I wrote this in longhand after yesterday's snowstorm took out the electricity. The following morning was the prettiest day we have had all winter and the 8 to 10 inches of white wet snow will not be here for very long. We were more fortunate than most: we have propane for heat and cooking, and our county water is gravity-fed from a tank on the mountain behind the house.
My perfect snowstorm took place in the winter of 1964-65, in the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. It was a treat to visit my great-grandparents in the summer, but rarely was a trip made during the winter months. Of course, I cannot print out the vivid images of my memories for all to enjoy, so instead I have included a few neighborhood pictures taken of our current snowstorm. The following is a recollection of My Perfect Snowstorm.
I was seven or eight years old when I was allowed to spend a night at the farm with my great-grandparents. It was a journey to get there even in the summer driving on the narrow curvy road up the mountain, so a winter trip was seldom made. My dad was to "fetch me" the next morning, but there had been a windy snowstorm overnight and the roads were buried somewhere under the white landscape. Only telltale signs of border fence posts gave a clue to their possible existence.
The phone service was sketchy at best, but a call was made to let the city folk know all was well on the mountain. I have no idea if the power was out since there were only single lightbulbs dangling from a couple rooms and closets and only used for a short time at night. There was plenty of light from the windows as the sunny day reflected off the snow.
The only concern the old couple had was how to entertain a city child in the country and stuck inside the house. They would not let me go outside because the drifting snow had changed the contours of the land, they could not keep up with me, and emergency vehicles could not get to the farm if I were injured.
Great-granddaddy had found his way to the barn to feed and milk the cows long before I got up and the fresh milk was good and cold for breakfast. The free-ranged chickens had their individual hiding places, and even in the summer, it was a treasure hunt to collect eggs. It was explained to me that chickens did not lay eggs in the winter, but they were fed with the kernels from the dried ears in the corncrib, and I might help feed them later on.
They played the same games with me that they had played with my grandmother when she was little. I was taught to draw scribbles and turn them into farm animals with additional marks. I heard fabulous tales of great-granddaddy's "out West" adventures (when great-grandmother was out of the room). They answered my endless questions on and off for hours. They took breaks when they became hoarse.
During their brief absences, I watched from the windows and marveled at the endless activity of the wild creatures and farm animals. There was a community critter feeding station off the kitchen porch. I was amazed how the animals, wild and tame, big and small, could feast together without fear of one another, although different tiers (railing, porch stoop, and pathway) offered elevated protection for the birds and squirrels, and the bunnies ventured out long enough to check before approaching the buffet.
I was in awe of the glistening scenery having never seen such beauty in the city. I would have never imagined that such a beautiful green farm in summer could be more beautiful with a deep blanket of white snow.
I heard my elders whispering about my constant window gazing, fearing I would soon be bored without television, or playing with my siblings, and it was time for lunch, ". . . wonder if she will eat beans and cornbread?" I yelled out a hearty, "YES Ma'am!"
My great-granddaddy was the bean-cooker in the kitchen and great-grandmother fixed the rest. They were proud to tell that we were eating the pinto beans from last summer's harvest that I had helped spread to dry on bed sheets in the yard. I remembered, though I had no idea what or why the chore was necessary at the time. The meal's accompaniments, onions and chow-chow, were homegrown garden vegetables. I had thought they come in jars from the grocery store as we had at our house.
I had always loved great-grandmother's delicious white cornbread and wondered why mom could not make it taste as good. They giggled and explained what it took to prepare the simple meal we were having. Their wheat and corn were taken to the mill at the foot of the mountain to be ground into flour and cornmeal. They churned their own butter and buttermilk from the milk from their small two-cow herd. They baked the cornbread in the big "cook stove" that took up one end of the large kitchen. That explained the source of the legendary pound cake for dessert, too. They traded their hogs for the neighbor's butchered stock, so there was ham and fatback for beans.Note: Great-granddaddy never butchered any of his livestock, as they were pets having names and histories with the family. However, great-grandmother had no attachments to the critters. She would wring the neck of any chicken who ventured close to the house, dress it, and have it cooking in a pot before her spouse knew anything about it. Normally, a short-lived mourning period was held for the chicken after dinner once the big man was told of the transgression.
I learned a lot that day about where food really came from, and that the old folks did not just play with their happy critters all day as I had thought. I never took their lifestyle for granted again and had more respect for what they accomplished. I thought of living there with them and the pets forever on the beautiful and peaceful mountaintop. I shared my daydream and got warm hugs. They thought I was bored being there, but I assured them I was not.
My thoughts of farm utopia were interrupted by the sound of a distant grinding noise. Great-granddaddy said it must be my dad coming to fetch me. Great-grandmother confessed she thought my constant window gazing was anticipation of rescue from the storm, so she got another call through to my parents. Sure enough, the road-scraping plow was followed by my dad in his company truck. He hailed the house as he made his way up from the road through the deep snow-covered steps. The big hero's smile on his face was quickly dashed by my tears and wishes to be left on the farm at least until school started again.
What a powerful memory just from stirring a pot of beans and gazing out a window at the wild critters foraging in sparkling snow. I felt guilty that while others were tormented by their possible safety and loss of today's day comforts, I enjoyed the memory of my perfect snowstorm. Like my dad's unwanted rescue, the power was restored 24 hours later, and the many tasks of cleaning up were my new chores. The now-melting snow from Sunday's storm on February 19 in my southwestern Virginia home, was my "second" perfect snowstorm.
At this writing, there are tens of thousands of people in West Virginia, and Virginia without power. Shelters have been set up in severely affected communities and emergency technicians dispatched from neighboring states to return electricity. Power restoration estimates are as late as Friday in some areas.
Wiki commons: A male Northern Flicker (or Yellow-shafted Flicker) in Ohio, USA.; uploaded up "Snowmanradio," cropped and resized.
All other photos remain property of the author.