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Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 1999 /13 Teves, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Let Y2K havoc reign! -- THERE'S A PART OF ME that hopes the lights really will go off in a few days, as the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31. Not for long, mind you, certainly not long enough to cause any real hardship or mishap for anyone. Just long enough to hear the silence, to experience the night sky with only stars and moon to light the dark, with no television to distract, and no place to go.

Maybe I've spent too much time in airports and malls this week, jostled and poked by people in a rush, lights flashing, bells ringing, holiday Muzak invading even the restrooms. Now, I want some respite. Life in the 20th century has become so bright and noisy, so hectic, so filled with the pursuit of material wealth and all that money can buy. People no longer depend on each other but on machines, on things. Time has become our most precious commodity. We are, all of us, constantly in a hurry, afraid we might lose a few minutes.

But what if the clocks suddenly stopped, their digital displays disappeared? What if dad and mom had no office to go to, schools closed, the SUV wouldn't start? What if, instead, all of us were forced to contend with what has preoccupied mankind for most of existence: trying to keep warm, to feed, shelter and protect ourselves and our families?

I got a chance to live out this fantasy, if briefly, last winter when a bad storm blanketed my home in the Shenandoah Valley. We had moved to a log cabin in rural Virginia only a few months earlier from the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Although we frequently experienced power outages when we lived in the city, we could always seek out the warmth and light of a nearby mall. But not this time.

The power went out without warning in the early evening, with winds howling and snow falling rapidly. Our first concern was to keep the cabin warm enough, not only for ourselves, but for the menagerie of pets our middle son had left for our safekeeping: several lizards, a snake, a young parrot, plus, our own bird and four dogs. Since we draw our well water with an electric pump, we also had to worry about our water tank running dry if the power lasted more than a day.

We spent the early hours gathering wood for the fireplace, placing reptile tanks near the hearth, and covering bird cages with layers of blankets to trap in body heat. When all indoor creatures were safe and warm, we turned our attention to our horses in the pasture. With the blizzard swirling about us, we tried herding them into the walk-in shed that would give them some protection from the vicious winds. But as quickly as we would gather all three into the shed, one or another would break loose and gallop across the fields. After a few futile attempts, we gave up and stood watching in awe as they cavorted by moonlight, seemingly oblivious to the bitter cold.

Chilled, wet and tired, we retreated inside to get ready for bed.

Thankfully, our alarm clock was battery-powered, since we would need it throughout the night. We took turns every two hours to tromp downstairs to add more wood to the fire. Despite our efforts, the temperature dropped into the 40s. Only the animals on the fireplace hearth enjoyed any semblance of warmth. By early morning, we were anxious to be up and about just to keep warm.

Throughout the day, neighbors checked in to make sure we newcomers were OK.

The electricity came on again in the afternoon, none too soon for the cold-blooded critters gathered round the fire. But as the refrigerator started humming, the furnace whirred, and the TV blared out the news that "thousands of customers are still without power," I found myself missing the quiet challenge of fending for my 'family' of two- and four-legged creatures.

So, if the power goes out again, we'll manage. We might even enjoy it, at least for a while.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate