Storm Days

I sit here looking out the window, gazing upon a magical, glowing, silvery world – the far-north mystical-looking air, a phenomenon conjured by blowing snow back-lit by an obscured sun. It only happens when the snow flakes are fine, not when they are big lacy flakes. The big flakes produce a magic of their own but not today.

The blowing snow howling around the house sounds fierce. It looks cold and sounds cold. It is cold. But in my living room, bundled up, I’m cozy and warm on the couch, pecking away at the keyboard – or even cozier bundled up with a book.

When I need not leave the house, I love stormy, wintry days and the cozy, snug feeling of a warm house threatened by severe weather.

There is something exciting about a snow storm. That feeling of excitement stems, perhaps, from a long ago childhood spent on a Minnesota farm so far north we were almost hugging the Canadian border. Back then the winters were fierce and transportation less reliable. When the snow began falling all the children watched with bated breath and listened to the radio with anxiety. Was it snowing hard enough, storming wildly enough to call off school? Would we have a snow day? The answer would be yes about three times a year. What joy!

If school was called off early enough and we had not dressed for the day, we could relax in our jammies and have a leisurely breakfast. If we had already dressed for school, we’d happily change into more comfortable “everyday clothes.” We had very few school clothes and never wore them around the house or farm.

Usually we’d be assigned some household chores, but it was our special day off so the chores would be few. Sometimes Mom would bring out ingredients so we could help bake a nice, warm treat for ourselves. Or she’d mix up a batch of bread early enough so, for noon dinner, chunks of the dough could be fried and served up dripping with butter and generously sprinkled with sugar. We called them flapjacks. Then later the remaining dough would be baked. The heat from the oven was welcome as the space heater left cold spots in the house, and the aroma of baking bread on a stormy day was wonderful. When it came out of the oven, we got chunks of that, too. Also served with melting butter and sugar.

Usually at some point in the day, we’d go outside to romp in the newly fallen snow. Whether it was our idea or strongly suggested by the parents cooped up with us, we didn’t stay out long. We did not have the wonderful winter clothing today’s children take for granted, so usually we’d soon be freezing and ready to seek the warmth of the house.

But most of the day we bundled up next to the space heater in the living room and read comic books or whatever printed material we could find. Reclining on blankets next to the heater, we’d play games until we argued. Then Mom would find more household chores or we’d be sent outside to wear off excess energy.

Sometimes to warm up, we made fudge or enjoyed hot chocolate and warm donuts shaken in a little bag of sugar. Cozy, lazy, happy comfort.

Part of the excitement of snow days was the element of danger. When we were snowed in, we were truly isolated. Vehicles would not move, often would not even start even though the batteries were removed and taken kept warm in the house. Most winters we had no horses, so the only way to get out was to walk in the storm. Some of the neighbors had horses and sleighs, but we had no telephone to call them if we experienced an emergency.

We always had a stock of food in the winter. Every year Mom “put up” (canned) fruit, berries, and vegetables. In the basement, we had shelves of Kerr or Mason quart jars filled with jewel-like goodies. We raised chickens and hogs every year, and butchering was done each fall. We usually had milk cows, so we had milk and cream and made butter. After harvest, Mom bought flour in 50 pound bags. No, we did not have to worry about getting to the store for groceries during a storm.

On snow days there was a fine sense of isolation. The world did not intrude on our family; we had to rely on one another. Whatever we needed, the family had to provide.

Three storm incidents come to mind today.

Once, our neighbors harnessed their horses and came trekking through a blizzard to play cards! What excitement! We certainly did not expect company emerging from the dark in the blowing snow. It seems like that storm continued for days. The neighbors claimed cabin fever had brought them out; they simply had to get out of the house. I suspect, though, that they were checking up on us to see if we were okay since we could not get out and had no phone. People were like that back then.

Another incident was not so pleasant. My dad had injured his foot before the storm and he developed blood poisoning. I don’t remember how the neighbors were notified; someone must have walked out to the neighbors to tell them of our emergency. I do remember taking Dad out to the main road on a toboggan so someone could give him a ride to the hospital.

The most dire storm emergency involved plowing across country, across fields to get Dean to the doctor. The snow had piled up and the plow could not efficiently plow out the road. Across country was faster. I was very young and only remember the family legend, so I asked my brother (Pastor Al Sather) about it.

This is what he wrote:

“Memory is a funny thing—let me rephrase that—sometimes it is funny how our memories can be fine one minute and the next minute we seem to be in a fog.

— Do you remember the trees along the east side of the road from where I used to live [the old Ole Sather farm where our family lived until I was six. EDK ] down to the corner where the road went to the evergreens?

Well, the year Dean’s tonsils swelled so big he couldn’t swallow, the snow had drifted in from the west so all that was [to be seen] above the snow was the REA wires on the west side of the road. . .

— When Nick Derod came out with the snow plow at  night all you could see was his head lights on the top of the cab.

Dad walked up the road on top of the snow to meet him and Nick told dad it would probably take close to three hours to clear that last ¾ of a mile. So he backed up all the way to the [Old Bethania/Sather] cemetery and came across the field and crossed the ditch at the corner where we were waiting.

— Then Nick turned around and went back the same way and dad followed him across the field because the snow had almost filled in the path he had made already. . .”

When we lived on the farm, before we moved to town when I was in high school, we had no phone. Neither Al nor I can remember how our rescuers were notified of our need. It seems someone had to make the trek through the deep snow in a blizzard to our neighbors a half mile away.

But on a day like today in the relative safety of modern communication, I remember the “cozy” and feel the warmth of it again.

Posted in October but written in the winter several years ago.