Bruce Cameron

The Night the Lights Went Out

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day Of Summer.
They're not completely isolated: They can send and receive text messages, for example, provided they have pen and paper handy. And electricity is a lot more reliable now that it no longer comes from flying a kite in a thunderstorm. It still goes out pretty frequently, though.
I'm visiting my parents right now. They are not speaking to each other because my father put kitty litter in the bird feeder. My mother thinks he should have looked more closely at the stuff as he was refilling the feeder, while my father takes the position that he shouldn't have to watch out for kitty litter since they don't own a cat.
"Tell your father I'm not speaking to him until he apologizes," my mother tells me.
"I think you should tell him yourself," I respond, but she's too clever for that.
This lack of communication heightens the drama when the electricity goes out at 4:00 a.m. I don't actually know we've had a power outage -- it's not the kind of thing that wakes you up. What I do know is that shortly after the juice shuts off, the neighbor's generator fires up with a roar. It sounds like she's over there repairing a helicopter.
Startled awake, I realize instantly that my parents need a new neighbor.
"The electricity is out!" my father bellows up the stairs at me.
"I can hear that!" I shout back.
I grope my way past the furniture, my toes providing unwelcome testimony that I don't know my way around the room in the dark.
When you stub your toe in the pitch black and reach out to steady yourself, there's nothing there to grab and you fall to the floor as if tossed from a freight train. My mother is immediately concerned, and she calls up to me. "Is the dog OK?"
"The dog's not even up here," I respond.
"Thank goodness," she says. "I thought you fell on her."
When I arrive downstairs, my father is moving from lamp to lamp and clicking them like a gambler desperately investing his last coins in the slot machines, while my mother is lighting candles. "It's out, all right," my father notes.
"I'm glad Dorothy has that generator, or we might have slept right through this," my mother says thankfully.
"Be a real tragedy to sleep through the night," I agree. She's lit enough candles to celebrate someone's 90th birthday. "Mom, why do you need so many candles?"
She gives me a puzzled look. "Because the electricity's out," she replies.
"The ice cream," my father says suddenly. He stops messing with the lights and pulls a gallon of vanilla swirl from the freezer. "Probably will be OK for a few hours," he speculates. He fixes himself a bowl anyway. "How am I going to heat the topping?" he asks with a "why me, Lord?" expression.
"Tell him he shouldn't be eating ice cream, he'll be up all night," my mother says to me.
"If we're not going to stay up, why is she lighting so many candles?" my father asks me.
"I'm lighting candles because we're up!" my mother tells me.
"That's the kind of logic you get from a woman who buys kitty litter when we don't even have a cat," my father says.
"I bought it because it keeps things dry. Not to poison the birds!" my mother shouts at me.
"Mom, don't shout so loudly," I say. "I can't hear the generator."
The dog is awakened by the ice cream and sits at my father's feet with a mournful look on her face.  He checks to see if my mom is watching, and then spoons the dog some vanilla swirl.
Just at dawn, as the birds start calling to each other to ask what's the deal with the bird feeders, the electricity comes on with a blast of light, the generator going silent.
"Time to get up," my dad says.

W. Bruce Cameron is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of three books including "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (Workman Publishing). To write Bruce Cameron, visit his website at COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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