Winter On The Farm In The 1950’s

We weren’t frustrated by winter because we didn’t try to evade it. Winter featured unheated second floor bedrooms (sometimes with light snow cover on the blankets in the morning); frozen rabbit turd collections in the wheelbarrow, shotguns in the moonlight and kittens in the barn.

Unheated second floor bedrooms with light snow cover on the blankets in the morning: it’s true.  We had heavy storm windows for all twenty+ windows of the house, and they were installed each fall and removed each spring.  We certainly had proper protection against winter storms and sub-zero temperatures.  However, if a blizzard with 40-50 mph winds spent 7-8 hours working the house over through the night~~that sifty, fine snow surely did work its way through the unsealed corners of old windows and the storm windows that covered them.  In the morning, there might be a very thin sand-dune trail of frozen snow across the top of the thirteen blankets on the bed.

So why unheated bedrooms upstairs?  Tightwad Dad?  Nope.

Not enough money to buy enough coal to heat the upstairs all day and night?  Nope.

Just common sense, actually.  The fire was banked in the evening and the furnace pretty well shut down.  The main floor would stay halfway comfortable, so that when it was fired up in the morning, the downstairs would be warm in 30 minutes or so, just because it had been heated all day the day before.  It made absolutely no sense to spend the energy and coal to heat the three upstairs bedrooms and hallway all day just to preserve the possibility for heating at night and quicker reheating in the morning.  We never thought a thing of it, although we learned when our mother was in her 70’s that she was not happy with our laughter about “snow on the blankets.”  She denied it vociferously, but of course, she wasn’t up there. She was in the bedroom on the main floor.  But we perhaps learned that she probably had wished the upstairs would have been heated better.  We really didn’t mind, as I recall.

Frozen rabbit turd collections in wheelbarrows: When it’s below zero (F), has been for a week, you want to play outside in the dead of winter (or perhaps you get sent outside to play) and everything is frozen solid, the one truly entertaining thing you have plenty of is frozen rabbit pellets~~everywhere in the tree line that was carefully planted in the 1940’s to provide some shelter from the Montana winds.  So we gather at least a couple hundred pellets in the wheelbarrow. Why?  Well, the wheelbarrow is for transportation and inventory control.  The pellets are used to create a checkerboard outline on the snow, so we can play checkers with the rocks that we pry off the frozen ground.  Or we might draw pictures on the snow with the frozen rabbit turds serving as pen and ink.  FRTs are very sterile.  And they are highly entertaining.  Found Art: In The Raw is what they are.

Shotguns in the moonlight: The crunch of snow is underfoot.  I have the .22 and my brother has the .410.  We hunt rabbits in the bright, bright moonlight late at night across hundreds of acres of frozen prairie.  Brilliant silhouettes of trees and buildings can be clearly seen.  The stars are amazing.  We hunted rabbits for the sheer joy of crunching through the snow in the moonlight looking at the stars.  We did not hunt rabbits in order to actually shoot them.  Since we never did shoot a rabbit in the moonlight, that worked out very nicely.

Kittens in the barn:  My neighboring cousin and I had a running contest, the results of which were dependant on the mating habits of our cats.  The contest was driven by the country conviction that Any Cat Herd Numbering Less Than 20 Head didn’t count for much.  (A Three-Dog-Night can be handled by 15 cats just as well.)

When it’s bitter cold on January night, I bundle up after supper and head down to the barn.   I make myself a spot in the hay and gather cats.  I’ll sit there for 90 minutes, hunched over the pile of cats in my lap, scrunching their fur, talking to them….and not feeling bad for them at all when I leave to go back to the warm house because they will just wrap themselves in one another’s paws and be very cozy.


Then as I slide the big barn door shut behind me~~loving the stark starlit evening as I do~~I run like crazy for the house…only at that point somehow wondering if there is anything out there in the night that I should run from.

So that’s the deal with the unheated second floor bedrooms with light snow cover on the blankets in the morning, the frozen rabbit turd collections in the wheelbarrow, the shotguns in the moonlight and the kittens in the barn.

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