For nearly 30 years, people have paid me to write about electric co-ops. The toughest topic Iï¿½ve found is the central story of what it was like for people in rural areas to finally get electricity after decades of watching their city cousins enjoy its magical benefits.
The miracle of electricity overwhelms efforts to describe its impact. It benefits the complete range of people, most of whom are not well-practiced orators. Maybe co-ops should take a lesson from those GEICO TV ads in which celebrities like Joan Rivers or Little Richard dramatize ordinary peopleï¿½s car insurance experiences.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro showed it can be done. In The Path to Power, part of a three-part biography of Lyndon Johnson, he describes life in pre-electricity Texas hill country in a way that makes you cry. His chapter ï¿½The Sad Ironsï¿½ details the literally back-bending life of women hauling water, cooking, washing, and ironingï¿½smoothing shirts with two or three irons heating on the blazing stove in the hot Texas summer.
Writing that chapter didnï¿½t come easy. Caro, a New Yorker, moved for a time to south Texas in order to give the attention required to pull those experiences from peopleï¿½s memories.
Now we have a Kentucky approach to the story in David Dickï¿½s Let There Be Light, The Story of Rural Electrification in Kentucky.
The man whoï¿½s lived on the last editorial page of this magazine for 19 years, and who has his own section in many Kentucky bookstores, turned his attention to the monumental story of Kentuckyï¿½s electric co-ops.
His easygoing you-are-there style in his columns works well in this book organized with a chapter on each of Kentuckyï¿½s 30 (including some that have merged with others) electric co-ops.
I especially like the tale about a town where electrification coincided with a flu epidemic. Appliances were taken out of homes, smashed, and buried to wipe out the sickness obviously caused by electricity.
He writes with a variety of techniquesï¿½a newspaper excerpt here, a chronology there, lists of the names of the original board of directorsï¿½but always including the real words of people talking about a story that changed Kentucky in ways impossible to describe.
Itï¿½s a story all Kentuckians should know.