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Winter 1948/49

When I think of growing up, there are so many memories, summer evenings playing outside, red rover, red rover send Tuffy right over, hide and seek, fireflies, bright stars; star light star bright, I wish I may I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight; pulling petals off daisies, saying he loves me, he loves me not; penny candy, coke in tiny wax bottles, candy cigarettes, blackjack gum, a sense of wonder, fresh laundry on the line, smelling like sunshine in the summer and freezing in the winter…. Like I said, so many little things but also a few big ones.

The biggest event of my childhood was when I started first grade (for the second time) in the fall of 1948. We had a 2 ½ mile walk to school, but at least it wasn’t straight up the side of a mountain. We attended a one-room school grades 1 – 8 with about 20 kids. There was a pond close to the school, and the boys got into a bit of trouble for playing in it during recesses before the weather got too cold. Now the weather is the big part of this story. It started out to be a nice day. We walked to school, mom and dad were going into Moorcroft for a supply of groceries and all seemed well when we left home. About mid-morning we noticed, out the window, a few big, fluffy flakes of snow.

By noon it had turned black, and snow was falling fast and furious. The huge, slow, snowflakes had become smaller, and the wind had picked up. The teacher let school out early so we could all get home. She asked my oldest brother, Joe, to make sure one girl in our class made it home, as she had no siblings. This would take us a few miles out of our way, but Joe, of course, agreed to do it. By the time we got to her house, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. Her mom tried to get us to stay there, but Joe insisted we get going as mom and dad would not know where we were, and he didn’t want them to worry. Joe was in the 8th grade and ‘in charge’ Arnie was, I think, in the 6th and Ken in the 5th grades. Joe told us to hold hands. He, then me, Ken and Arnie. He took off his shirt and bundled me up with it. I could hardly see out. He told us to sing as loud as we could. While the wind was wailing, and snow was beating down on us. I frankly thought he was nuts, but we all sang, even when we were so tired, we wanted to not sing another note nor take another step. He kept prodding us on. He used the fence lines to keep his bearings. What we didn’t know is that on mom and dad’s way home from town the car had slid off the road and got stuck before they got home. They had had to walk to the house. After seeing mom home daddy set out to the school to make sure we made it home okay. He figured he would meet us on the way home but to his dismay, he got to the school without running into us and found the school empty. He backtracked widening his search a bit. He and mom told us he was on his third trip back to the house, having a cup of hot chocolate when he heard our dog Gravy barking. He told mom “The kids are coming,” He told us later, he stepped outside and couldn’t see or hear a thing except Gravy’s excited barking. Daddy followed the barking and Gravy brought him right to us. Dad heard us before he saw us because Joe was smart and kept us singing. That was the last day we went to school until May. I think it was the end of Oct. but not sure of the date. That storm lasted a couple of weeks before there was a break. Dad and Joe got the car out and the groceries home, but the car didn’t move again until spring after that.

It was a long winter as blizzards would go on for days. Dad was sometimes gone for a week at a time, and we didn’t know if he was okay or not. We were all cooped up in a tiny 2 room house with no plumbing. The outhouse sat out back and one chore was to keep the path shoveled out. Much of our water came from melting snow. By the time the storms quit, all we could see was the top of the barn. There was an area around the house where the wind swirled and kept that area open. We made a path to get up on top of the crusted snow. Only the very top of the barn and the house showed. We kept a path open to the barn to care for the lone horse we had. We didn’t have electricity, only kerosene lanterns and a wood stove for cooking and one for heating. I don’t know how we managed to have enough wood, but I have faint memories of possibly fence posts, barn wood, and wood from an older house being salvaged.

An airplane dropped our groceries, and our Christmas presents that year. We did not, however, get out of school. Mom sat aside a time each day where we studied. Dad had gone to the school after the first storm and got our books, so we had no excuse. Just think, I would have gotten to start the first grade for the third time if not for mom’s teaching. Joe also aced his 8th-grade tests to allow him to go on into high school the next year.

My childhood memories are probably most vivid during this time frame. I think it was because we spent so much time snowed in and for what seemed like forever, daddy would be gone, and we didn’t know what was happening with him. I learned later that there were many times it caught him and other cowboys out in storms while trying to keep the cattle safe. And at times he feared he’d not make it, but his horse always seemed to find his way back to the main ranch.

Since we couldn’t get to the store or order our groceries, we received commodities or supplies donated for all those who were snowed in. They would be dropped by plane, and we’d get them to the house by sled. We received and tested many new foods on the market. It was the first time any of us had seen powdered cocoa, margarine, and other assorted products, which I don’t really remember. The cocoa was awful, but we drank it. The oleo (margarine) kept us fascinated as it came in a square plastic cover, like a heavy plastic bag, it was white with an orange spot in the middle. It was the orange spot that gave it the color after much squeezing on our part. It was horrible and even the dog wouldn’t eat it.

Our nearest neighbor lived, I’m guessing, between two and 5 miles away from us. When weather permitted, we would ski over to her house to get fresh milk and eggs and other supplies she might have. I don’t remember the husband, but the woman of the house was a large lady, with a big laugh and very broken English. Her family was ‘displaced persons’ today they would be called refugees. They were from Estonia and fled Hitler’s reign. There were three or four families in our community, and all were grateful to be living in our free country. I know some of the children were in our school, but I don’t really remember them.

On one of our trips over in the spring, as the snow was melting, we went to get milk and eggs. Shortly after we got there, one of her calves got out, so mom, Ken, and I set about to help her get it back in the corral. It made its way out on the ice, on a little pond and mom went out to try to help herd it back. Both mom and the calf went through the ice and mom got soaked. Now, mom wasn’t a drinker, but the lady insisted she come into the house and sit beside the wood stove, which she filled full of wood to help dry mom out. She also handed mom a water glass full of wine. Mom tried to refuse but she kept insisting. She kept motioning for mom to drink it straight down, which she finally did. The combination of adrenaline, heat, and wine was very intoxicating for mom and by the time we left, mom was one happy drunk. She had a difficult time staying upright on the way home. She sang and giggled up a storm. It was probably the most relaxed she was all winter. For me, it was a fun time going home. Once we got there, I’m sure she slept for a while.

On May 14th, the county got the roads plowed within 5 miles of our place. I remember this because on the morning of May the 15th Arnie got up early to go use the outhouse. There was a patch of ice from the melted snow between the outhouse and our house. Arnie went sliding across it and fell. He came back in the house wailing, holding his head, and sounding like he was dying. Mom finally told him, “You’re not dead. Now shut up and let me look at your head.” As he was removing his hand from his head, he looked down and saw blood trickling out from under his pants leg. He pulled up his pants leg and he had split his knee wide open. You could see the knee cap. He never cried anymore; the kneecap fascinated him. He kept trying to get us all to look at it while mom was trying to get it cleaned up. Joe went to the barn to dig the horse out and hitched up to the wagon so they could take him to a neighbor’s house, to where the roads had been plowed the day before. From there, they took him in the neighbor’s car to Gillette, probably at least a 40-mile drive in a slow vehicle. I don’t remember how many stitches it took, but quite a few. It was funny how he screamed over a bumped head but was mesmerized by a kneecap showing through a cut.

We returned to school in the spring and the boys got in trouble for killing bull snakes and curling them up on the road to scare people. According to my daddy, you didn’t kill the bull snakes because they kept the rattlesnakes away. Also, Arnie once got a small snake and took it home. We had large jam tins as lunch boxes, and he put the snake in it on the way home one day. Of course, he didn’t just carry the bucket but swung it around and jostled it a good deal. When we got home, he put it on the counter and went out to do whatever it was that he and Ken did, usually get into more trouble. You could hear Mom scream forever when she opened that can, and that snake came hurtling out at her. I don’t know how she ever cleaned out the boys’ pants pocket to wash them as they were usually full of bugs, snails, and other treasures the boys would collect.

Joe was to be going into High School in the fall of 1949 and we moved closer to the little town of Rozet, Wy. This was to be our first house with electricity. Dad and Joe wired the house before we moved in. There were no fancy light fixtures, just bare bulbs in the plain light fixture in the ceilings. We were firmly told, not to leave a light on, when you leave a room turn the light off. We even had running water. There was a hand pump in the kitchen, so we didn’t have to haul water from the yard pump or from a stream. There was no indoor bathroom but the fanciest outhouse we had ever had. It was on a cement pad and nicely built, with no cracks in the wall so no snow blowing in, in the wintertime. Oh, the most important thing was I had a room all to myself. The boys all had to share a room. I felt so special with my room to put my own things and no boys allowed. I turned 8 years old that summer.

Author: Gayle Parish

As far back as I can remember I've always loved books. I love the feel, the smell, and the way words are put together to pull me into a story. I've dreamed for years of writing a story of my own, and here at last I've done it. I hope you'll join me as I share with you some memories, hopes, dreams, exploration of a life well-lived.

6 thoughts on “Winter 1948/49”

  1. What a wonderful tale! Parts of it reminded me of reading the Little House on the Prairie series.

    Back easy er lived in houses with electricity and indoor plumbing, in towns. Your life fascinated me, Gayle, and you write it so well I feel as though I’m living it right along with you. That thong walk home in the blizzard was downright scary – Joe was a hero§hero! And I love the story of your mom and the wine!

    What wonderful memories – looking back from the warmth of your home, knowing you all survived!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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