In 1952 I was in high school, living out on our farm north of Hanley Falls. School had been let out early because of adverse weather. Luckily all the students made it home before the blizzard hit. My family had not made a special trip to town to stock up on food, but we had a basement pantry full of canned goods that my mother always prepared each summer.
One thing we did not have was electricity - since that was one of the first things to go out during a huge storm. But we still had an old wood-burning cook stove in the kitchen, around which we gathered in order to keep warm. There was no television in those days (at least not in our house) but we had a lot of good books and farm magazines that we could read. We did not talk with our neighbors on the old wall phone - we knew that we had to keep the line open for any emergency that might take place.
My father kept pacing the floor in the kitchen, with a very worried look on his face. Finally, he announced. "Ellayne, get dressed for going outside. We have to get to the barn to open the door for the cattle so that they have enough air to breath and get them to some water." I couldn't believe what he was saying - the snow was so thick - the wind was so wild that we could hear it constantly howling like an injured animal around our little farmhouse.
In unbelieving horror, I responded that there was no way that we could make it out to the barn and back in this blizzard. I even went so far as to say, "Let the cattle die better them than us." Well, that was the wrong thing to say to my farmer father.
He had struggled through the Great Depression, losing everything and then finally working his way back to economic security during the middle to late 1940s. You did not let cattle die - that was worse than burning money. Well, I got the message, and immediately started dressing for our trip into hell.
It took quite a while to get dressed - we donned long woolen underwear, layered clothes over this, put on heavy coats, hats, mittens and finally my mother wrapped our wrists and ankles with long strips of woolen material (something we always kept on hand), tied scarves around our faces allowing for our eyes to attempt to see through the snow.
We did not say "goodbye" to my mother that would have been too negative instead my father told her NOT to call my brother, who lived on a farm about one mile northwest of us, no matter what!
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 did 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 life in other words, I had been an afterthought 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 waist-high 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 the 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.
(Continued next week)