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Christmas Eve, electricity off

When a friend of my daughter and her husband were living near Seattle not quite two decades ago, they had a memorable Christmas Eve — memorable in many ways.

They were young and just starting out, and they didn’t live in a rich neighborhood; it was mostly older apartment houses.

This particular Christmas Eve, a foggy and uncomfortably cold one by Seattle-area standards, she happened to be walking by an apartment house near where they lived and she noticed an odd thing: There wasn’t a single light on in any of the apartments, nor were there any yard lights on, nor were there any lights on in the parking lot.

It was as though all the residents of the apartment house had moved out. It was as still as death.

But then the young wife saw someone walking toward her through the fog from the apartment house.

“Why are all the lights out?” she asked.

“There’s something wrong with the electricity,” she was told. “The whole building is out.”

In that part of the country, that meant no heat. Older apartments usually were heated by electric baseboard heaters. They also had electric stoves. That meant no cooking. It meant the entire place was bitter cold.

The apartment house resident told her food in the refrigerators was starting to spoil. The power had been out for several days. Apparently the power company had not been able to make necessary repairs, or the landlord had not paid the power bill. Nobody was sure.

The young wife returned home and called the first place she could think of: The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army couldn’t help just then, she was told.

There was a Catholic church up the street, and the young wife called there, but got no answer. She tried other churches. Those that did answer said they didn’t see what they could do to help, as they were preparing for Christmas Eve services.

And so it went. She made many calls, a young bride trying to get something done, but nobody seemed able to help.

Then she got lucky. The woman who picked up the phone at the number the young woman called happened to be at a ward meeting house across town of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She was just getting ready to leave to celebrate Christmas Eve with her own family.

When my daughter’s friend told her of the predicament, the woman said, “Well, I don’t know. We’ll see.”

After that call, the young woman decided to walk back down to the apartment house to see what was going on. She and her husband took a sack of groceries with them in case they ran into anybody who needed food. It took a while for them to get there, but when they did, they could hardly believe their eyes. Cars were driving up. People were hopping out with sacks of food. A big commercial electrician’s truck was in place at the back of the building, as were a couple of smaller trucks. A truck from the power company was there.

Men, women and children were carrying Christmas gifts into the apartment house. A truck from a television station was pulled up and camera technicians were unloading their equipment. A truck from the Salvation Army was there with coats.

The lights came on, most importantly lights on Christmas trees inside previously dark apartments.

The young woman asked a bystander what the problem had been.

“Why was the power off?” she asked. The bystander smiled at her. “No,” he replied. “It was the electricity that was off. The Power was still on.”

Merry Christmas to one and all.

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