I love history. I love reading about history and writing about it but I especially love not living in it. Yes, there is something intriguing and enchanting about manners and manor houses, balls, beaus and brave knights. There is also something equally glorious about indoor plumbing and modern medicine. However, once in a while I wonder what it would be like to live as my ancestors did in a time before electric lights or penicillin. Would I survive as a pioneer woman or a medieval peasant, or would an infected hangnail get the better of me?
For one brief afternoon last week, I experienced what it would be like to live in a world without electricity. It wasn’t just my house or my neighborhood, but all of San Diego, parts of Orange County, Arizona and Mexico were without power. The first things to go were the air conditioning and fans. Like my ancestors, the only way to keep cool was to open the windows and pray for a breeze. While I was sweating, I thought of all the time I had to write, especially without the distraction of the internet. That time lasted for about one hour and forty-five minutes before the laptop battery died and I had to switch to pen and paper. One advantage my ancestors had over me was penmanship. I’m still trying to decipher a few lines of dialogue I scribbled.
Dinner proved to be the next challenge, and in this realm, as in penmanship, I’m sure my ancestors could beat me, assuming it wasn’t a famine year. Since I have electric appliances, I couldn’t cook and there was nowhere to go to get food, nor anyone to call who could bring food to us. Sure, we could have barbequed but I hadn’t exactly planned for a massive power outage so nothing was defrosted. We ate sandwiches for dinner. Score one for my pioneering spirit.
Like my ancestors, I found sundown a challenge. While the sun was up, life was easy, but once it started to get dark, I ran around trying to accomplish all the things darkness would make difficult, like finding enough batteries and flashlights for everyone. Then the sun went down and we marveled at how dark the city was below us and wondered why there were still so many people on the freeway. We did some star gazing and then called it an early night. I suppose my ancestors would have done the same thing, assuming they weren’t in front of a reed lamp sewing shirts for pennies.
I learned a few things from the experience. Nothing profound but fun nonetheless. One, my ancestors would probably have eaten something better than PB&J for dinner. Two, I need a new battery for my laptop. And three, I still love reading and writing about history but I’m very, very glad I don’t live in it.