Over the Hills and Through the Woods J Vincent

Okay, it was really over and through the snow drifts to Aunt’s house we go. Let me explain. In the 1950’s we had true blizzards and more than one a winter. I remember many times when we took in complete strangers stranded in the snow along 21st Street near our farm. When one hit you couldn’t see but a few feet, if that, in front of you. As the Kansas wind whipped the snow into drifts from five to over ten feet tall, everything stopped moving.

1953 was the year a blizzard hit right before Thanksgiving. I was eight at the time. Let’s go back to the evening of November 24th.

It started snowing while I was feeding the calves. Our farm was a dairy/wheat operation and everyone in the family except for the toddlers had jobs. While Mom and my older brothers milked I took care of the calves by giving them grain and making sure they had enough hay. Then I tended to the “bedding.” “Bedding” is done with straw—wheat straw bailed after harvest. After getting bales of straw one had to take off the twine and then break apart the compact slabs created when the straw was baled. Shaking the slabs into fluffy piles of loose straw was a lot more fun when my brothers helped because we had straw wars. Mom was sometimes unhappy about this because bits of straw went down our clothes and boots and ended up all over the house. But I'm wandering off topic.

The snowfall steadily thickened. By the time I was finished and headed up to the house it had coated everything. It continued throughout the entire night and into the next day. Towards morning the wind picked up. It rattled the windows while snow sifted into mounds on the inside window ledges. The shushing sound wind driven makes is something like very fine sand being blown about. It made me burrow deeper beneath the heavy covers of multiple quilts. When Dad opened my door I waited for his hand to shake me but instead he told me I didn’t have to get up because there was a blizzard. I was also told to take care of my baby brothers if they woke up before he and Mom got back to the house after milking and feeding all the animals.

When my youngest brother demanded attention I reluctantly uncovered my head and crawled out of bed. It still seemed dark and with a thick frost on my bedroom window I couldn’t see out as I hurriedly dressed. It was no better in the boys’ room where I found my year-old brother jumping up and down in his crib. The two-year-old crawled out of bed and ran after me as I carried Eric down the stairs to the warmth of the kitchen—the only heated room. After getting them dressed I pulled open the back “view. When my parents and older brothers came into the house they were entirely coated with a thick layer of snow—even their faces with heavy ridges across eyebrows, nose and cheeks.

The snow continued until late that afternoon. We were kept busy with everyday inside chores as well as peeling apples and helping make three apple and three pumpkin pies to take to my aunt and uncle’s for Thanksgiving on the morrow. When we noticed that the howling of the wind had lessened we begged to go outside. Once we were swathed in layers of shirts and coats, gloves, scarves, and hats, Dad pulled open the front door and we stood, gape mouthed, at the wall of white three-fourths of the way up the screen door. The back door had a much better windbreak and we tumbled out of it only to be caught up short by the undulating snowscape. Everything was white; the garden and lawn had turned into an ocean of white waves, some of which towered over our heads.

Dad let us scamper over drifts as well as sink into them too for a time and then set us to shoveling a path to the barns. We were all exhausted that night as we crowded around the floor furnace in our pajamas to get as warm as possible before dashing up the stairs and diving into our beds.

Our chatter died away when Mom ask Dad, “What about Thanksgiving at Roman and Rosella’s tomorrow?”

“We only have pie,” my oldest brother whispered with a grimace. Visions of turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed peas, and homemade ice cream danced out of sight in our heads. Worse was the thought of not getting to play with all our cousins—all four of my dad’s sisters’ families were to be there with their thirteen children. Our collective groan rose.
“We’ll see,” Dad assured everyone. “The wind hasn’t come up again. There’s a slim chance we can still go.”

Thanksgiving morning dawned cold and clear. My older brothers came into my room and scratched frost off the windows facing 21st. “Nothing moving,” Bill said dejectedly.

“Boys, get down here,” Dad yelled up the stairs. “Come on, get a move on if you want to go to Thanksgiving at Uncle Romans.”

I scrambled out of bed as the boys tumbled down the stairs. Nose to the window I confirmed there was no traffic on the road to the north. Looking straight down I saw the huge drift that still blocked the garage door and those that rose and fell across the drive way. After playing on them yesterday afternoon I knew some where five feet tall. “The car isn’t doing anywhere and we aren’t either,” I muttered.

Dad and the boys returned to the house for a late breakfast mid morning.

“Wait until--” my brothers began as one as they began working out of their mummy-like layers.

“It’s a surprise,” Dad scolded, but I saw him wink at Mom. “Wait until we’re done.”

They ate, bundled back up, and hurried out. It was just after noon when I heard the M&M (Mineapolis Moline)—our big tractor then but a baby when compared to today’s monsters.

“Help bundle the boys up,” Mom said, “and then get yourself ready to go out.” When we finished she said, “Watch your borthers while I take the boxes with the pies out.”

Dad came in a few minutes later and picked up the baby and grabbed the quilts mom had set out. “Take Stan’s hand and help him. Mom will be back for him but let’s make a start. “
“Where are we going?”

“To Thanksgiving dinner,” he laughed. “Come on.”

It wasn’t until Mom took Stan and I climbed over the biggest drift through the yard that I saw the M&M was hitched to a hay trailer sitting where the wind had left the ground coated with only a thin layer of snow. Dad had outlined the outside of the trailer with straw bales and put a thick pile of “bedding’ in the center.

A hank of hay sailed over the side. My oldest brother popped up. “Come on, we’ll be late to dinner, slow poke.”

“Dinner?” I looked at the huge pile of snow made when they dug a path clear for the tractor and then at the drifts in the road and shook my head.

Dad picked me up and tossed me into the pile of straw. Then he helped Mom up and over. While she settled us in the straw with the quilts to her satisfaction Dad climbed into the tractor’s seat. Revving up the engine he put the tractor in gear and we were off—straight off through the field!

All dad’s sisters lived on nearby farms. We stopped at two and picked up those families. We kids had a blast with straw fights going. I’m not sure the adults thought it quite as much fun as they shoveled through the worst of the drifts at times. The food was terrific and the company even better. After dinner everyone, adults, except for Granny, and kids, joined in the snow fort building and snowball fights. A very memorable Thanksgiving over and through the snow drifts to Aunt’s house!


Reese Mobley said...

What a great memory! Thanks for sharing it. I've never seen a blizzard like that before--must have been something. At least through the eyes of a child.

Joan Vincent said...

I was visiting with a good friend who lives in Andale who remembers the '53 blizzard. She said a lot of the kids didn't make it home from school that day and had to stay with people in town. Her husband said they had to tie a rope between the house and barn so they didn't get lost in the white out.

Nina Sipes said...

That's such a good story. When I was little, every year we'd be stormed in for a while and miss school. Dad's opinion was if the bus couldn't come, we didn't go. If the snow cover was uniform, dad would tie an old car trunk to the back of a small tractor and we'd get in the car trunk top and he'd give us rides. He'd turn corners fast and we'd get tossed off in the snow. When we were all cold, the fun quit and moved indoors where we played a board marble game that came over on the arc. We loved it.

Pat Davids said...

Joan, what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it with us. It brought to mind one of my mother's favorite stories. I think it may even have been the same blizzard because I was only a baby.

It seemed that a line crew for the phone company became stranded in the blizzard. One man climbed to the top of a telephone pole and hooked into the phone wire and tried calling for help. It rang at my parent's house.

My dad set out on the old Mini, (our Mineapolis Moline tractor)He managed to reach the men but then couldn't return home and instead they made their way to another farm a half mile down the highway. Dad spend the night and next day (Thanksgiving) with the neighbors while my poor mother was left snowed in at home with a baby and a toddler and no electricty.

Penny Rader said...

What a wonderful story, Joan! Thanks so much for sharing it. Felt like I was right there.

Starla Kaye said...

Ohhhh, that was such a nice memory! Your parents were amazing people to come up with that plan to still get the family together in spite of Mother Nature's rude interference.