I remember waking up early in the morning after the first real snow fall, noticing how extra quiet it was. I heard the shelf clock ticking down stairs in the kitchen, its bright brass pendulum swinging in measured rhythm. From my parents room came the tattoo of the Big Ben alarm clock, a nickel plated affair which stood on three ball feet and wore cap-like bells capable of raising a sleeper from his deepest slumbers at the appointed hour.
No one else was awake yet and I had the choice of snuggling in my warm nest, comtemplating the joys of a deep snow, or dashing to the window to see how deep it really was. There was a chance that the ground was just whitened but the quality of the light on the ceiling gave hopes of better than that.
Turning my head on the fat feather pillow, carefully avoiding the heavily starched embroidery and tatted lace, I could just see a small drift of snow on the floor beneath the slightly open window. That was promising. Then came the far-away bark of a dog, sharp, clear, and ringing in the frosty air. I could wait no longer but sprang from my bed to the icy floor. My hightgown was scant protection from the chill that enveloped me, raising goose bumps on my bare shins.
Ahhhhhh! There was snow to the fence tops. The road was drifted full, trees and bushes laden with precious jewels of white. I knew my parents wouldn't share my elation. Growing up seems to change folks' reaction to snow.
Big Ben sounded his alarm and I heard my parents hurridly dressing in the near-zero chill of their bedroom. I scooped up my clothing and scampered down to the kitchen to dress beside the wood range. The kettle was soon singing and coffee sending its pungent aroma into the air. Ma was stirring up pancakes and putting pattys of home made sausage on to fry in the iron skillet. On the back of the stove stood pails of mash heating for the chickens and horses. It had a peculiar smell, dusty with over-tones of bran. Even the animals deserve a hot meal on a cold morning.
The kitchen door opened inward so that we were confronted with a two foot pack of solid snow. Pa set to work to shovel it off the path to the barn. That done, he returned for the pails of mash and me, warmly bundled, to help feed the stock. Pa opened the barn doors just wide enough for us to slip inside to be greeted by snorts from the horses and gentle lowing from the cows. They seemed to have feared we had forsaken them, left them to fend for themselves in this aftermath of the storm. Now, reassured by our presence and the familiar routine of morning chores, they contentedly muched their breakfast, ignoring the feathery wisps of steam from their breath.
Chores done, we returned to the house carrying armloads of wood to pile beside the stove and warm our frosted hands at its glow. Then it was time to set off for school. There was no heated bus waiting at the mailbox to carry me in noisy comfort to a many roomed central school. I walked through knee high drifts for about a mile, joining other children, the larger of whom broke a trail for younger brothers and sisters.
At school there were more chores to do for the fire must be started there, too. Everyone sat in coats and mittens until the round iron stove in the center of the room began to make its warmth felt. As the heat reached farther and farther outward, more children discarded their coats. A pail of water, too cold to drink until it had stood for a while, had to be drawn from the well and put in its place in the cloakroom. The older girl who was monitor for the week passed out lesson books.
The morning moved along much as usual except that there would be fewer trips to the outhouse because even a scholar most anxious to get away from his lessons did not relish that escape on such a frigid day. At lunch time we ate at our desks. I had thick slices of homemade bread with jam made from berries I'd helped pick, and one of mother's raisin studded molasses cookies. For a few minutes we played Simon Says and did exercises to "get the kinks out". The afternoon session might well be shortened if the sky became lowery, for Teacher didn't want any of her charges to be caught out in a storm.
Back home there was hot cocoa, fresh bread and 'lasses, or cookies still warm from the oven to "hold you over" till supper. That substantial meal simmered on the stove or sent inviting odors from the oven. Chores were done early so as to be inside before deep dark fell. Even so, the barn would be lit by golden beams of oil lanterns.
During the afternoon horses might be turned out in the paddock for a short run. When prodded out the barn door, they would stop in amazement at the condition of their accustomed play yard. With a backward look of reproach for being forced out into this strange stuff, they would take a reluctant step or two. Then suddenly, excited by the strangeness, decide they were colts again and go dashing about, tossing their heads and whisking their tails. Stopping short, they would thrust their velvety noses into the snow and blow out with an explosive "whuff". One horse loved to roll snowballs with his nose. He'd leave the paddock dotted with them after his exercise.
As we sat around the supper table enjoying Ma's delicious cooking, the snow began again. There would be more shoveling to do in the morning and perhaps the snow would be too deep for me, or any of the children, to attend school. Outside the window whirling snowflakes made a dancing curtain and the rising wind made us glad barn chores were done.
After supper I'd do my homework at the table in the light of an oil lamp. Ma worked on her bottomless basket of mending or began another of the endless stream of mittens she made each winter. Pa re-read last week's newspaper, worked on a piece of harness, or whittled.
After a while the corn popper was got down from its nail in the back shed and a bowl was soon filled with hot fluffy whiteness looking not unlike the cold snowflakes outside. If Ma felt generous and not too tired, she'd boil up molasses, brown sugar and butter till it made a soft ball in water, add a pinch of "sody", and pour the frothing syrup over the popcorn. We'd butter our hands and make balls of the sticky stuff. Some folks can make popcorn balls easily while others can't make them stick together no matter how long they squeeze.
I undressed before the roaring stove and then dashed to my frigid bed chamber. A hot soap stone had been put in my bed earlier and I carefully moved its flannel wrapped warmth to the foot of the bed and fitted my cold posterior into the heated hollow it left. With a feather tick beneath and home-pieced quilts above, I was soon snuggly asleep.
Outside the storm might rage all night and morning find the world shut away from our farm by a sea of whiteness. If that was so, there were still chores to do, books to read, paper-dolls to make and dress from last year's catalog, perhaps Christmas presents to work on, and always plenty of Ma's good food to while away the hours.
Snow brings it's own brand of peace and healing. The last of the leaves fall before it as trees in their deep sleep loose their hold. Cats content themselves beside the crackling fireplace and actively resent any effort to put them out. Nature relaxes under her diamond encrusted comforter and sleeps away the weariness and hurts of the year to wake strengthened and refreshed in the spring.