To put it in the words of my country kin: In 19 and 35, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that created the Rural Electrification Administration.
This would be a remarkable turning point for the South.
Roosevelt had fallen in love with rural Georgia when his friend, George Foster Peabody, talked him into traveling to Warm Springs in hopes that the hot spring waters would soothe his polio-stricken limbs.
Roosevelt was of the privileged New York elite so he had no idea how the poverty-plagued Southern region was forced to live. What he saw there would change his heart — and his changed heart would transform all of America during the dark days of the Depression.
Only towns and cities had electricity because the costs of laying power lines to sparsely populated areas were too great. Under Roosevelt’s Executive Order, which Congress would turn into a legislative act in 1936, the federal government loaned money to distribution areas to install the equipment. These member-owned cooperatives became known as Electric Membership Cooperatives. Most of these EMCs or Rural Electric Associations still exist today, along with municipal and privately owned power companies that serve the more populated areas.
Whether you have electricity supplied by a cooperative, a Southern Company subsidiary or other, we all owe a lot to the linemen, the unsung heroes.
Whenever a winter storm or tornado is coming, I pray for these men and women who leave the safe comfort of their homes to rebuild our power lines and service transformers in the worst kinds of weather. They are warriors.
A few years back, we had an ice storm that left our farm looking as though a tornado had come through and laid waste two dozen trees.
I’ve been through three tornadoes, a tropical storm created by a hurricane, and many snow and ice storms. I’ve never personally experienced such damage.
We were without power for three full days. It was so cold that our houseplants froze and died but the ice never melted in the refrigerator. We stayed warm by plugging in an electric blanket to an extension cord that ran to a gas generator on the back porch. It ran out of gas about 4 a.m. every morning but we got through it.
It was tough for us but it was a lot tougher for those trying to restore the power.
On the Rondarosa, we are serviced by two different EMCs: one on the frontside and another on the backside.
Sometimes, during storms, one side of the property has power while the other doesn’t. Our membership in these two EMCs entitles us to receive a magazine filled with features and energy tips. Recently, as I flipped through an issue, a headline caught my eye: “Steve Gabrels Retires As Crew Foreman.”
I don’t know Mr. Grabrels but his story touched my heart and it’s one I feel is probably shared in common with thousands of linemen across the South. He was proud to be able to get on with the power company because it paid a good wage and was considered the kind of job that would help a man provide for his family and retire with benefits.
Here, I want to quote him directly: “I realized I would be working with good people and by that I mean Godly people. They treat each other with respect, take pride in doing a great job and have the desire to go above and beyond for the members. Without a doubt, the good Lord opened the door for me to have this job and kept me safe from harm’s way countless times.”
“Tink, listen to this,” I said, reading Mr. Gabrels’ words aloud. I choked up.
This is the American South. A place made by hard-working, God-fearing people — with a big hand extended by Mr. Roosevelt to help us up from the dirt ditches.
I’m so grateful for them all.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.