lady rapped on our window and said, "the power is off in the store and they won't let you in." Connie went in anyway as she had only to pick up some prescriptions but came back very soon and told me they wouldn't let her into the store. We decided to proceed to our townhouse on Emerald Hills Golf Course.
We drove out and could see vehicles backed up on Highway 71 headed west and other vehicles backed up trying to exit the Wal-Mart parking lot at the junction. The exit leaving the parking lot didn't look good, so we tried the north exit. As soon as we turned north, traffic was backed up there also but we were committed and finally turned east thinking the traffic light on the highway by the Hy-Vee store would allow us to proceed south. Ha! Ha!
The traffic was backed up in front of the fairgrounds and it was then that we realized it was an area disruption of electricity not just Wal-Mart. The one thing that fortified my faith in the American people was that they didn't panic and were respectfully allowing vehicles to take their turns at the intersections. After we had cleared the intersection at Hy-Vee, we proceeded south, past the YMCA and came to the intersection on Highway 71 at McDonald's. There again we encountered traffic backed up and again people took their turn entering and clearing the intersection.
We proceeded south, crossing the Okoboji Bridge and finally turning off at the Dam Road and home. I pulled up to our garage, pushed the button and our door rolled up indicating we had electricity. It was a relief to walk into our home and realize all the confusion that was taking place north of the Okoboji Bridge: no lights, cash registers shut down, couldn't pump gas, no cooking at the restaurants, traffic lights off, etc. Civilization as we come to take for granted came to a standstill.
The power outage of July 5, 2013, brings back many memories.
Connie grew up on a farm just north of Curlew and I grew up in Milford. The farm she was on had no electricity when she was a child and one of her favorite stories is about the REA coming to their place. Her father went to Emmetsburg and bought a book for installing electricity in the house and she helped him string the wires, put in the outlet boxes, switches and light fixtures in preparation for the wiring into their farm -- pole by pole. She was in school when they finally wired electricity into the farm. She had fun turning the lights off and on. Wow! Electricity!
I, on the other hand, grew up in Milford and we always had electricity, such as it was -- one light bulb hanging from the ceiling in many of the rooms. I do remember our first refrigerator and electric stove. The refrig provided ice cubes and we made popsicles and Mother really liked the electric stove. We had streetlights, lighting at school and could run fans in the summer.
World War II introduced many of us to parts of the world that had no electricity. In India, there was electricity in Bombay and Calcutta but many of the villages and small towns had none. Several of the Nationalist Chinese cities had electricity, but were blacked out at night due to being bombed by the Japanese planes.
The mess hall and airfield tower had generators and the last military air field I was assigned, Liangshan, China had no electricity in our barracks. The straw-covered barrack that I lived in from June to November 1945 had window openings but no glass or doors and certainly no electricity. The floor was dirt and for lighting we used candles and lamps. Needless to say we went to bed early and seldom read after it became dark except by flashlight. I remember seeing a painting of Abe Lincoln reading by a fireplace. Wow, he must have had good eyesight.
Our first cottage on West Lake Okoboji was at Terrace Park in the 1950s and 1960s. During the summer months it was not uncommon to lose our electricity during storms. The electrical grid and wires were not very good so it didn't take much for them to break and have no power.
In 1971 we moved to Pocahontas Point on West Lake Okoboji. The electrical lines around the lake were in two sections -- the line on the west side of the lake and the one on the east side of the lake and both ended in the road back of our cottage. It was very frustrating to have no power and look over at Vern and Coila's Restaurant and observe that they had lights. But on the other hand, it could be reversed and we had lights and they didn't. We acquired a generator that kicked on when the power gave out and it came in handy many times.
The electrical systems around the lakes have dramatically improved over the years. We won't count the two-hour power failure, July 5, 2013 or the one-hour power outage of July 7, 2013 otherwise it is great service. We learned that one should never, never lock doors and screen doors and expect the electric garage door to let you into your house. The "fun" was in sitting on the deck waiting for the electricity to kick on so we could open the garage door and get into our house.
Power outages are a reminder that our way of life exists on a very thin thread and like freedom, it isn't free and shouldn't be taken for granted. Thanks to the service people who respond, rain or shine and get us back to normal.