A Stormy Summer Prompts Deep Thought

When a storm knocks a neighborhood's power out, it sometimes seems as if the world comes to a halt. Commentator Julie Zickefoose found a silver lining in those summer thunderheads.

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August marks the beginning of what you might call deep summer. Recently, commentator Julie Zickefoose found a silver lining in all the thunderstorms that hit her home in Whipple, Ohio.


This is when the refrigerator event always happens. Even as the sky grows dark, even as I'm rushing around the house unplugging appliances and closing windows, I know that we're going to lose power. I can see it in the wind. My kids cling to me like baby opossums trailing behind me as I storm from room to room, and the wind hits and everything falls silent. All the appliances that keep us cool and comfortable, that keep our food from spoiling, that keep us entertained, informed and in contact with others are stilled. I run around the gloomy spaces opening windows and turning off switches. `It could be a long haul,' I tell the kids.

It takes a while to stop flicking light switches on, to get used to sweating. Sure enough, the power outage goes on for two days--40 hours to be exact--which happens to be just long enough to turn everything in the freezer to worthless mush.

I call the Rural Electric Cooperative. `Do you have any estimate of when we might get power,' I falter, knowing I'm her thousandth call that morning, `because I'm wondering if I should go ahead and empty the freezer and fridge?' The receptionist hesitates. `I would,' she says. `Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.' I put it off; I don't want to know what's going on in the freezer.

The second night without power arrives and we light candles and smokey oil lamps and read to the kids in bed. We're stripped down to our skivvies sweating. I flash back to my childhood in Virginia when we lived and dozed--you couldn't call it sleeping--without air conditioning. I keep turning my pillow over looking for a cool side. This is what summer is; this is what it should be.

The windows are all open to the humid night air. Insect music floods in the house, music that's normally drowned out by the drone of the air conditioner. Katydids sing in electric verse in soothing triplets--(Makes insect noises). I revel in what I realize is one of my favorite sounds on the planet and sleep soundly, dreaming to their beat. I wake up at dawn when the birds begin their chorus; it's lovely.

I trudge into the kitchen, pull out 10 black plastic garbage bags and grimly begin unloading the freezer. Who knew there were six partial containers of ice cream in there? Who knew that some were on their sides? A swirl of multicolored ice cream melt decorates the floor. Man, those were some nice shrimp. Roasts, chicken, ancient hamburger, soup bones, everything must go.

Four hours later, the last jar of pickles and moldy jam has been tossed in a bag. The garden cart is mounded high with a banquet for vultures, headed for the dump. The empty refrigerator gleams, a whir, a hum, a beep and the power surges back on. `Maybe we should break down and get a generator,' my husband, Bill, grunts as he hauls the last bag out to the cart. `Ah, but then we'd never clean our freezer,' I answer. This is something that should be done at least once a year, like falling asleep sweaty and still to katydid music.

BLOCK: Writer and painter Julie Zickefoose lives in Whipple, Ohio.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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