This is My Co-op—Turning Night into Day

Nicki Harris

 

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“I am sure that the younger generation of today cannot possibly know or appreciate what a giant step toward prosperity that the coming of electricity was to the rural areas of South Carolina.  It opened up a new world for us.  We had to learn many new ways of doing work, and we learned about our world, and how other people lived.

Those people who never lived without electricity could not imagine how much extra work was involved in doing simple chores all day and every day during each season of the year.  Today, we all take our bright lights and ample water for granted.  Even if electricity is off because of weather or some other calamity, we have the assurance that hard-working linemen will soon have the electricity “back on.”

There were many chores and jobs which had to be done every day.  Someone worked hard to keep the lamp globes cleaned of smoke and dirt.  The bottom part of the glass lamps had to be full of kerosene.  Water was “drawn” from the deep well for many uses besides drinking.  Water was always needed for wash day, cooking, bathing, scrubbing the home’s wooden floors.  The children even drew numerous buckets of water for the mules’ troughs.  For some reason it was the children’s job to draw water for the mules that had been working in the cotton, corn, or wheat fields.  I could never understand why the “sharecroppers” did not draw their own water.  I guess they were hot, tired and hungry.  If this were lunchtime, they had to hurry back to the fields to get as much done as possible during daylight hours.  No tractors with lights had been designed or manufactured.

If we children wanted a “swimming pool” or a pool for “baptizing”, we first dug a hole as deep as we could, then drew water from the well and filled the hole which turned into a red-mud hole. 

There was no electricity in the school buildings, so all classes and other activities were held during daylight hours.  Of course, there was no indoor plumbing, and no school lunches.  But, we did have Hugh windows.

I do have one other memory of before electricity, which should have shown me what I was missing, how deprived we were, or how much easier life could be with electricity.

My father had an uncle who was Chief of Police in Seneca, S.C. So he and his family lived within the city limits.  I visited the family for 1 or 2 days when I was about 6 or 8 years old.  It was a learning experience.  I was fascinated with their lights and their telephone, which I did not touch.  There were no telephones in Oakway, so there was no one to call. 

I remember that, at my uncle’s house, even though they had electricity, I did not think that their lights were much brighter than our oil lamps.  By that time, we did have an “Aladdin” lamp, which we lighted for company. It was also an oil lamp, but with somewhat brighter light.

In those days, our family, and everyone else we knew, took only one bath a week in a tin washtub. It was a lot of trouble to heat water on the cook stove to fill the washtub with warm water. I remember that at my uncle’s, I got into their huge, enamel bathtub with my cousins. It was scary with the water running, and with my fear of drowning, I did not like it.

I observed, but I do not remember being impressed. There were cordial, treated me royally, but I guess I was a little homesick.

Moving ahead to the year 1936. I was 10 years old. Rural Electrification in South Carolina was talked about a lot. We knew we were supposed to get electricity, but we didn’t know how or when. I do not remember holes being dug and poles being erected. I did not see the lines being attached to the poles. The workers would have been working only during daylight hours, so I suppose we were always in school. It all seemed to happen then by magic.

The anticipated day finally arrived. I remember how all the family gathered in one room in our old house at almost dusk. Daddy pulled the chain which turned on the 40 watt bulb which was hanging down at the end of a cord. Since the ceilings in the old house were so high, it was a little too high for us children to reach that little chain. Never before had there been such a bright light in that room. I had never before observed the dark, smoky, ugly walls of that room. That 40 watt bulb made everything so bright to my young eyes. Daddy told us that day that electricity was going to cost us $5.00 a month. Five dollars was a lot of money for a farm family coming out of the Great Depression. Daddy also warned us not to touch that chain, because we might get shocked.

Sometimes the lights would blink when they were on, but that did not bother us. I don’t remember ever having to replace those 40 watt bulbs.

We still, as always, went to bed that night when it began to get dark. That is probably why today, I am teased about “going to bed with the chickens.”

It was not long after that day we purchased both a radio and a refrigerator. After school each day, my mother allowed me to sit in front of the radio and listen to the Soap Operas. We turned the dial of the radio loud enough for Mother to listen while she worked.

The most wonderful addition was the refrigerator. We had two really good treats. Besides keeping the milk cold, there were ice trays which made ice cubes to use in our sweet tea on Sundays. Also, Mother made ice cream. She would skim the cream from the day old milk, add sugar and freeze ice cream. (It was thick pure cream). It was a delightful chore to take a serving spoon and stir the ice cream as it was being frozen. There were two good parts to that: We got to leave the refrigerator door open longer, and, of course, each time we had to taste the ice cream to see if it was freezing properly. Then we licked the big spoon.

Of course things changed with electricity with the changing of times. When Daddy built their new brick house in 1960 – long after I left home, they had every convenience offered by Blue Ridge Electric at that time: running water, indoor plumbing, inside and outside lights, radio, television, central heat, air conditioning, freezer, a range, a separate oven, refrigerator, telephone, washing and dryer, hot water heater, outside water faucet. They had numerous outlets in every room. Years before, we did well to have one outlet in the most-used room in the house. (Most of those items listed above were never a part of the old house.)

At the time the lights came on, I was in awe of what was happening, but I did not know, at that time, that appreciation should have been expressed to many people for their forward vision and continued hard work to get electricity to rural areas. For the last eighty plus years, I have been thankful for Blue Ridge Electric Coop, and for the foresight and hard work of many  - including Mr. A.J. Hurt, Mr. David W. Stribling, Mr. Grayson Dalton whom I knew. They, as well as many others, never gave up until a cooperative was established, one which has grown steadily for the last 79 years.

I know that my life, and the lives of thousands have been blessed, made easier and more fulfilling because of the hard work of many leaders for the last 79 years. Thank you.”

Other thoughts…”Even after we had electricity in the rural area, we did not have telephones until much later. I can remember the first time I talked on a phone. It was 1943 at Winthrop College where I was a freshman. I cannot remember who called me or what we talked about. All I know was that it was not an emergency.

Some people were afraid of electricity. One lady had a new electric range sitting beside her wood-burning stove. She allowed visitors to use her electric stove, but she was so afraid of her new stove, she continued to use her wood-burning stove for years.

There were people who owned television sets. They thought they were “wicked”, so they would not turn them on. I wonder what they would have thought of today’s programs.”

Mrs. Edna N. (Nicki) Harris, is a strong advocate for Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative.  Having lived the first ten years of her life without power on a rural farm in Oakway, Mrs. Harris remembers well what it was like to live in that generation.  The oldest of six children, she was the daughter of Jim and Lena Nicholson.  Her father had 200+ acres divided into six farms that were worked by sharecroppers.  Always active in the community, Mrs. Harris was married in 1948 to Theo Harris who later served on the Blue Ridge Board for a number of years.  Her grandson, Joel Davis, owner of JDavis Construction Co., is the current board Chairman.