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Tales of the Texas Blackout

Messages of light emerging from darkness are so common as to be almost cliché. Until you experience it yourself. Like I did in an unusually cold, isolated Texas in February.

Puffs of my breath made mist in the cold air. Yikes! I hadn’t seen that phenomenon for years. Especially inside my house. It was disturbing. This is my story of sadness and generosity that occurred during the Texas Blackout in February of 2021.

There was buzz on the news and internet of rolling blackouts accompanying below-freezing temperatures. Although this was very uncommon for San Antonio and other parts of Texas, it didn’t sound so bad. Winter was something I am familiar with, although I try to avoid it. 

We moved to San Antonio via Western Nebraska. We’ll just stay off the roads, stay inside, no big deal. We’ve even experienced temporary blackouts when the power went out during big storms sometimes. I knew lineman worked like crazy to keep the heat on, and I figured Texas electric companies would take the same care. 

Oh, how naive I was. My optimism and misplaced trust turned out to be totally wrong. 

The storm was a big deal. Several inches of snow fell. Promptly the electricity went out in my house. And stayed off. Rolling blackouts for us meant three days with a minute or two of power here and there on an unreliable schedule. It meant no cell service. It meant my house was cold and I was trapped inside without internet, access to heat, or proper preparation. 

The scramble for warmth began. We found our box of gloves and hats. We found our couple of scented candles for nightfall. We found the crackers and cans of fruit in the pantry. 

Funny as it may sound, the biggest concern was keeping our snake warm. His heat lamp and heating pad were reliant on electricity. He was going to die if we couldn’t regulate his temp. Into a pillowcase he went and we even took turns wearing him under our shirts. I shared snippets of our day with loved ones when I would go to my car to warm up, and find a cell signal.

The loneliness and helplessness weighed on me much heavier than the chill in the air.

Dear Friends, Hell Hath Done Froze Over! We are boiling water and heating food on our barbeque grill, wearing snakes in our shirts, and fighting over blankets. We’ve been without power for two days, now three

Friends wanted to help. Messages came. Can I buy you a bed and breakfast somewhere? Can I get you a warm meal from grub hub? The restaurants weren’t open and asking anyone to drive seemed irresponsible with the black icy roads. We weren’t going anywhere. We had to do the best we could and wait it out. 

These friends didn’t know I was fighting first trimester morning sickness. The nausea was constant. The fatigue of building a human is overwhelming, even in the best of circumstances. But the lack of power introduced new complications, as would find myself rushing to the bathroom with a strong bout of pregnancy-related nausea in the middle of a night without any light to guide me. Once, I hit my head pretty hard on a wall I miscalculated in my sprint to the toilet. In addition to morning sickness, my seasonal depression also came on suddenly.  Because hello winter. This meant a foggy mind, and a lack of motivation to improve my circumstances. I felt the great weight of being alone and inadequate to care for myself. My body was not well. My mind was not well. My soul was not well. The loneliness and helplessness weighed on me much heavier than the chill in the air. In this state of mind, with my wool hiking socks, and winter heat beneath the blankets in bed, I prayed in my mind. I didn’t know what to ask for, but I opened the conversation with Heaven and shared how I felt.

Dear God. I feel bad. I don’t know what to do about it. 

After a bit of sharing my badness, an idea sort of floated into my mind as I watched my air puff in the cold air. Or maybe it was a revelation from God. I still have a difficult time differentiating between the two. The food in my fridge had gone bad. I had money to replace the food right now, but something about the idea of someone buying me groceries felt alluring. Mostly, I felt an overwhelming need for connection. What if people sent me money, and I bought groceries for the person behind me? Simple. Elegant. Fulfilling.

I felt the patchwork of friendship I’d built over the years hold me.

I made the request online-including my Venmo and PayPal information and called the project “Grocery Santa.” Immediate donations came in. The donations were generous, over a thousand dollars trickling in from people I knew in every stage of my life: childhood, college in Arizona, and Utah, friends from early marriage in Las Cruces, New Mexico, then Albuquerque. Friends and Church members from Nebraska. I felt the patchwork of friendship I’d built over the years hold me, leaving me sobbing with gratitude.

Grocery trip after grocery trip, I’ve handed over cash at the register for the person behind me. Quietly, and without knowing the reaction of the recipient. I imagine surprise and happiness. Drive-through dinners (which are more frequent with my pregnancy cravings) included paying for the order for the car behind me. I had such an overwhelming response of donations, it took time to do the lovely work of giving. 

I’m not the only one who got to experience something so lovely during the storm, of course. I also read about volunteer cheerleaders in Houston who passed out needed food and supplies, the grocery chain H-E-B which allowed customers to leave without paying for what was in their carts when the power went out, and endless food and water drives across the state. Several well-off athletes and public figures chipped in to help, including when Beyonce offered cash relief grants to Texans. I wasn’t the only one wanting to do something. 

Only one person I’ve given to has found me to thank me. This person had a small purchase and had time and inclination to catch me as I was putting my shopping cart away. The man told me “I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. It’s the nicest thing a stranger has done for me.” To me, he spoke for them all. 

The Grocery Santa project created a quilt, built by the patchwork of generosity. I’ve been able to share this quilt with Texans around me. 

If you’re feeling some discouragement or sorrow in your own part of the world, here, take a corner of my blanket, warm your toes. We had a rough week too. So, you’re not alone. 

It’s not just a marketing slogan.  We really are all in this together. 

About the author

Evelyn Hornbarger

Evelyn Hornbarger is a writer based out of San Antonio, Texas. Between raising her children, pets, and plants she enjoys a delicious slice of pizza and a hike in the woods. Her work has appeared in ParentCo, The Scampering Horse, and the Sydney SunTelegraph.
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