By Rick Houser –
When winter really sets in in January and February, I really don’t recall many wonderful times like those portrayed in a painting by Currier and Ives. You know, where the old farm house is covered in snow and so is the yard, but the setting in the portrait gives off a comfortable look. There is just the correct amount of snow on the roof and on the lawn. The background displays the trees and shrubs with very little snow. If there are livestock in the painting, they are grazing contently. Really? Content in the snow?
Maybe this was the case up in New England but here in southern Ohio the heart of winter is a much different setting. Around here when a snow comes it usually comes with wind that creates snow drifts. It is safe to say if you have ever encountered just one you will never forget it. On the farm, the winters came with zero temperatures, large snows, freezing sleet, and lots of ice in all the wrong places. I’m sorry but I just can’t envision a portrait with any of these conditions and see it looking like a nice time in any way.
Of course, we always had chores but at this time of year just preparing to do them was a chore in itself. I know I would start with putting on long underwear (tops and bottoms), insulated socks, flannel shirt, and insulated pants. Then came a heavy pair of Wolverine work shoes before putting on your insulated coveralls. On subzero days a heavy coat went on before a hat with ear flaps. Then I would get my heavy duty yellow work gloves and then put on a pair of four buckle arctic boots.
Lastly I would wrap a scarf around my neck. Not only did this take an hour but by the time you were finished you were worn out, but I was ready to face the elements. When you are out in the barn yard, it is like walking in a bomb field. With cattle and hogs around, those boots were major equipment. One never knows what they had left for you to step in or on and just where this surprise might occur.
The good thing about this time of year was we really weren’t exposed to the cold much beyond doing our chores or an emergency fence repair or something of that nature. One very noticeable thing to me was the way the farm looked. It was the same place and the buildings just as they had been when the leaves were on the trees and I was feeding the animals in a short sleeve shirt. However the farm bore no resemblance to how it had looked last summer. The farm went from living color to mostly black and white. The fields and barn yard went from very green and solid earth to mostly brown and either mud or a frozen tundra, since the cattle and hogs had churned up the soft soil it became a hazardous terrain to walk on.
I know that even when we got back in the house on most days the storm windows and storm doors were painted in a white frost on the lower parts, that could look pretty, but it also signaled it was really cold outside. I mostly looked at that time of year as being a time juts to survive. I am sure some of you think that I am exaggerating. Maybe it won’t bring back a memory but to my generation and many more, all I have to say is the “remember the blizzards!”
The fact is that 1977 and even more so in 1978 were what might possibly remain as the two worst Januarys and Februarys in our history. In 1977 we got large amounts of snow and wind that created drifts almost impossible to imagine. The winds blew so long and hard in such a cold air that the water in our cistern froze. (That is cold!) The rest of that year we all would talk about just how bad of a winter we had dealt with. We were sure it was so bad it probably won’t happen again for a hundred years.
But along came 1978 and guess what. Our ground was covered in ice and was melting and it was raining when in suddenly in the night the weather changed and the temperature and barometer dropped so fast that our world froze solid. Then the snow began to fall as it had never done. As the snow piled up, the wind began to do what it does with a lot of snow. The following day we all hunkered down and hoped we would be there when it ended, if it ever did.
At the time my wife was expecting our first child and she was near delivery time. The thought in my head was to remain calm but the entire blizzard was more than even southern Ohio had ever seen. Now we only lived a half a mile from Felicity but let me assure you there was no way we could have made it to town in those conditions. All that kept going through my head was the line from “Gone with the Wind” when Prissy said “I don’t know nothing about birthin’ no babies!” We came through it just fine and I still don’t know nothin’ about that.
I guess what I am trying to say is that we usually deal with hard winters every year. Some are much worse than others but we make it. The bottom line is we still don’t care for Ohio winters, we just survive them. It is a part of chemistry to live part of our years struggling to stay warm. I for one will just say it. We have all learned how to face the storms and after dealing with one we prepare to handle the next and I don’t think it ever occurs to us that we will ever not come out on top.
I don’t have all the insulated items I used to and probably should keep some around but these days I prefer to stay close to a fire and just talk about the days when it was cold. Stay warm out there!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you wish he may be able to speak to your group. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.