The deep freeze

A lot has been made of the weather this past week. Schools closed because of falling temperatures and the predicted high winds. I was lucky. I did not have to go out so I didn’t.

All of this made me think of days gone by when we had a lot more of the frigid weather. When our children were young we spent several nights in sleeping bags on the floor in front of the fire place. School was called off then, too, but it was for several days.

We were using a Franklin fire place at the time so my husband got up every couple hours to be sure there was plenty of wood to keep the fire going. The windows upstairs were frosty, but down on the main floor it was toasty and warm.

I believe that the series Roots was on television. My husband got chores done early enough so that we could crawl into our bags and watch it. The children may not have been going to school at the time but they were learning something. They were learning about slavery and the Civil War. I think just maybe they learned more watching that min-series than they would have if school had been in session.

After the cold snap passed and we were out and about again we found out that our neighbors did nearly the same thing that we did. They had a wood-burning fireplace that ran between their living room and dining room. They slept in sleeping bags by it.

We did not get out for several days except for my husband going to the barn to do chores. Getting manure out during those cold days was really a challenge. The stuff even though warm froze before he got it out of the barn. I empathized with a nearby farmer on one of those very cold days when I saw him out in the field trying to empty his spreader. He was in there digging just like I remember my husband doing.

I did not worry about stocking up because we always had plenty of food on hand. As long as the electric stayed on we were all set. I remember telling my husband that we would be able to eat for quite a while, but we might have some pretty strange meals. I would just open things I canned and things that were in the freezer.

You might remember me mentioning before that I had to prioritize my electrical conveniences. The house had its original wiring in those days wired in the 1940s – and it would not sustain all of the modern conveniences. I chose getting a freezer over a dryer because I needed a place to put the produce that came from the garden and the berries that we picked. My freezer was always full.

I must confess that I was thankful when those two days when the temperature hovered around zero were over. When I talked to my son he told me it took them more than two hours to do the farm chores one evening because they had to keep thawing things out. A couple days in a row takes its toll on everything.

NYC set many records during the cold snap, but it was very telling that no records were set around here. Days like that happened more frequently in the past. It was always all right as long as there were not too many of them in a row.

My husband used to worry about the pipes that ran under the road taking water to the barn. It seemed when it got really cold there was never much snow on the ground. When my son had to redo things he found that pipe was so deep it never would have frozen. Who knew?

Cold weather also reminded me of my childhood. We never had a snow day or one for extra cold weather. I lived in town and walked to school. Although city blocks are shorter than country blocks, I walked six and a half blocks each way. We also walked home for lunch. There was no danger that I would not get enough exercise.

When I got home from school I looked forward to playing outside in the snow with the kids from the neighborhood. We made snow angels, snowmen, and snow forts. We had many snowball fights, too.

After a time in the snow I usually went inside to warm up before I finished my shoveling duties. It was my responsibility to have the driveway cleaned out when grandpa came home from work. Since the sidewalk plow had most certainly gone by I had two mounds of snow to clear from that area. Then there was the snow at the end of the driveway that the road plow deposited. We had a fairly long driveway by city standards. I had to clean out as far as the garage and that included a turn-around as well.

Truthfully, now when I think about it I am not sure how I ever got it all done, but not getting it done was not an option. Grandma stayed inside cooking supper and I worked outside. If the snow was really deep my grandfather might help with the path to the garage as long as I had it so he could get the car into the driveway.

I never thought much about the cold. I guess all of that exertion kept me warm. Since we were outside all of the time the cold did not seem to bother us. We just bundled up and went about our business.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at