Interviewed by James T. Sparrow
Q-Just to start, I need to ask that I have your consent to use this interview on the web page?
Q-I guess the first question would just be, what was you general impression if any of the 65 blackout?
A-At the time that it was occurring, my impression was not any different than it would have been for any other outage that we, you know, suffered, because every so often the lights would go out--we would think oh it's probably a squirrel on the line, or somebody had an automobile accident and hit a utility pole. So we just kind of sit it out and wait for the lights to come back on again. Of course, when it first happened it was a non-event in a sense--you know to us, personally.
Q-Where were you living when the 65 blackout happened?
A-In Florida, NY, which is, you know, a small farming community maybe 35, 40 miles above New York City.
Q-Had this farming community had electricity for a long period of time?
A-Oh yes, the community itself had. There were areas, you know people living there who could remember when they didn't have electricity in their home. Of course, I was one of them--our house didn't have electricity until I was 4 years old. Others had electricity sooner, others later. It all depended.
Q-But, so it was a community that had electricity but wasn't terribly dependent on it?
A-Yes, I think so, and I think that was probably true of most of the communities of our type.
Q-And you were used to blackouts that would last a while?
A-Oh yeah, definitely.
Q-How long? Like hours, days?
A-It could be a couple of days sometimes, but not generally because we didn't live like in the more remote rural areas; we were actually in town. We were a few hundred feet from the traffic light in the center of the town. Few people lived out, you know a few miles out.
Q-Now, when the 65 blackout happened and you eventually found out that it took out most of the Northeast, were you surprised that that could happen?
A-Oh definitely, yeah, that was kind of a big wow. Is that what it was? Then it became, you felt kind of excited that you were part of this big event, you might say. But individually, you know it didn't really affect us.
Q-But what did it make you think about the sort of the larger arrangements? I mean this is the height of the Cold War. Did it make you concerned about the ability of the authorities to maintain order? Did you have any thoughts that maybe this was sabotage or something like that?
A-Well, no not initially, but as you started to hear about you know how widespread it was and you started to hear about situation especially in the rural areas, you know, how much of a problem it caused and created from those people and, you know, [what] a threat it was, you started thinking about it, not mainly on your own, your thinking started to be directed really [inaudible].
Q-Directed by whom?
A-The news media, you know things you just kind of, as the story unfolded you started to understand a little better what the problems could be with something as life-threatening as an outage of widespread . . . [inaudible], it was the whole coast from Canada. So yeah, you got this kind of worry that this could be a way to inflict some real damage to the country--you might say.
Q-Right, when the 77 blackout hit, do you have any recollection of that?
A-That one I remember much better really, than the, not much better but it was more dramatic for me because I was driving with Michael. We were going, I forget, someplace in the evening, and we had the car radio on. Something started to happen to the broadcasting and they couldn't figure out at first what was happening, then they started talking about the lights being out. And you know of course having, I suppose the experience of the earlier blackout, they were more aware of what was going on. So we were hearing it blow by blow, you might say, on the radio as we were driving down the highway. So I remember that. At that same time I think there was something going on--a Pope was being selected I believe, on that period of time.
Q-I'm sorry, I couldn't hear what you just said?
A-The Pope, they were selecting a new Pope. I think that was part of the news that was going on at the time. I joked with Michael--and I said well, well this is like the first Polish Pope and we like lose the electricity.
Q-Because you're Polish. You're Polish right? I'm sorry I just wanted to verify you're Polish.
Q-Did you hear about the rioting soon after that? The looting [inaudible].
A-Well, yes, in the newspapers, and on the radio and so forth, and of course that was something like with the first one; I don't think it was even, it wasn't so much a thought that this could be a big problem in that respect. It became, your thinking started to take a different route .you might say.
A-Well, because it was, you were learning. About what could happen--in other words if something like this ever happens people didn't think that much what the implications could be. And so once they did happen, even if you know the problem as far as looting might have been sporadic it still was something that took on a little more importance that it could happen, and it could create quite a widespread problem, and especially you know, just like everything else people hear about things and those that are inclined to do something like that, you know might find an opportunity soon.
Q-Did the 77 blackout change the way you thought about the role of electricity in your life, or you know technology in general?
A-No, not really.
Q-So when you say what the implications were, if it wasn't the implication of electricity, then what was it the implication of?
A-Well, of the danger to the country.
A-Well, being kind of helpless, especially in areas where the dependence on electricity was a lot greater than in our rural area.
Q-Did it strike you as strange that a power failure could cause so much looting and social disorder?
A-Yeah, initially it did, because I don't think most people thought about it that way. It didn't even enter--at least it didn't enter my mind to think along those lines until it actually happened.
Q-Did the response to the blackouts change your image or attitude towards New York City? Did it give you a new picture?
A-Well, the thing that entered my mind, I was glad I wasn't in New York City when it happened.
A-You know, getting the feeling that if you were caught in a blackout in New York City you would feel pretty helpless. Depending on where you were at the time.
Q-And yet you didn't really live that far away from New York City.
Q-But it was a completely different situation?
A-Oh yeah, I think so. It's just like with crime statistics and things like that, you'd hear about it and you know--you are concerned if you go into areas that are notoriously, you know, high crime or whatever, and you're concerned, but you know, you feel kind of out of it in your own area. But that's the way I think your thinking goes.
Q-OK, did you notice the cost of electricity increasing or decreasing over this period?
A-Well, I really can't recall. I know electricity prices increased but I don't know if it had you know any relationship to that. I know it had a lot to do environmental concerns. But yeah, you know electricity has been increasing significantly. I always kind of relate it to the fact that we live close to an urban area, and they have very high standards [inaudible], that cost money to enact. So as a result I think that's part of it--that's not all of it. That's my underlying feeling about electricity costs.
Q-Now, over the course of your life, your dependence on electricity has changed pretty dramatically.
A-Oh yes, that is true.
Q-Can you sort of recall what it was like when you were younger and contrast it with today?
A-Well, there was a time where we had no electricity. So of course that was, everything that we have in the house now, that we depend on, you know everything that we had, is starting from zero you might say, and it just progressively gets [inaudible].
Q-Do you remember when you first got electricity?
A-Yeah, I remember my parents bought a house with no electricity. In fact, we had moved from a house that had no electricity. This was like in the center of the village and stuff. And we had it put in. When we first moved in we had kerosene lamps. So we had electricity put in, then we could turn a switch and have lights.
Q-I'm sorry, you got light?
A-Lights, mainly lights.
Q-And was that really a big thing to you?
A-Oh yeah, oh that was pretty impressive, sure. Beyond, other than lights, the first thing I remember having--well not the first thing--one of the first things I remember was a refrigerator. That was a big thing.
Q-So how did electric light and a refrigerator change your life?
A-Well, it just made it a little easier. You didn't have to buy the kerosene, and find a match and light the wick. You know adjust the lamp for the right, and clean the chimney on the lamp every so often because it would get all smoky. And of course with the refrigerator, then of course you could keep things handy, extra milk, or butter, and things like that. Although, we never put our butter in the refrigerator even after we had a refrigerator.
A-Just didn't feel it was necessary, and we just liked our butter soft. In fact 'A' [my husband ] still does that, he doesn't want his butter out of the refrigerator.
Q-Now before you got your electricity, you were probably pretty young. Do you recall being aware of the fact that other people had electricity and that you didn't.
A-Not in a major way. I don't recall that it ever occurred to me that we didn't have electricity. It's just that when we got it, it was gee . . . [inaudible] we have electricity. I was four years old; I guess it was, then, 1936.
Q-It sounds like electricity kind of crept in to your life.
A-Well, that's it; it did. Well it's just like with people not too long ago who felt like, who needs an answering machine in their house? I mean it seems now that just about everybody has one. There are people who don't. That sort of thinking. Where you think you don't need it, well of course that's not tied in directly to electricity.
Q-Well, they won't function without it.
A-Well yeah, I suppose, but I know when we had the power outage we got a telephone call.
Q-Right, they have their own generation system.
A-Yeah, so that's why I'm saying it's not closely tied in to it.
Q-And so today you use a lot of electrical appliances, huh?
A-I would say so.
Q-What do you use?
A-Of course TV's are in every room practically. And lights are on, we are lit up like Rockefeller Center sometimes, and you know the VCR's, and the kitchen appliances, and the washers and dryers.
Q-Right, do you feel like your life is really different in the essentials than what it was before you had electricity?
A-Well, I'm sure you know it's changed, especially for women at home, it's changed.
A-Well, it's not necessary for them to do things by hand--you know if you had clothes to wash it was a big project. So you gathered your tub or whatever on a Monday morning usually and just started scrubbing and hanging out the wash. That was an all-day activity. And you know now, throwing in the washer whenever you have enough for a load, and you put it in the dryer and you're done. You know it takes a total of who knows, just a few minutes compared to, you know, something that took all day, washing on Monday and ironing on Tuesday. You know that was sort of a standard routine.
Q-Huh, uh. Do you feel less self-reliant now that a lot of these tasks depend on electrical appliances and those electrical appliances will only function if the power works? Or do you feel fairly confident you could just go right back and do everything by hand if you had to?
A-Well, I feel I could, but I sure wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want to, but I think I could be more self-reliant than some people. You know, I know it is a big thing in my life that happened. It certainly made life a lot easier. You know, it just strikes me funny that in spite of all these things that people have to simplify their lives to make things easier, and take a shorter period of time, so many people don't have time to do the things that people used to have time for.
Q-Yeah, some people have remarked that at least the blackouts in 65 were almost refreshing because nobody could really do anything.
A-Yeah, you know, you have to find something to kind of occupy your time; that's true.
Q-Do you recall any of the blackout there being a sort of holiday spirit, or people sort of just taking time off because the electricity was out and getting to know each other better?
A-Well, like I say it really wasn't that significant as far as we were concerned, because it was just a matter of kind of sitting it out like we had done before. And otherwise you know you could go out and do your things around the house, outside, or taking a walk down into town or whatever. I don't remember exactly the period of time that it lasted. I just remember the evening when it happened. You know, 'A' [my husband] Oh, what happened to the lights, or the TV. I forget if the kids were watching. And Anne had a small transistor radio that she had either turned on or turned on because there was nothing better to do. And that's when we heard about it. And then we get a call from a neighbor, a doctor friend of ours. And he figured, since [my husband] worked for the power company he would know what this is all about, and Ahow long will the lights be out? So, of course the only thing that we could tell him is what we heard on the radio. So it was that sort of [inaudible] .