Sandy didn’t believe in ghosts. She’d said so that very evening. After Christmas dinner, they’d all watched Scrooge on TV. When it was over, Grandpa had chuckled and said, “I remember reading that story when I was a boy. It was a stormy, winter evening like this and I was afraid to go out to that dark barn to do the chores.”
“Well, you sure were dumb,” Sandy replied. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Mother frowned. “Since you’re so smart—and brave, young lady, you can do the dishes alone tonight.”
“Work, work, work!” Sandy complained, and that started Grandpa on his favorite saying again, “Work? Why, you kids don’t know what work is! When I was a boy…”
“Bah, humbug!” Sandy grumbled on her way to the kitchen. Grownups! They were always talking about the old days. Grandpa was the worst…I remember how cold the house used to be on winter mornings before we had the furnace put in…and Daddy was almost as bad…When I was a boy, we didn’t even have a radio, much less television…Even Mother…If you think ironing is hard now, you should have used those old heavy flat irons that had to be reheated on the stove…
Phooey! The way they talked you’d think they had lived in the dark ages! Sandy scraped the frosting out of the bowl and licked the spoon, peeking around the corner first to make sure Mother didn’t see. It was so good she decided to have just a ‘teeny’ piece of cake. As she took the last bite, she heard Grandpa coming.
“You look like you’re frightened of something, Girl,” said Grandpa. Sandy shook her head and bent further over the sink. “You sure you didn’t get spooked by old Scrooge and those ghosts?” Grandpa asked.
Sandy swallowed hard and mumbled, “No.”
“Hope not,” said Grandpa and settled himself on the kitchen stool. “Reckon I can keep you company ‘til you’re finished.”
Sandy swallowed again. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so well. Was it because Grandpa was being so nice after she’d called him dumb? Or had she eaten too many sweets?
Sandy pulled the blanket up around her face. Something had awakened her. Was it the howling of the winter wind? And why was it so cold in her room? “oh-h-h-h” howled the wind and Sandy shivered. “I’ll go ask Mother for another blanket,” she whispered to herself, pushing back the blanket and opening her eyes. But she was too surprised to move! There on the table beside her bed was a strange, dim light. It came from a kerosene lamp like the one Mother kept on the mantel for a keepsake. As she stared at it, it began to grow taller and the flame inside the glass chimney flickered and smoked turning the chimney into an eerie face with two smoke spots for eyes and the flame for a mouth.
The mouth spoke. “You look like you’ve had too much cake,” it chuckled, sounding strangely like Grandpa.
“Who are you and what are you doing in my room?” whispered a frightened Sandy.
“I am the ghost of The Cold Dark Time and I’m here because you need light,” answered the ghost.
“I don’t need your old light,” Sandy said, sounding much braver. “I’ll turn on the switch.”
“But there are no switches,” said the ghost.
“No, you are dumb,” insisted the ghost. “Switches without electricity! Ha!” Its flame mouth sputtered, making his eyes bigger and darker.
“Go away,” said Sandy. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“If I go away, you’ll be alone in The Cold Dark Time,” whispered the ghost.
“Stop talking like that or I’ll call Mother,” Sandy said, opening her mouth to yell.
“She couldn’t hear you because you aren’t even here yet,” interrupted the ghost.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Sandy, and she closed her mouth and pinched herself. “Ouch! I certainly am here.”
“No you aren’t. You’re there.”
“In The Cold Dark Time,” answered the ghost.
“Will you please stop talking in riddles? You aren’t very clear, you know,” Sandy said, staring right into the ghost’s big, dark eyes.
“It’s really quite simple,” explained the ghost with a chuckle. “This isn’t now. It’s then before you were born.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, I think you’re making the whole thing up and—”
“Come,” interrupted the ghost again, “I’ll show you.”
The lamp glided off the table and toward the door.
“No,” shivered Sandy, pulling the blanket tighter. “It’s too cold. Something must have happened to the furnace.”
“There’s a fire downstairs,” said the ghost.
“A fire!” Sandy sat up in bed and sniffed.
“In the kitchen stove! Come along now,” said the ghost as it glided out the door.
Sandy followed, her teeth chattering. “I’m not afraid,” she said softly. “I don’t even believe in ghosts.”
“What?” The ghost sputtered, “Speak up, Girl.”
“It wasn’t important,” Sandy said, very politely, and crept down the stairway and turned into the kitchen.
She could hardly believe her eyes! A huge, black stove roared, making the kitchen very warm. “Oh, this feels nice,” she said, drawing near to warm her hands.
“It doesn’t feel so nice in the summer,” remarked the ghost.
“What’s that?” Sandy pointed to a tub steaming on the stove.
“Just water,” replied the ghost. “It’s washday. Look on the sun porch.” Sandy peeked through the glass in the door. Someone was bent over a tub, scrubbing overalls on a washboard.
“Who’s that?” Sandy whispered. “I think I’ve seen her before.”
“Not before—since,” answered the ghost. “That’s your mother, and you don’t have to whisper. She can’t hear you. You aren’t even here yet.”
“Don’t start that again!” Sandy begged. “I’m confused enough already. Where is the washing machine and the…everything…” Her voice turned to a whisper again as she stared around the kitchen. No washer! No dryer! No refrigerator! Not even the sink!
“You’ve seen the washing machine,” chuckled the ghost, “and the wind is the dryer. The sink is a pump in the yard. The refrigerator is a cold, dark cellar. Would you care to see it?”
“No, thank you,” Sandy shivered, in spite of the warmth. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Well, there are other things to see. Here, lift one of these irons.” Sandy reached out her hand. “No, no! You’ll burn yourself. Take a pad from the counter.” Sandy did as the ghost told her.
“It’s heavy,” she complained.
“Yes, but when your mother was your age…”
“Well, I’m sorry! I didn’t know she was that old!” Sandy answered sharply.
“What old?” asked the ghost.
“Older than electricity,” explained Sandy, and the ghost began to supper until it almost choked on its smoke.
“What’s so funny?” demanded Sandy.
“You,” said the ghost, still sputtering. “Do you think this is the dark ages or something?”
“Well, if it’s before electricity…”
“Oh, this isn’t before electricity; there’s an electric power plant right over in Capital City.”
“Then why don’t we have it?” demanded Sandy.
“Because there aren’t any power lines this far out in the country,” the ghost answered sadly.
“There are too. They come right across the meadow to our farm,” Sandy insisted.
The ghost commenced its strange laughter again. “You’ll never believe me unless I show you.” It sputtered, “Come with me.”
“Don’t be silly,” Sandy reasoned, moving away from the ghost. “It’s too cold to go out.”
“Too cold!” roared the ghost, coming closer. “You don’t know what cold is! Why, in my day—”
“Stay away from me!” she shouted. “You sound just like a grownup—Why in my day…”
“Come with me,” insisted the ghost, as it moved toward Sandy.
“No, I won’t. I won’t go!” Sandy tried to run, but the ghost swooped across the room and gathered her up in the prongs which held its face in place.
“Then I will have to take you,” it said.
“Put me down!” yelled Sandy, struggling to get free, but the ghost held her tight. “Put me down this instant!”
The ghost laughed louder and louder as it flew out the door into the dark, howling night. Sandy shut her eyes and screamed, but the only answer was the fluttering of her nightgown in the winter wind.
“Stop screaming and look down and tell me if you see any electric poles and wires,” demanded the ghost. Sandy opened her eyes and looked. Just below them was the farm. The moon shone brightly, but that was the only brightness—no lights anywhere and no power lines.
“It’s a trick—there are power lines on all farms…the Nelson’s and the Brady’s and…”
“You just don’t believe anything,” the ghost grumbled and began to fly toward the highway.
“Where are you taking me now?” cried Sandy.
“Keep your eyes open and find out,” shouted the ghost as it began to fly faster. All the farms below them were dark. Not a single light shone from a window or a yard light. How awful!
Then suddenly the darkness changed as they flew over a large hill. Below them were lights—hundreds of lights.
“Capital City,” explained the ghost as they began to descend “and as you can see, there is electricity here. Why don’t you climb down and look around you,” it suggested as it lit in front of an electrical appliance store.
Sandy climbed off and stared in the window. “These refrigerators look kind of old-fashioned,” she said.
“Of course. We are still in the time before you were born!” reminded the ghost.
“Well, I just can’t understand why there’s. all this electricity here, but none on the farms.”
“Because it takes lots of money to put up miles and miles of poles and wires. The farmers can’t afford it.”
“But why doesn’t the power company build them?”
“Because the people who own the company are expected to make money selling their electricity. They think it would cost more money to build the lines beyond the cities than the rural people would spend to buy their electricity.”
“But that’s not fair,” Sandy stamped her bare foot and glared at the ghost.
“I didn’t say it was fair. And anyway, it’s not true. But I was only telling you why the farmers don’t have electricity.”
“Well, how do they get it and when are you going to take me back to Now and out of The Cold Dark Time?”
“Climb on,” said the ghost. “Let’s go to school.”
“In the middle of the night?—You stop being silly and take me back right now or I shall blow you out,” said Sandy, as she puffed up her cheeks. The ghost rose up in the air leaving her standing in the middle of the street in her nightgown. “Where are you going?” she shouted.
“I’m getting low on fuel and I can’t waste any more time. So unless you stop being rude, I’m going to fly back and sit on the mantel and leave you here.”
“I’m sorry I was rude. Please don’t leave me,” shouted Sandy, and the ghost came down again.
“Hurry up,” said the ghost.
“But why must we go to school?” Sandy asked as she climbed on.
“Because you cannot get back out of The Cold Dark Time until the farmer gets electricity like other people. And we must go to school to see how it is done,” the ghost answered as it slipped back across the dark countryside.
“Well, I hope it won’t take long,” Sandy replied.
“It shouldn’t—there is the schoolhouse just below us.”
“This is the schoolhouse?” asked Sandy as they landed in front of a small building that looked like a shed.
“Yes, the one your parents attended. Look inside; perhaps you’ll see them.”
“Hurry up and do as you’re told or we’ll never get back. I’m on my last few ounces of kerosene.”
Sandy rubbed the frost from the windowpane and peered inside. “This is perfectly silly—the school is full of grownups.”
“What are they doing?” whispered the ghost.
“Nothing, except taking turns signing a piece of paper—hey, there’s Grandpa. And Mother and Father! They look just like those old pictures we have at home. And that looks like the Nelsons and the Brady. Whatever are they doing here? What’s everyone doing here?” she asked excitedly, turning to the ghost. “Oh, you’re getting so dim! What’s the matter?”
“I’m almost done for,” the ghost spoke very low. “We have to leave now. Hurry, before it’s too late.”
“But aren’t you going to tell me what was happening at that school?” Sandy asked as the ghost rose slowly, sputtering, smoking, and groaning.
“They were agreeing to buy electricity,” the ghost answered.
“But you said they couldn’t afford it. I don’t see…”
“I don’t see very well either. I’m almost out. I hope we don’t crash.”
“Don’t say things like that,” shuddered Sandy, looking down.
“Very well, I’ll explain about the farmers buying electricity so that either of us will think about crash…I mean so we won’t worry,” said the ghost. “You said you saw them all signing something?”
“Yes,” answered Sandy.
“They were forming an electric cooperative.”
“An electric what?”
“Cooperative! Cooperative! Don’t you even know what a cooperative is?” demanded the ghost.
“Certainly, it’s like a…I mean it’s a group of people who…well, do things together…”
“You aren’t very clear, you know,” the ghost chuckled. “A cooperative is a group of people who own and share something that benefits all its members…kind of like a church,” the ghost explained.
“That’s what I mean…I think.”
“Well, an electric cooperative is a group of people who share the ownership of power lines, sometimes even power plants, which they all use,” the ghost continued.
“But how will they own them? You said they couldn’t afford to build things like that,” Sandy said.
“Together, as a cooperative, they get a loan like your parents did for their home.”
“But how will they pay back what they borrow?”
“That’s simple,” said the ghost. “When they get electricity, they’ll produce more and earn more money. Enough money to buy lots of appliances and equipment. That keeps factories in cities producing and earning more. The farmer who has electricity not only earns more, the helps others to earn more.”
“A kind of a circle,” remarked Sandy.
“Yes,” answered the ghost, “like the one we’ve made tonight. I think that’s our farm down there.” It began to fly lower when suddenly it hissed, “oh-h-h-h hold on tight! We’re going to crash.” Sandy shut her eyes and screamed as they spun down and down toward the ground.
Kerplop! They landed in a pile of snow and Sandy rolled over and looked for the ghost. “You’re getting smaller and I can’t see your face anymore,” she said to the kerosene lamp lying beside her.
“That’s because I’m not important any more. No good for anything except sitting on the mantel as a keepsake.”
“You were very helpful tonight,” Sandy assured the ghost. “I learned how people can get things done by working together.” Then she yawned and curled her arm under her head. “Oh, I’m so sleepy.”
“But you mustn’t fall asleep here. Go inside and take me with you.”
Sandy stopped yawning and picked up the lamp. “Well, you’re too small to carry me inside, so I guess I’ll carry you. But if you don’t mind my saying so, this is a switch.” She giggled.
The bright, winter sun poked its rays through the window, and Sandy opened her eyes, looking around for the light switch. There it was, right where it had always been!
“I’m here, not there,” she sighed with relief, then smiled to herself. “I guess it was only a dream.” She closed her eyes, listening to the sound of the vacuum cleaner downstairs. “Wait ‘til I tell Mother about that funny dream,” she thought and just then the vacuum stopped and she heard Mother say, “That’s funny, the old lamp is empty! I’m sure it was full of kerosene when I dusted yesterday. I wonder…” The vacuum started again.
Sandy sat up in bed, her eyes and mouth flying open. “Well, I guess if it could happen to Ebenezer Scrooge, it could happen to me,” she said aloud, “although I don’t think anyone will ever believe me!”