Returning To The Good Old Days
I distinctly remember that hot summers day more than fifty years ago when the truck convoy rumbled up the dirt road to our house near Conehatta. It was an experience that any twelve-year old country boy would never forget.
The lead truck was the largest I had ever seen and had tires that came up almost my shoulder. It carried a cargo of the longest creosote poles I had ever seen. The emblem on the truck door indicated it belonged to a power company at some distant place called Taylorsville, Mississippi.
Over the next few hours I watched a crew of workers bore a hole into the ground with an auger of immense size, then position a creosote pole at an angle and slide it into the hole. Once secure in the hole, a lineman strapped on special boots with cleats and climbed up the pole with the same ease with which I had climbed out of bed that morning. Oh, to have a pair of those boots and cleats and to move around like Superman! Wires were stretched and tightened, clipped, and secured. Transformers were installed, and when the trucks rumbled away from our house that afternoon, we gawked at the 8th wonder of the world that had come to visit that day. It was known as electricity.
Over the next few years our family began to take advantage of this great wonder. Electric lights were near the top of the list, and my father, with help from some of his carpenter friends, ran wires in what they thought would be the best locations inside the house to plug in appliances. They also installed lights meaning that the coal-oil lamp went on the shelf next to the matches and the candles. My father bought a small electric motor and used this motor to pipe water from the well into the house. He installed a sink in the kitchen with which to wash dishes. In a small room at the back of the house he installed a sink and a commode. The sink was used for taking spit baths. A tub could wait for later. And let me not forget to mention the washing machine that Mama had to have that actually had rollers on it called a wringer. It sure saved bare knuckles.
A radio and a black and white television and telephone came later and somewhat in that order. There was an electric iron and all kinds of gadgets to help out in the kitchen. Then we bought a refrigerator that could make ice. Ice? I thought that was something reserved for the North Pole and for the Fourth of July.
A fellow stopped by the house one day and offered to install a butane tank in the yard for free if we would buy our butane from his company. It sounded like a good deal so we came to use the butane to heat the house and replace the wood stove that we had once used to cook our meals. Never mind that the butane tank sat in the front yard. Mama planted a rose next to it, but it still stood out like an ugly scab on your nose. At least we were able to retire the chopping block and the fire place.
Over the passage of several decades my family would add many other appliances. One day we would plug in a computer and tap into the Internet. And we would watch the cable news and learn that Baghdad was one click away with the remote control. Never mind Taylorsville.
Then came August 29, 2005 when a hurricane named Katrina made its way across much of Louisiana and Mississippi, uprooting, among other things, the power lines that stretched from Taylorsville through much of central Mississippi. The lights went out that day and suddenly we were all back in darkness. No lights, no water (in many cases), no ice, no television, no way of cooking on our electric range and food going bad in the refrigerator. Call it darkness in more than one respect because without telephones, television, and the Internet, we had trouble finding out about our loved ones both near and far. We longed for the old wood-burning stove, but that had been handed over to a junk dealer long ago. We thought about drawing water from the well, but that had been filled in. And the outdoor privy? It had been returned to Mother Nature long before our children were born.
We tried to sleep through the humid nights and to take spit baths (conditional on water availability), all minor annoyances in a world filled with much greater tragedies for the people across the coastal regions of Mississippi and Louisiana. We said a prayer for their safety and for the daily bread that the Lord had given us.
The house of Dr. Jan G. Walker of Ocean Springs survived the storm, but the houses of her father and of NCHGS member James A. Duke of Pass Christian were flattened beyond recognition or repair. The homes of Cindy Brantley, Pascagoula, Mary Earle Eleuterius, Ocean Springs, Frank Harrison, Gautier and Leola Rayborn, Columbia received major damage. (Our report is incomplete for all NCHGS members). Photograph by Jack E. Wroten of Jacksonville, Florida, who delivered relief supplies to hurricane victims in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana.
We did not, however, fail to rejoice when the lights came back on a few days later. We counted our family members All there! We looked at our house still standing! Now, we were back to the really good old days! We were the fortunate!
But the story does not end here. There are many dead, close to a million Americans displaced, and so many buildings smashed where electricity is no longer an issue. And in the wake of Katrina came Rita to enlarge the damaged landscape from Florida to Texas. Half of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where I worked, fished, and enjoyed the people and the seafood for the better part of 18 years, has been returned to the Gulf of Mexico.
What we have regarded as basic utilities have turned out to be luxuries for many. We long for the day that all Americans can return to the good old days with the realization that life for many will never be the same.
It will take time and a helping hand from those of us who are the fortunate to re-establish some sense of normalcy for the displaced. American to American, your acts of charity and generosity to those who have suffered so much will be remembered as acts of sacrifice, character and empathy, if not by your neighbors, by the Maker of all mankind.
Harold Graham, NCHGS