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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/30/10

The Hour of No Power

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Earth hour may not have saved our planet, but it certainly worked wonders for our family. After turning off all our lights, we gathered in our living room by candlelight--nope, turn off that Nintendo DS, please. The first few minutes ticked by slowly. We all sat silently, watching the flickering flames on the votives on our coffee table. What did people do before electric lights and TV? I tried to pull out a book--Jane Austen seemed to fit the bill--but found that my middle aged eyes could see nothing but the chapter headings. Tick, tick. Maybe the Nintendo DS wasn't a bad idea--batteries weren't on the power grid, were they?

I found myself yawning before long--at this hour? Leno's ratings would be in the toilet without Edison. Hubby popped up that 9 pm bedtimes were par for the course in the Greek mountain village where he'd spent his summers as a child. There was work to be done in the fields starting at dawn, so his family would light oil lamps, and sit together in the great room of their stone house chatting until sleepiness knocked at their door.

I could see the dimly lit faces of the kids perk up. Oil lamps? Cool. Yes, hubby explained, the lamps were actually much better than candles, allowing for reading and study, as well as mending and wrapping up housekeeping odds and ends. His cousin's family, well-off enough to own the taverna down the road, had even better options to brighten the night. Large magnesium torches, "Lux", would allow customers to spend a few more hours playing backgammon fired by ouzo--to a soundtrack of bzzt-bzzt from the mosquitoes and flies meeting their ends in sizzling collisions with the hot beacons.

For a young boy, nestling in his cot soon led to restful sleep, followed by a fragrant breakfast of fresh eggs over easy and goat's milk. Keeping the animals fed and the vegetables growing wasn't seen as a chore by the visiting city children spending treasured days with yia-yia and pappou in the country. Chickens, goats, and rabbits were fun pets, and the donkey was a great way to hitch a ride down the gentle mountainside to the crop fields where hoeing, planting, and picking were on the menu. Fresh vegetables and fruits tasted so much better than the stale produce in the larger towns' general stores.

Sugary pastries were special treats for holidays, hubby related as he took a candle and led us into our kitchen. He pulled out some walnut halves and black mission figs from behind the potato chips in our pantry. The walnuts would grow on trees inside a hard green globe, requiring digging to extrude the nut, he recalled, but figs were ripe for the picking, soft and juicy with a gentle sweetness. He was going to share with us one of the daily desserts his family could afford. Hubby inserted a walnut-half into a fig, and handed it to our younger son, repeating the task for our older son and then me. The treat was delicious, with just the right blend of sweetness and crunch. All of us ate a few more.

Still munching, we moved our hour of no power outdoors to the back yard under a clear sky. Intrigued by the stories of life before the grid, the boys were wide awake, eagerly asking their father to relate more of his experiences as a child. I sat down on a bench and leaned my head back, looking up at the heavens. Was that a star? Yes, the faintest trace of twinkling was finally visible through the mask of reflected light that usually blankets the Los Angeles sky. I'd like to believe it was Venus, the Evening Star, winking at us as we reveled in the memories of a Greece long gone and an age we may someday need to revisit. I quickly laid any doomsday scenarios aside. For now, I was happy to share some peaceful moments in the arms of my family, breathing at one with our Earth.

"9:30!", my younger son cried seconds later, and before I could protest, the boys had run off to their rooms to turn on their computers. Just as well, I sighed to my husband, as I watched the "star" make its way closer to Los Angeles International airport a few miles away for its landing. It was nice while it lasted. And we don't have to turn on the lights in our room, do we?

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Jill Jackson is a practitioner of kindness and common sense. Unlike her cat, she prefers to think out of the box.

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