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By B. Lynn Goodwin.

“Hello. I’m calling from the Starbuck’s on Camino Ramon in Danville,” the young manager in the green apron said into her cell. “We’re currently experiencing a blackout.”

I’d never been in a Starbuck’s without inside light.

A clerk who sounded like a high school student told me the coffee was cold. She suggested I try another Starbuck’s but I decided to wait. I liked the natural light coming through the windows, and besides, I wanted to be a part of the adventure. It’s not every day a business grinds to a halt because the power is out.

Power blackouts are a holiday from real life. If this one happened when I was at home, I’d have felt my way to the kitchen, found the matches and candles, and put them in the bronze candlesticks I gave my mother when I was thirteen.

Then I’d have opened the freezer door for flashlight batteries, and heard her voice saying, “Don’t open the refrigerator. The cold air will leak out.”

When I was younger, a power failure brought out cookies and crackers from the cupboard, my favorite legitimate, unbalanced meal. They also brought us out of our separate rooms.

Trapped by an electric garage door that would not open, we gathered in my parents’ bedroom to wait out the storm that knocked the lines down. Through rain-splattered windows we could see the distant lights of San Jose twinkling below. Sharp black rooftops and ebony tree limbs blotted out portions of the city. It was 1959, and we had no idea we were looking out on the future Silicon Valley as we sat high atop the hills of Los Gatos.

In the shadows, my parents began to tell tales of the “olden days.” My father remembered a blackout in Martinez during World War II.  He was outside with a friend walking through a darkened neighborhood when he lit a cigarette.

A neighbor woman rushed out to scold him for aiding the enemy. “Are you crazy? Put that thing out before the Japs see it glowing and attack.”

“So what happened?”

“Your father put out his cigarette to shush her. Then Art and he laughed the whole way home.” My mother’s voice was warm and gentle as she added her memory of that long-ago night.

This is the way it’s supposed to be, I thought as I sat on my mother’s bed, looking from one darkened face to another. I knew we would remain a close-knit family as long as the power was off. When it came back on my father would return to KQED or the ballgame, broadcast in black and white; my mother would return to the kitchen or stacks of student essays; and unspoken resentments that screamed for attention would lace the air, unanswered.

My parents were good people, flawed by resentments they didn’t know how to process. Their strained silence ate away at me day after day. Maybe the power failure brought out their long-hidden need for one another. Though I was only ten years old, I knew I would always cherish the openness that came out when the electricity went off.

As I wrote those words, the power just came back on at the Starbuck’s on Camino Ramon, and the four clerks went, “Awwww,” just like the kids in school when the lights came back on and free time was over.

Starbuck’s is back in business, but who wants to return to pouring coffee and heat cookies with adrenaline still racing through the body?  Blackouts charge us up in ways that caffeine cannot. So do unexpected holidays. They bring out the helpful side in some and the celebratory side of others. They make us hyper-aware, and often they make us grateful.

Everybody has unexpected holidays, but not everybody recognizes them. Have you had one? Where were you? What happened? How did it interrupt your routine? How did you feel when it was over? We’d love to hear. You can write it here, or you can share it with me at [email protected] if you prefer.

Thumbnail Photo Credit: Gail Lynne Goodwin

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B. Lynn Goodwin is the author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, available on Amazon. Her stories and articles have been published in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; the Oakland Tribune; the Contra Costa Times; the Danville Weekly; Staying Sane When You’re Dieting; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; Career; We Care;, Friction Literary Journal, and The Sun.

A former teacher, she conducts workshops and writes reviews for Story Circle Network and InspireMeToday. She’s working on a YA novel and brainstorming a memoir.

She’s the owner and editor of Writer Advice. Writer Advice recently celebrated its 16th year and runs contests for aspiring and published writers as well as sharing useful tips from experienced writers.

For more information, please visit

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This is about power blackouts, which have always been a gift to me. I know there are other kinds of blackouts, including loss of memory. Any experiences with those?

    And don’t you love the photo? There’s hope at the end of that rainbow. Write back and tell me your thoughts, okay?

  2. My friend, Joyce, who runs the Sycamore Book Club, posted this response on Facebook: Years ago the light went out in Sycamore. Most of us on Leeds at the time had little ones-about three of 4 families ended up together at Denny’s in Danville. It was really cold.

  3. When I asked Joyce if I could post it here, she remembered one more story:

    Another story comes to mind-Geoff was playing football for SRVHS He was the star wide receiver and place kick holder. SRV was undefeated. We had a big game out Amador High School. All the team and especially the parents were so ready for this game. Amador had a new high-tech 1/4 million dollar score board. When is was time to play the lights on the field at the 50-yard line would not come on. After a delay it was determined the game would be postponed. The coach did not want the Green and Gold Wolves to play in the dark with Amador’s dark purple uniforms. So no Friday Night Lights, but the score Board shined on. Yes, SRV triumphed the next Saturday morning. Geoff had two nice touchdowns. It was meant to be!

    Won’t you tell us your blackout story? Thanks!

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