The rule at the utility company was that they would run utility poles along the road for free, but if you had an especially long driveway, you had to pay for the poles along your driveway. They would be delivered in a big stack at the head of the drive, and then you had to either pay the utility company to install them, or pay the only electrician licensed to install utility poles, who happened to also work for the power company. However, he charged less for jobs on the side, so most people were willing to tolerate the slow pace of work between official jobs.
Getting electricity, for most of us, was therefore A Big Deal, because power poles and installation do not come cheap. As a result, the community had an unspoken and complex arrangement. As electricity slowly creeped up the road, when a house formally declared the intent to get utility poles installed, the neighbors up the road who didn’t have electricity would help pay for the installation and the major appliances. In return, they got the right to use the washer, bake bread in the oven, and so forth. When a household which had loaned you money got electricity, you repaid their loan, providing them with a little chunk of change, and thereby slowly paying back your debt over time.
This arrangement might sound strange to many people, but most of us were in and out of each other’s homes already, so it didn’t strike any of us as peculiar. And the sharing of the expense made the slow spread of electricity up the road possible. People weren’t obligated to participate, of course; some people simply weren’t interested, and no one would push them.
The other big part of getting electricity was, of course, the wiring of your house. Most people did the wiring before the utility poles were installed, because it was a project that could be worked on in fits and starts for months, and that way the house would be ready to roll when the power line was finally brought to the house.
I still remember the day the utility poles were delivered, mainly because they were dumped in the driveway, requiring us to run to the neighbors for help with moving them. We ended up just dragging them down the road, roughly to the points where they were meant to be installed, and when the electrician arrived, we watched intently as he rigged up an ingenious pulley to haul them into place. Once all the power poles were up, he told us that the utility company would come and lay the line soon, and trundled off in his electric company truck, which he wasn’t really supposed to use for side jobs.
The night after the power line was laid, we had an electricity party, inviting all the neighbors over for pizza, which we of course baked in our wood-fired brick oven in the orchard. My father, as I recall, added an incendiary amount of peppers to the pizzas, causing the neighbors to attempt to put the fire on their tastebuds out with copious amounts of wine. The laughter rang out through the orchard as the candles flickered, and people strummed musical instruments and sang snatches of song.
My father had planned the inaguarual use of our electricity with care. He thought about simply flicking the lights on at dusk, but he decided that it lacked flair. Instead, he trundled into town and returned with a top of the line record player and a formidable set of speakers, and when the party started to flag, Maria Callas singing La Traviata rang out through the trees, creating at first a sudden hush and then an excited chatter as my father turned all of our four lights on, one by one.