Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's almost Iowa-cold!

This week, temperatures reached forty-below in my state of origin, Iowa. My sister’s daughter, Jennie, incessantly complains about the Iowa-cold but stubbornly refuses to take any of the usual precautions against cold, like wearing socks.

Dear Crystal,

As you know, the brutal winters were one of the reasons I left Iowa. That, and the fact that I had done everything there was to do there… twice!

Hasn't Jennie heard about what we went through as kids on the farm?

Rising at 4 every morning, we would find no fire in the woodstove, frost on the back of the dog and the electricity frozen in the wires.

Marty was usually the first up. He hated shoveling the path through those five-foot snowdrifts to the outhouse, but somebody had to do it, and the first one out got to wear the good boots that day.

I can still remember seeing you and Mom struggling to get the fire started in the stove, as Dad and we three boys headed out to milk the pigs.

Off we would go, tied together with a length of rope so none of us would get lost in the snow-stormy darkness, only to find that half the pigs had gotten out of the pen and the rest were frozen to the ground.

Marty and I would strike out to round up the scattered hogs, while Jeff and Dad would begin the process of chipping out the frozen ones.

Lucky for us, Grandpa had shared a trick for gathering loose hogs during winter: Grandpa told us to start in November by letting the hogs lick honey off an unused metal fence post. Before long, they would see that post and come running for the treat.

In winter the honey was frozen solid – we couldn’t use it. But the hogs didn’t know that and as soon as they touched their tongues to the cold metal… we had them.

Leading several hogs back to the barn stuck on a single fence post wasn’t easy, but weather conditions helped - we just slid them over the snow and ice.

We couldn't even enjoy a taste of warm milk while we worked. I still shiver when I hear someone jingling loose change—the sound reminds me of milk hitting the bottom of those cold metal pails… frozen in mid-squirt.

As soon as we were done with milking it was straight out to wait for the bus. With temperatures at -40 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit (there was no talk of “wind chill” back then), we would walk the quarter mile to the end of the driveway and wait for the bus in a small cavity we had hollowed out of a snow bank.

We anxiously watched for the bus because missing it meant walking to school and certain frostbite… or worse.

I still mourn the loss of my friends who missed the bus. We were comforted by the adults who told us it was a peaceful way to go.

Jenny thinks she's cold?

I could go on and on, but the memories are too painful.

Well, enough of all that. Write when you can. By the way, I'll be returning for a visit this year—look for me sometime in the summer.


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