Electricity free by Marty Johnson


Today we’ll be hearing from my mother, Marty Johnson, one of my favorite people. She raised four of us together with my father, teaching us about hospitality and community. Now she shares memories of our neighborhood and close friends.

One winter day back in the early nineties when our four kids were between the ages of three and eleven we were living in Roanoke, VA. We had an ice storm that knocked out the electricity along a lot of the east coast. Of course, when that happens no one can predict how long you’ll be without electricity and you can’t watch it on TV. Thankfully we had a gas stove instead of electric (I do love gas!). I put on a very big pot of pinto beans because I had a great ham hock in the freezer and that seemed like the right kind of comfort meal for that evening. We then called the neighbors a house away and another neighbor 4 houses away (back then land-lines didn’t use electricity). We made a plan to take our big pot of bean soup, which is what it was to become throughout the day and have dinner at the last house. Our friends, the Gurleys took some fixings out of the fridge and got any flashlights and lanterns they had out, as we also had done, so that we could walk in the light, through the snow. Jim had to carry the big pot and Micah was barely big enough to get his feet up out of the snow so I was carrying him. Kristen remembers having snow continually in her boots so Erika was carrying her as best she could. Somehow we all made it over to the Gurleys house, where their son, Stephen, swung our youngest, Micah, up onto his shoulders and it wouldn’t surprise me if Uncle Joel got Kristen on his, he’s a pretty big softy. Anyway, all 10 of us slipped and slid through the icy snow quite a bit further to get to the Saville’s house. They took a picture of all of us “trick or treating” at their house before letting us all toddle in stripping off snow boots, snowsuits, hats, and gloves. The house was lit up with lots of candles and lanterns and warmed with a roaring fire.

Apparently, as soon as we knew we had no electricity we thought that we should spend time together. We felt so fortunate to live all along the same street and we looked for all kinds of excuses to get together. We had a built in community and we took advantage of it. A late night of games carried on after our meal and Stephen carried Micah all the way back to our house because by that time he was fast asleep.

A lot of time has passed and we’ve remained friends. Recently, on a visit back to Virginia, we all got talking about that night, the details escape us but it’s a lingering memory because it was a time of tight knit community. There were many times we gathered together for meals and time together, this one stands out as we were all willing to brave the cold, snow, ice, and wind to get together and share a meal.

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