I took my grandson to our house to deliver him from the boredom of being out of school for the ninth time this winter. We had lunch and then started flipping channels, landing on the History Channel’s newest treasure hunt show called “The Curse of Civil War Gold,” which I find out in watching the show is an offshoot of “The Curse of Oak Island” that my wife threatened to shop irresponsibly for every time I turned it on.
I don’t watch “The Curse of Oak Island.”
But with my first grade grandson in tow, along with our outdoor cat who had begged to come inside on a near blizzard day, we became instantly hooked. It’s amazing how continuing lousy winter weather breaks down your level of television acceptance.
We watched one episode where the guys found a railroad car dumped into Lake Michigan, but it wasn’t the right one. They found what they thought was the right one, ran out of diving air and the older brother in charge of the search missed the water on his next dive and broke his hip. We were left in suspense about the hip as episode two came on and I had to go to work.
“Are there Octopuses,” my grandson asked as the divers hit the bottom of Lake Michigan. “I don’t like sharks.”
“No octopuses and no sharks,” I answered.
I left my grandson seated on the couch with the cat on his lap watching “The Curse of Civil War Gold,” as I stepped back into the wintry blast.
It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had a winter like this. The winters of 2007 and 2008 had more snow, as I recall, but for some reason the timing of the storms didn’t interfere with life near as much as this year’s. And I’m pretty sure the winter of 1981-1982 was on average just as cold or colder.
But missing nine days of school with a half dozen late starts and early dismissals is sort of setting the bar on crappy winter weather. This is when I really miss talking with my dad, because he had the winter of 1936 (followed by the summer of 1936) to judge everything. I have a photograph of he and my uncle as nine and 10-year-olds, standing on top of a snow drift, leaning on the very top of a telephone pole.
I’m guessing telephone poles were shorter in 1936, but we’re still talking 12-foot drifts at least. He and his brother missed almost a month of school and the family lived off the milk, eggs and meat they were raising on the farm because nobody could get the two and a half miles to town.
As a kid growing up in Tama County an hour and a half north of Highway 34 where we’ve lived the past 37 years, there was a lot more snow (it seemed) and it was significantly colder. The beauty of Southern Iowa is that normally we get a lot of snow, but it is accompanied by numerous January and February thaws. The ugly of Southern Iowa is the fact that we get way more ice storms than further north.
I think it was the winter of 1969 that central Iowa was virtually shutdown by an ice storm that hit right after Christmas. I’m guessing Christmas vacation was extended a week, maybe two as the county tried to figure out how to scarify the inch thick ice on our gravel roads. It took about a half day hanging around inside before our mother booted us out into the elements and for the most of the rest of the time we were out of school, we were riding our steel runner sleds up and down the hilly gravel roads.
I remember another winter just a few years later that an ice storm hit, my folks were on a short winter seed corn vacation and my grandfather and I were called on numerous times to pull cars out of the ditches with our 4020 tractor that happened to have chains on it. Had my dad been there, he likely would have scolded the drivers for being too stupid to stay off ice-covered roads, but my grandfather had a strict policy of never using more than 30 words a month, and would hrumph when we were thanked for pulling a car out of a ditch.
The April snowstorm of 1973 was catastrophic in southern Iowa with the loss of thousands of baby calves, but at UNI in my freshman year, it was barely a blip, at least for those of us who stayed on campus. I lived on the north side of Rider Hall on the second floor and we opened our window and crawled out onto the top of a drift. It completely screwed up our JV baseball schedule but it provided a lifetime of deep snow stories.
Living in Charles City and northern Iowa from 1976-1980 were times of the near perfect winter, lots of snow, mild temperatures, perfect to learn how to cross country ski. Then the winter of 1981-82 hit and it made the decision to move south to Albia a lot easier. We suffered six straight weekends of authentic blizzards, with drifts reaching 10 feet in some places.
I’m not sure of the year, but it was before kids, maybe 1977 or 1978. A late winter ice storm trapped my wife and I on the farm and created the best ever winter weather story. My dad had a farrowing house full of sows and baby pigs, not to mention a full nursery and a fuller finishing barn. The electricity went off and stayed off for four days and near panic set in.
My dad and I made a harrowing trip 14 miles to Marshalltown to purchase a gasoline generator and my still city oriented wife thought it was to bring warmth and comfort to the farm house. Wrong. We got back, hooked the generator into the farrowing house breaker box and made the pigs comfortable while we continued to shiver around (thank God) a woodburning stove.
In either 2007 or 2008, Southern Iowa received around 70 inches of snow, which turned gravel roads into slop, but basketball games continued to be played. The next year between 50 and 60 inches fell, but there were no eight or nine days out of school.
So what are your memories of winters past? E-mail me at email@example.com or stop by the office and drop off a winter memory. I’ll publish the yarn word for word except to throw in a little fake news here and there.