I awakened at about three a.m. and looked out the window. It was snowing, and had been for some time. It occurred to me that we may well be having a near normal winter for Kansas. At least it was a switch from the unusual ones we have had the past several years. The cover of fluffy snow brought back some memories of winters long ago.
Like most farm families, we always made preparations for winter. Beginning in the fall a supply of wood was cut and piled close to the house. If the corn had been picked, then it was shelled and the grain was stored or sold and the cobs were also stored in a dry place for burning. Grandpa usually would buy a wagon load of hard coal just in case we ran low on wood. The big farmhouse was old and not insulated, and the furnace, the cook stove and the fireplace would consume a lot of wood during the winter months. Our major concern was to maintain a warm place to eat and sleep.
The second major concern was to properly care for the livestock. During the summer months the barn loft was filled with loose hay and often some fodder was grown, bound into bundles and stored near the barn yard. Sometimes it would be necessary to replenish the supply of hay or fodder during bad weather. There was corn and oats for the cows and horses, as well as the pigs. Then there were the chickens, turkeys, baby calves, dogs, cats and assorted pets to be fed and housed.
Maintaining a water supply for the livestock was sometimes a problem, as the streams and ponds froze solid. We had a water line from the windmill to the stock tank at the barn. As long as the wind blew and the pipe didn't freeze, we were okay, but I spent a lot of time pumping water by hand. Grandpa always milked quite a few cows. I learned to milk very early and preferred milking to feeding and cleaning out the milk barn. Grandpa had seniority over me, though, so I got to milk after I had done the other chores. Later we had a hired man and he did the chores, while I did most of the milking.
On one particularly cold night I frosted my toes by sitting too long in the cold milk barn while milking. The chore I hated the worst was separating the milk and cleaning up the milking utensils. We always built a fire in the milk house stove before we started out to milk. By the time we had finished milking the water was hot and ready for the cleanup operation. The last chore was to carry the skimmed milk to the baby calves and pigs. By then we were cold and hungry. Grandma's huge suppers sure hit the spot. After supper, Grandpa would perch his glasses on his nose and settle down to read the paper. We had a radio and Grandma would fool around with the numerous dials until she picked up WGN in Chicago or KOA in Denver. By nine o'clock everyone was drowsy and ready for bed. Grandpa would bank the big furnace for the night. We all took turns dressing for bed over the big furnace register. Then we made a dash for our feather beds and lots of covers. In the morning, I would burrow down in the covers and cover my ears so I couldn't hear Grandpa calling me to hurry and get dressed. I wanted to sleep until noon.
Despite all the trials and hardships of winter, there was a bright side, especially after a big snowstorm when the weather cleared and the sun came out. Things were so bright and beautiful that it hurt your eyes. These were the days we would bring our sleds to our country school. The schoolhouse was built on a short, steep hill and sledding was always good after a snowstorm. After a spell of real cold weather, we knew the ice on the streams and ponds was thick enough for skating. At least once a week the young people would gather on the ice for a skating party. We would build a roaring fire right on the ice. It would furnish both light and warmth until well after midnight. Some of the older folks had been skating for years and could do a lot of fancy stuff like writing their initials on the ice with their skates. We younger boys would bring along a condensed milk can and our own "shinny clubs" for a fast game of our own brand of hockey. Often as I walked home in the cold moonlight, I was almost asleep before I tumbled into my bed.
Other evenings were spent at someone's house, playing cards, popping corn or making taffy. The fellows would often meet at the home of a crippled bachelor who welcomed company any time. We had some rousing games of pitch and pinochle at his house. One of the farmers in our area raised popcorn by the hundreds of acres, so we always had a ready supply for popping. The cold weather brought on unusual scenes and events. When temperatures were very low the rural telephone wires would "sing," or hum rather loudly. Occasionally, as the weather continued cold for a spell, we could expect to see the northern lights, more scientifically known as the Aurora Borealis.
Winters in the country were a welcome change of seasons, but by March we were looking forward to another change to spring. It is nice to reminisce about those days, but it is much nicer to brew a cup of hot chocolate, pop some corn in the microwave, build a fire in the fireplace and watch my favorite ball game on TV.