That Long Dark Night

Fandango’s FOWC Word prompt for today is: MEMORY

I appreciate these agreeable, simple words! This one should inspire a wide variety of responses. For my response I’m going to pull up a tidbit I originally posted in Dec 2013.

“Where were you when the lights went out?”

Remember that question, popular in the early seventies? Do you remember the incident it stems from? Can you remember the BeeGees’ song “When the Lights All Went Out in Massachusetts”? If you can, you’re as old as I am!

One day my mind went back to that long dark night, so I asked some friends these questions. They’d never heard of it. Some had heard that question, but had no idea what incident it referred to. Tsk, tsk! A whole generation has arisen (maybe even two already) who don’t remember when the lights all went out in Massachusetts.

But what year was that again? And what caused the power failure? And which states did it hit? I was pretty sure I remembered, but when I googled it, I found that I hadn’t gotten the basic details straight at all. All these years I thought the Yanks were to blame, but it actually started when Canadian electrical workers used the wrong size of wire in a power substation. (Blush!)

One book I refer to at times and enjoy reading just for the fun of it is Jack M. Bickham’s The 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES (And How to Avoid Them)  © 1992 by Jack M. Bickham

Chapter 20 in this book is titled: “Don’t Assume You Know; Look It Up”
This is invaluable advice.

So, dear aged friends, without asking Mr Google, when did the lights go out all across the Eastern seaboard and southern Ontario and Quebec? And where were you?

 

The Typhoon

omiri-gate-story.jpg

Photo by Nicki Elisha Shinow

The storm lasted four days. At first the rain poured down in buckets, later it sounded like the whole heavens was pouring down on the surrounding mountains. Villagers huddled together all through the typhoon, covering their possessions as best they could, praying they wouldn’t be washed or blown away.

The oldest of the elders remembered a deluge like this back in their youth. They recalled the year of hunger and poverty after. But most of the people living in the area had never seen such a storm. They wept to see their precious soil washing down the mountain. The small plateaus that sustained them were sliding into the lake down in the valley. Where would they plant their crops?

It would take many months to haul earth back up the mountain in baskets. The elders nodded. It would be so.

Finally the storm passed. All over the mountain folks shook off their stupor and wandered out to survey the damage. So much had been lost! They were shocked to see how the lake had swallowed up so much of the valley below. Even the Omiri gate stood in water.

They shook their heads. This would bring hardship. Every summer visitors came in droves to stand in this gate where the great prophet had once stood and shared his wisdom with his disciples. The locals had always welcomed the pilgrims. Their coming brought much income to the surrounding villages that hosted and supplied them.

Some despairing, some tearful, the people made their way back to their homes. They could see the churning clouds of hunger on the horizon.

The elders nodded. It would be so.

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Story written in response to today’s The Write Practice exercise. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com, a site for free images.

When Cloud Banks Come Together

June 30, 1912

Citizens of Regina, Saskatchewan, a growing city on the Canadian prairie, sweltered in the sultry 100̊ F afternoon. The flags on display for the Dominion Day celebrations the next day hung limp on their poles. Folks sat on porches fanning themselves, longing for some ripple of breeze.

Some young folks and couples were spending the Sunday afternoon in Wascana park, or padding canoes on Wascana Lake a few blocks south of Regina’s business district. A flock of faithful Anglicans were gathered at St Paul’s Church listening to sermons by their local Bishop and Canon Hicks from London, England. Some women fainted because of the intense heat and humidity in the auditorium.

By mid afternoon storm clouds appeared in the south. Folks watched the cloud banks rolling toward each other, one system coming from the southeast and another from the southwest. At 4:30 pm the clouds were moving rapidly toward a collision. Folks began hearing rumbles of thunder; the sky took on a strange green glow; blue and red lighting bolts flashed along the ground. This phenomena was something prairie folks had never seen before. They had no idea what was coming.

The storm systems crashed into each other over the Saskatchewan Legislative Building beside Wascana Lake. There was a roar like two freight trains overhead and a colossal smoke-colored funnel dropped from the clouds. Packing a 500 mile-an-hour wind, skipping around crazily, the twister plowed a six-block-wide swath of destruction right through town, including the business district.

Reading in the book Great Canadian Disasters, © 1961 by Frank Rasky, one particular paragraph in the “aftermath” caught my eye:
Survivors today, with their varied memories, differ strongly on just about every aspect of the tornado’s aftermath: the degree of the onslaught, whether the government was generous (to victims), …the precise number of people wiped out by the catastrophe.

So true of any major event. Our own experience, our perspective on the scene, our general world-view, our position in society — all these make a lot of difference in how we process what’s going on, and later describe what happened, what helped, what hindered.

I’ve sometimes liken the Women’s Movement forming in the late 1800s to the two storm systems coming together over Regina. They came from different angles, when they united they formed a powerful force, and that force blew apart a lot of the status quo of their day. For better or for worse? Witnesses and historians don’t all agree.

I’d call one group the fore-mothers of the feminist movement as I knew it in the 1960s. Their agenda: universal suffrage; equal rights for women, including equal job opportunities and equal pay.

A lot of these women had graduated from women’s colleges in the Eastern States. They were sick and tired of the taboos of their day and did their best to prove these ideas false. I’ve lost my notes on this, but I recall that a number of these ladies met in Buffalo, NY in the late 1890s to form a group, establish their goals, and decide on a course of action.

Some of the misconceptions of their day were rather ludicrous. When trains were first invented some people raise the objections that women could never ride on a train because if women were to travel at speeds over 30 mph they would go insane, or mad with lust. Some “experts” of their day claimed girls’ educations should be limited to the basics because delicate female minds would shatter if forced to handle difficult mathematic equations. (I’m almost sad we lost that one — I’ve never been that good at math. 🙂 )

Some said physical training for girls was out because strenuous exercise would ruin their bodies and especially affect their ability to bear children. (That group should have rather taken a good look at the long term effect of wearing corsets.)

When you start setting up theories that can be so easily proven wrong, you can count on it that someone’s going to want to knock them down.

The other merging ‘cloud system’ was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As I’ve already written, this group sprang mainly from a Protestant Evangelical base. They had embraced the ‘Social Gospel’, which basically translates as ‘How Christians should fix the world.’ Their agenda: stable homes; healthy, happy families; reduction of crime; no more war. Each and every one a worthy goal.

As these ladies looked at their society, they concluded that laws were needed to ensure these goals. Thus voters were needed so political pressure could be put on to get those laws passed. Which meant their launching point was getting women the right to vote.

Meanwhile, over in merry old England, feminist suffragettes took a more dramatic approach. Up against a more rigid and long-established social structure, their struggle for the right to vote was long and bitter. They chained themselves to posts, went on hunger strikes, were force-fed.

They also adopted what they referred to as the politics of the broken window pane. Genteel-looking ladies would appear on business streets during a busy afternoon and station themselves in front of store windows. At a given signal they’d pull hammers from large handbags and start swinging. The damage was done before anyone could react and the ladies would make themselves scarce, leaving merchants sobbing.

I don’t know how much the WCTU influenced the women’s movement in Britain but I rather doubt Prohibition was ever a serious goal. In Europe and Britain so many women accepted social drinking and drank socially themselves. Also Protestant Evangelism was never as large or powerful in Europe as it was in North America.

To be continued.

The Last One Out

Apparently some study once showed that nicotine is ten times as addictive as heroin. It’s harder to quit smoking than it is to quit “crack.” Friday Fictioneers must be somewhere in the middle — it’s pretty hard to quit, too.

Every Wednesday, in the wee hours, the Blue Frog express chugs out of the station over at Word-shy Wisoff-Fields’ blog. This Inlinkz engine carries the precious prompt photo to some terrific, but ever-so-terse, writers. One by one they hitch their links to the express and off it goes around the globe collecting tales. To see all the links, go to Rochelle’s blog and click the blue frog under the prompt photo — which, by the way, belongs to Douglas MacIlroy and you may not use it without his permission.

I thought I had nothing to share this time around, and no time, either. But a few days ago I was reading about Compassion International worker Dan Woolley, who had the misfortune to spend three days trapped in his hotel lobby after Haiti was hit by a big earthquake. (The title of his book is UNSHAKEN.) Then yesterday thoughts started coming together, this story emerged, and I felt I should post it. Initially a longer and more detailed account but I managed to pare it down.

(Note: “Wings of a Dove” was a country-gospel song written by Bob Ferguson in 1958.)

Photo prompt Douglas M MacIlroy

The Last One Out

Ashton regained consciousness, remembered the hotel floor shaking, walls cracking. His head throbbed; dust gagged him. He shifted some, found one leg was pinned. He tried calling, only managed a squeak.

The ground trembled again. Aftershocks. Plaster crumbled; he prayed the ceiling a metre above him wouldn’t fall. His throat was a chalkpit.

Hours later he heard rustling. Rats? No. Somebody’s bird!

“M’aidez,” the myna squawked.

He grabbed it. Keep singing, sailor.

“M’aidez! M’aidez!” it screamed.

Two hours later help reached him. “We thought no one here survived. Haitian workers heard you calling.”

“On wings of a dove,” Ashton whispered.

The Fire That Changed Her Name

One evening in Hull, England, Maud and her mum decided to go to the “flicks” (silent movies) — and see Norma Talmadge in Camille. Maud says that wonderful actress “could really turn on their waterworks.” While they were sobbing trough tear-jerking scenes at the theatre, another “scene” was rolling at their home, one that would change their lives forever.

The house had been shut up and some washing, set in front of the fireplace to dry, caught on fire. At least this was the conclusion they came to. The fire smouldered until Maud’s  father had come home from his club and opened the front door. Fresh oxygen fed the blaze and hot flames flashed out at him. It was too late to save anything; the interior of the house was an inferno.

After the movie, as Maud and her mother got closer to their street, they saw “a huge orange cloud lighting up the sky.” They began to run and soon realized the awful truth: their house was the one burning! Several red fire engines raced by them and stopped in front of their house. Firemen piled out and dragged hoses along, pumping water from a tank on one of the trucks.

Panicked, Maud and her mom ran toward their home. A crowd had already gathered. Maud was determined to rush in and save some of their belongings but one of the firemen caught her as she reached the door and put paid to that idea. So she stood outside with the others and watched the house burn, feeling herself the heroine of a great drama. She hated to lose their piano but wasn’t sad about all the old trinkets and whatnot her mum had collected over the years.

After the fire her mother decided to stay with her maternal grandparents, the Waites, who lived nearby, until the house could be restored. Maud could have joined them but some of her school friends were offering her a place to stay and that had a lot more appeal. Maud found being an only child rather boring, and had no qualms about accepting when best friend Phyllis Holmes invited her to come live with them awhile.

Here was a family where there would always be some action going on! Phyllis’ older sister, Cathy, was engaged to be married. She also had three brothers: Ted, the oldest, was an organ builder in Scotland; Harry was a cowboy on a ranch in somewhere out in the wilds of western Canada; Noel, still living at home, was an office worker. Phyllis, three years older than Maud, was an incurable romantic and a tease. She’d often say, “Just wait till Harry sees you. I’m sure he’ll fall for you!”

Phyllis did Maud a great favour while she was living at their home. Maud had always hated her name, especially when pronounced with a broad Yorkshire “u” — and even more when folks called her Maudie. Yuck! One evening she and Phyllis went to the theatre to see Peg O’ My Heart. Afterward Phyllis said, “She’s just like you! From now on you’re not Maud, you’re Peggy, and I’m never going to call you anything else.”

Maud — now Peggy — was delighted. She had some qualms about telling her parents, though, and her name change did indeed bring on a major row when she informed them, but they finally gave in and she was Peggy ever after. Some years later when she moved to Alberta with her husband, she was so thankful Phyllis had dubbed her Peggy, since it seemed every mule in Canada was called Maud. 🙂

You see, when Phyllis’ brother Harry came home from western Canada on a visit, he changed Peggy’s last name to Holmes and took her off to the bush country north of Edmonton, Alberta, to live on his homestead. 🙂

That proved to be a very useful fire indeed.

Word Press daily prompt: qualms