Friday, June 5, 2015

Bio #8 - Frozen Fingers and Blizzards

Winter on the prairie can be a very beautiful thing to see, and then again it can be scary, and just plain hell. Dad always kept brandy in the winter.

Our winter clothes were thick and heavy and not always so warm. People nowadays have down-filled jackets, long warm pants, and fur coats. Only men and boys wore long pants when I was young. We girls wore long leg, long sleeve underwear, usually fleece-lined kind, bloomers, (also fleece-lined or wool knitted,) long brown stockings that fastened to a buttoned waist, with a dangly end, which fastened to the tops of your stockings. Awful invention, but we all wore them with long stocking.s Then came a sweater and skirt, or long sleeved dress, warm wool socks to the knees, then felt boots (mine were red) or moccasins. I liked these because you could slide real neat and you didn't have to clean them. Of course you had on a coat, hat or toque, scarf and two pair mitts.

Behind our stove in the kitchen for years I can remember a line we had there, about knee high from the floor. Every day that line was full of snow encrusted socks, mitts, and scarves. Poor Mom, the smell of wet wool must have got to her sometimes, when she thought winter would never end and the winter clothes could be put away, clean, in the big chest in the basement.

Frozen faces and fingers were common, but we survived. Sudden blizzards were the worst, and my Dad was out in all weathers, whether trains were hours or days late. Now I take my hat off to him and his endurance. He had to work shifts, and we were eight blocks from the railway station where he worked. As there were no buses, he walked (rode his bicycle in summer,) and if trains were more than an hour late he came home for a meal. As there were four to six trains a day, in winter it was very hard on him. During severe cold spells like this, when the cold fairly pulled the nails out of the wood in the house like rifle shots, I'd wake up t the smell of bran muffins cooking. It could be 3 a.m. and Mom would have something hot in the oven for him. They loved each other so much. I never got up only once, when I smelled baking at such a weird hour, but Mom gave me a buttered muffin and sent me back to bed, to hurry in where Mary was nice and warm.

There were three blizzards I clearly remember, that I was involved in. Most times we were safe at home. The first one I was about nine years old and I had set off for Sunday school, Sunday morning, with Ed. I don't know why just the two of us went, it must have been nice weather when we set off, but when we were to come home, one hour later, the storm was terrible. Mr. and Mrs. G. Oyum, who were both teachers and lived two blocks from us, got Ed and me home. Mr. Oyum carried Ed, who was 5, all the way. I hung onto Mr. O's coat belt and his wife hung onto  my other arm. Mom was very grateful to them both as Dad was at work. Every Christmas after that, he gave us our Christmas tree. Mr. O. was a mail clerk on the CPR and he could easily get trees when they were in the mountains at that time of year.
Old painting of a prairie blizzard
I was much older the second time, about 18 I'd say, and I had been going over about five blocks each morning, for a few days, to look after Mrs. Nicholson ("Nicky" we called her,) who had just got out of hospital three days earlier. I got there at 8 a.m. and came home at 5 pm. I didn't do much, just meals, and tidy up. It had been very cold and lots of snow, but this certain morning there was a white-out. My Mother didn't want me to go, but Nicky was alone so I bundled up extra well, took a cut-off broom handle with me, and set off. I knew the direction by heart and knew I'd get there. Besides it was a challenge. There was a big drift on the road and as I climbed up one side and met Jessie Andrews coming up the other side, she shouted "Go back, go back!" and I said "No, I'll be ok." She wouldn't go back either, as she worked in the money order wicket at the post office. Anyway, I found my way over the old Bassett homestead, and with my stick, I knew I was nearly there. I went to Nicky's back door (front door was all snow) and fell in. Then I started to bawl, must have been more scared than I thought. So Nicky phoned Mom (and she didn't expect me to show up) to say I was there 1 1/2 hours later, and there I stayed for three whole days, while the storm blew itself out. You never heard the world so still in your life. Nothing moved for days, it was lovely, and the only ones getting about were rabbits and birds. Then it warmed up and the snow thinned to normal.
Trying to dig out after a recent Canadian blizzard
The third time I was in southern Saskatchewan, on a farm, and if there had not been a strong wire between the end of the house and the outside toilet, several of us might have been lost. Three of the men on the Armstrong farm had gone into Maple Creek to sell pigs, and coming home (27 miles) the storm hit. Al had the only severe frostbite I've ever seen. In two days, after they got home, their whole faces were black and they were in misery. By the time they could shave, they had beards an inch long. Beards were out of style then. Lots of cattle perished that winter. So you can see that snow isn't all fun!

Having lived in Calgary until I was thirty, I too have experienced my share of blizzards. Despite all our modern technology, cars with heaters, and paved roads, people still die every year in the brutal Canadian winter. Here's a photo of a Danish explorer, who looks just like I've seen many people look, including myself, after being out in a blizzard for twenty minutes:
Dixie Dansercouer, The Advernture Blog