Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's been awhile since I featured a "Thursday Special" from my friend over at One Foot In The Grave, and when this one came through last week, I knew this was the one to share. Interestingly enough, it is also a guest writer for her weekly missive.
When my dear friend said she was going to be out-of-town and unable to write her weekly "Thursday Special", I volunteered to write a column for her. What I decided to do was just copy an article from our Las Vegas, NV newspaper where I worked at the time. It was one of my Christmas presents to my parents at the time. The article ran just before Christmas 1986. If you were raised on a ranch/farm, perhaps this will bring back memories for you. If you are a young person, you perhaps will get a glimpse of what Mother Nature can do to folks making a living off the land.

The article's headline read "Memory of a Plain States' winter" by Pauletta (Charbonneau) Corwin
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The paper says highs in the 60s today in Las Vegas, and my youngest is balking at the front door on her way to school because she has to wear a sweater. Dear child. I'll let you in on one of my flashbacks, one brought about by reading in the morning paper about the blizzard which left South Dakotans and Nebraskans digging out from tons of snow.

Ever live in that area for any length of time? It was natural for my family and myself to "dig out" - especially back in the winters of '49 and '52. The family had to finally move off the ranch in South Dakota and take refuge in a nearby Nebraska town - the hardship of those winters was taking such a toll on my mother.

Those Las Vegas-born children lucky enough to travel to our nearby mountain areas during winter see some snow and get a charge out of rolling and playing in the white stuff. Fun. Ah yes! Except there were times in my childhood when I couldn't stand the sight - it meant I had to be out there helping in sub-zero temperatures. No ifs, buts, or ands about it. The work had to be done.

Our house, which incidentally still stands firm against the winters, is a huge two-story building complete with full-size attic and basement. The blizzard of December 1952 left a snowdrift on the south side as high as the house and running a quarter mile slanting.

What fun it was to climb it and sled forever. But the long walk back was something else.

I can remember my mother wrapping the three of us warmly in layers of clothing, a double scarf, snowshoes and two pair of mittens. We could hardly move. Then, about 20 minutes later, the three of us would come back onto the enclosed porch, soaking wet, in search of dry clothes.

We never gave it a thought that she had to do all that wash in a wringer machine - not too long before that, she was still using the tubs and having to boil all her water on a stove stoked with coal, cowchips and corn cobs. I can still see her making a path through the snow to the clothesline - within a few minutes, the clothes would be stiff as boards.

We were wiped out that winter. So was everyone else. Almost all the cattle had died - mostly standing up. Dad called it a "suffocation blizzard" - the snow would swirl around the animals' noses and form a crust which prevented them from breathing.

We were snowed in the house for three days. The snow had piled well above the fences, so the cattle were free to wander. Some of the herd had moved closer to the buildings for warmth.

The three of us kids were given a pygmy calf to look after. There it stood outside our southeast living room window with several other cows. "It sure looks cold, Daddy," we would say, dragging our father to the window to observe. He didn't say much.

Finally, he or my mother - I don't remember which - found the courage to tell us that our pet had died standing up.

That was December. There was no Christmas for us. We couldn't get to the nearest town some 30 miles away. There were no highways. And come spring, there would be only muddy, sloshy trails to follow. We strung popcorn and hung it on a large tumbleweed. Mom made some Christmas goodies for the family - but that was it.

Oh, by the way. Two of us children were in school. For three months, anyway. We attended a rural school about five miles from our ranch. The blizzard closing the roads meant no school, right? Wrong! Dad saddled the horse a few days after the storm subsided and traveled up to the one-room schoolhouse, loaded our books into a gunnysack, and brought the "classroom" back to us.

Mom was a teacher in her earlier years. She set up a makeshift classroom in the attic, and everyday, Monday through Friday, we held school. She done a darn good job. We weren't held back the next year when we moved to town.

Then came spring - finally! But with it came disaster for Dad's livelihood. All those fat cattle that had been milling around the pastures earlier in the fall had died, as had any chance of making a profit. When the trucks were finally able to reach our ranch in June, the only goods they took back to town were piles of bones and hides.

But not all was lost and gloomy. Disaster, as always, drew the curious from all over the country. A reporter and photographer from a large magazine came out to interview folks and take pictures. And people from all around worked together through the winter to survive, and found a new sense of community.

Time for my flashback to fade. Re-enter today. Yes, I still harbor a set of mittens my Mom used to make me wear. They were so clumsy to put on, and made the job of collecting hens' eggs so difficult. Sure wish I could "go back and put them on one more time" for old times sake.

Mom and Dad are still with me - they live here in Las Vegas where it's 60 degrees in December. And I'm still trying to convince my youngest one that she has to wear a sweater. But oh, those flashbacks. They make you feel pretty good deep down inside.

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Jump to today: Sadly, I no longer have my parents with me. The ranchland is still there; however, there are no buildings. Time marches on.
Thank you for this glimpse of life in the not-too-distant past in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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