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MARTHA SEZ: ‘The loud bang, the shower of sparks and fire, the plummeting rodent’

If you happened to be in Wilmington on the morning of the Monday before Thanksgiving and found yourself wondering who turned out the lights, I can tell you.

Or maybe not. There are different theories.

As I type this column, the event just happened. A very nice family came to buy a rug for their camp at the store where I work, and they told me the whole story.

“I grew up in New York state, but now we live in Atlanta, Georgia,” said Samantha, the mother of Jack, 11, and Luke, 8. “We have a little house in Wilmington, and we got in last night. This morning, of course, the boys went right outside to play in the snow, and a little while later the power went out. I was wondering why when Jack ran in and said he thought he saw fireworks, and he heard a really loud noise.”

Jack also thought he saw something fall from the sky. What he took to be a fireworks display was probably a transformer blowout.

Before long workers from the electric company were on the scene. When Samantha went out to talk with them she learned that about 800 homes and businesses were without power. After she explained what Jack had told her, service crew members looked around and discovered a squirrel on a guardrail right under the damaged transformer. Jack and Luke thought maybe the squirrel was alive, since its eyes were wide open, but no; one of the electric company guys said that it had been electrocuted.

At first, I thought it was pretty obvious that the squirrel had caused the power outage. The loud bang, the shower of sparks and fire, the plummeting rodent, all pointed to it. But how, exactly, did the squirrel damage the power line?

Then another customer-we’ll call her Ellen- came in and listened to Samantha’s account. I went over my theory that a squirrel was responsible for the transformer blowout, but Ellen was skeptical, pointing out that, yes, it’s easy to blame the squirrel, and yes, blaming the squirrel would absolve the electric company of any negligence, but, really, since when do squirrels chew the insulation on electrical wires?

Hmm. Now that I think of it, I have heard numerous homeowner complaints of squirrels and other rodents chewing through wires in their attics. Never mind that.

Ellen, Customer Number 2, conjectured that the transformer blowout could have been caused by worn or corroded wire insulation. The squirrel, she figured, was merely a hapless victim of time and chance. In her estimation, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I will say this for Ellen’s theory of events: It is certainly better for the reputation of the late squirrel, and will probably be more readily accepted by his family. November is known to be a stressful time for squirrels, and especially when it is unusually cold, as it has been this year.

Stockpiling quantities of food for the winter, not to mention the clerical work entailed in documenting where it has all been stored and the security measures taken in order to protect it against inclement weather, rival rodents and thieving crows-well, you can imagine.

It’s exhausting. And then, on top of it all, to have one of your near and dear, not to mention a primary provider, randomly zapped by a faulty transformer: No, no, it’s all too much.

I have dragged this story down so far into the depths of pathos that it’s going to be difficult to salvage this column and bring it back up to a level of cheer appropriate for the start of the holiday season.

I apologize, but I do have a deadline, and I really have to get this in. Let me just say that I hope you have a warm and happy Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and friends, unlike the Wilmington squirrel. I had no idea that the column would end this way.

Next time I’ll have better news, I promise.

Have a good week.