Blizzard memories

Part II

We were finally ready to “weather” the storm. We took a few steps outside into the raging angry storm — and that’s as far as we got. This was the second day of the blizzard and the snow was deep. My dad was carrying a shovel, so we took turns scooping each other out of the soft deep snow, which we sunk into up to our hips. Soon we lost all sense of direction. How were we ever going to make it? The barn, which was really a pig house, lay 50 yards straight east of the house with nothing in between. I wondered, “Why do these feeder cattle need air?” The answer lay in the fact that the barn was not a regular high-roofed barn — that had been torn down a few years back — and the animals were now housed in the low-roofed former pig house. The cattle would have been packed in there with no ventilation, and more importantly, the door was shut and they would not be able to get to the stock tank for water. But it wasn’t only the cattle that I began to worry about — I started worrying about my dad. He and my mother were older than the parents of most of my friends as I had been born late in their lives — in other words, I had been an after-thought or a mistake. All of my young life I had felt the responsibility of having to take care of my parents and protect them when I could. I respected my father’s determination to save the cattle — but now I had to save him. What if he had a heart attack while trying to trudge through the deep snow; how could he catch his breath as we walked into the wind? We began to fall with every two or three steps — then take turns shoveling each other out. I was exhausted, but I was young; how could he continue? When I would fall into the snow it was soft and comforting — I wanted to stay there — it would be so easy to just fall asleep. Everything would be all right if I could close my eyes and drift into a never-land forever, away from this earthly struggle. Then I would think about my dad who must be thinking some of the same thoughts. I determinedly rose to my feet and struggled on — I must save my dad. He was probably thinking that he must struggle on in order to save his young daughter’s life.

We were completely lost. I don’t know how many hours we went on like this. Then I felt something hard under my right hand. I dug away at the snow and uncovered the top of a little round fence post. We were headed south not east, and the open prairie field lay before us, with no chance of survival, much less a chance of reaching the cattle. But attached to this post would be the wire fence that traveled east, turned north, then turned east again and led right to the barn. We could make it if we kept following the fence. First, we had to dig down to find the wire, then keep digging and uncovering the fence as we struggled along. We were going to make it to the barn — we were going to live to see other days. After more hours of struggle,we found the barn. Dad pulled the door open and we went inside. We tried to get the animals out of the barn — but, of course, they did not want to face the blizzard — so we chased them out and they headed to the stock tank for water. We lay down on the soft straw-covered floor to rest. Finally, I said to my father, “We made it here, the cattle are going to be all right. Let’s just stay here until the storm is over. We will be safe and we will be warm here.” “No,” he said, “because your mother will call your brother, and he will try to come and find us, and there is no chance that he can make it over here with no fences to follow or any kind of clue to follow.”

So, after a while, and after the cattle started returning to the warmth and security of the barn, we headed back out into the storm. We took the same route back, following the fence line, digging each other out when we fell down. It was now completely dark, which didn’t make much difference because we couldn’t see anyway. The fence took us west, then turned south, then west again until we reached the end of the fence. That meant that we must try to turn ourselves north in order to get to the house. If we missed the house we would be in the grove of trees to the far north. We chose our direction knowing that we would be climbing a hill if we were headed correctly, otherwise — who knew what would happen? We kept going and going. Then suddenly I ran into a wall. I looked up and I saw a faint light in front of my face. I had run into the house and I was standing in front of a window in which my mother must have placed a lit candle. We had made it.

We found the door, walked into the kitchen and collapsed onto the floor. My mother screamed with delight at the sight of us. She told how she had lit candles and placed in every window to guide us back to the house. We didn’t tell her that there was no way we would ever have seen a tiny candle flickering in that raging blizzard. But I had seen it when I ran up against the house — so it had worked. And, she told us, she was just ready to give up on our returning, so she was going to call my brother to come find us.

We took off our wet outer clothing and stood over the old cook stove to warm our hands and bodies. Pretty soon my dad lay down on the floor next to the stove and fell asleep. I was too exhausted to sleep. I just sat there savoring the hot chocolate that my mother had prepared for us and thought about the ordeal we had just been through, thankful that I had, in some small way, been able to save my dad and his precious cattle.

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