It began with a few flakes of snow striking the windows on the country school as my brothers and I and fellow schoolmates sat at our desks, trying to pay attention to schoolwork and waiting for noon and chance to play outside.
By eleven, the northwest wind had picked up and began rattling the windows and causing the rusty wood-burning stove in the back of the schoolroom to send an occasional puff of smoke into the building. Scattered snowflake had turned into a wall of snow, flying on the wind, and accumulating on the windows.
No playing outside today our teacher, Miss Thompson told us. After eating our lunches from our dinner pails, most of us gathered at the tall, snow covered windows and watched the storm growing in intensity and wondered about our walk home that afternoon.
By two o’clock, the first fathers began arriving to walk their children home, bursting into the school room with a shower of snow, pounding their hands together to warm them by the stove, before bundling up their offspring and disappearing into the storm.
One after the other they came, each following the same ritual, each with words about the storm and its fury. Pa finally arrived, and my two brothers and I set out behind him, walking up Miller’s hill on our way toward home, trying to step in his tracks, trying not to lose sight of him in the swirling snow. Past Miller’s farm, finally, with only a half-mile more to go, stumbling behind Pa, first me, then Darrel, then short-legged Donald trying to keep up in the rear. We stopped to rest on occasion, out of the wind behind huge snow banks piled up alongside the road from previous snowstorms, while the snow sifted over our heads.
Then it was back into the storm, into the worst of it, facing it head on, marching on toward home, one step at a time. Finally, when it seemed we were too tired to move another foot, we glimpsed our red barn through the snow, and then our house. We burst into the kitchen, snow flying everywhere as four snowmen emerged from the storm to the smell of vegetable soup steaming on the kitchen wood stove.
It was back to school the next day, even though the storm drifted shut the road. Our school never closed, not once in the eight years I attended.
THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Enjoy a bowl of homemade vegetable soup.
January 30, Viroqua Public Schools. One room-schools early farm life.
February 24, 4:30 p.m. Demeter Winter Event, West Madison Agriculture Research Facility. Farms, Barns, Your Stories and Mine.
March 2, Neenah Public Library, 2:00 p.m. Barns of Wisconsin