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Weathering the weather

My dog Rusty and I have had some cold walks these January mornings. One day, my smarter-than-I-phone said the temperature was 27 degrees, but the “real feel” was 19 degrees. The strong easterly wind made it seem even colder and was reminiscent of those winter mornings of my youth in Iowa, when walking a half-mile to country school, with the exception of snow banks. Yes, I’m one of those old persons who can say, “When I was a kid, I had to walk miles to school through snow drifts in below-zero weather. ... blah, blah, blah.”

It was rare to have any “snow days” back in the 1930-40s. I can remember only a couple of times during extreme blizzardy conditions when there was no school. Of course this was in another time and place. If the rules of calling off classes in this area of Oregon today had applied to rural Iowa in that era, there would have been no school for the entire winter.

My dad was willing to drive me to school, but there were a lot of “ifs” involved: if there was not a 6-foot drift in front of the garage door ... if the car would start ... if the road had been plowed ... and all of this after he’d shoveled paths to the barn and outbuildings to tend to the livestock. And so, I was snow-suited, booted, mitten-ed and scarf-ed and sent out with lunch pail in hand to walk with the neighbor kids.

But it was the dedicated teachers of these one-room country schools who were the unsung heroes those winter mornings. They usually were young, single women who boarded with a nearby farm family and had to first get themselves to school, then fire up the potbelly stove with wood from the shed. As soon as the eighth-grade boys arrived, they were sent to get a pail of drinking water from the well at the close-by farm and then shovel paths to the girls’ and boys’ outhouses. Eventually, classes would begin and all eight grades had their turns to recite lessons and get assignments for the next day.

In my case, the teacher, Mrs. Wood, was married, so I’m sure her husband had a hand in helping her get to school and starting her day, but the overwhelming responsibilities required of these young women never ceases to amaze me ... and may have been why I decided not to pursue a teaching career.

Winters were harsh, but life went on. Our country church rarely missed a Sunday service, weddings and funerals occurred as scheduled, family birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated along with holidays, all despite winter storms. Country roads could be treacherous and there were times when my dad would have to walk to the nearest farm and get help to pull our car out of a ditch (while my mother and I sat huddled together under a blanket in a cold car). And I also remember when he would be roused nights from a sound sleep to get dressed and brave the elements to help others.

It wasn’t just the Midwest winters that were challenging. Spring and summer brought thunderstorms with bolts of lightning that outdid Fourth of July fireworks, and threats of tornadoes sent us to the basement as limbs from trees cracked and fell close by. For several days after, my father, who was also an insurance agent and adjustor, would go to surrounding farms assessing damage to buildings and viewing bloated livestock struck dead by lightning. Then, he’d spend evenings filling out claims, all in addition to clearing debris and making repairs needed at our farm.

Power outages were common and frequent. I recall my parents’ 25th anniversary dance. The small town legion hall was packed with friends and relatives when a June thunderstorm came roaring through. The lights went out, but the band played on; no microphones or electrical equipment were needed for those 1942 musicians — everyone danced the night away by candlelight. Weathering the weather went with the territory.

But back to the present-day wintry days. I’m writing this on day two of being snowed/iced in, and cancellations have provided an at-home hiatus. The good news is that things will soon be back to normal; Rusty and I will be taking our daily walks, and those winter days of yore will remain a nostalgic memory.

Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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