A strong winter storm recently descended upon central Illinois. And it reminded me of storms of my childhood. Growing up on a family farm, when the weather turned bad, we hunkered down. The wind blew snow and quickly shut our road. I remember many times one of my parents would pick up my sisters and me from school before it was released, because we wouldn’t make it home otherwise. There were no cell phones to call for quick assistance if we got stuck. And vehicles didn’t handle as well on the snow nor did they heat the interior of vehicles on frigid days as well as they do now. If stuck, we would have to walk, which rarely happened, but we were prepared with boots, hats, scarves, and gloves. We’d take as much school work home as we could. There was no remote learning via the internet, but there were occasional days schools were open for anyone who could make it. The rest of us worked on projects or reading while at home (or waited to catch up once we returned to school).
Living on the farm, there were times we bundled up to help outside. Water lines froze, and Dad needed extra hands to help. Meanwhile, Mom would step in to feed and bed livestock. We would also bundle up to go sledding or build snow forts. We couldn’t go anywhere in a vehicle, but we certainly went places in our imaginations. Or at least, I did. There were nearly always piles of snow packed clothes either stacked (not a good idea) or hung to dry. We’d sometimes put mittens and scarves close to a vent to help with the drying process and make them warm before suiting up again, but we had to be careful. The items’ dampness would ruin the hardwood, not to mention, block warm air from the room. And we needed every bit of that warm air. The furnace worked overtime, but the floors and other areas close to windows and doors still felt chilly. We had no direct heat upstairs, but I rarely remember sleeping downstairs. Enough well-made quilts seemed to make bedtime extra cozy. I still prefer to have plenty of weight to my bedding at night.
We never knew for sure when the road would be open enough to risk a trip to town, but it was generally predictable based on the general priority of roads. We would be ready. Once we heard the plow, we’d start gathering what we’d need to stay warm enough in the truck. Mom would already have a list ready, and usually two or three of us would pile in the truck cab and head to town. We’d watch the blowing snow across the top of the drifts to gauge about how long we had before we needed to get home. The trips to town were always quick: grab the essentials and get home. It might be a few more days before another trip.
Of course, the recent winter storm didn’t spur those same experiences. Life is different now. We usually don’t even get the amount of snow, plus winds and frigid temps, to cause many delays. But it was reminiscent of the storms of my childhood. Listening to the wind blow, bundling up early to shovel my driveway, limiting even the shortest travel, taking precautions to keep my home safe and warm, listening to odd combination of winter storm sounds that quiet the usual activities around me—it all combined to remind me of the memories of snowed-in country days that some people loathed but I loved.
Not only do I know everyone doesn’t share my good memories of winter storms but I also knew that same winter storm was wreaking havoc in many lives. It was dangerous for many parts of the country who are not equipped to deal with such sustained cold temps. The precautions we take in the north don’t work in the south. The coping strategies of clearing roads and staying warm aren’t familiar or available. Many friends in the south went from posting elated stories of playing in snow to desperate questions of “What should I do when…?” or “Can anyone get to my parents to check on them?” or stopped posting altogether because Wi-Fi was no longer available. My heart hurt for them, and I prayed often. There are pieces of storms that bring us pain and problems. There are pieces of storms that bring us peace. And sometimes that perspective changes over time.
We need to acknowledge both. The storm is never all good or all bad, but it will have effects that blow in both directions. It can be a chilly, uncertain time, but it can also lead to some important lessons and memories to keep for years.