My Daddy is sick and in bed. “He has a fever,” Mommy says. I hear them talking. “Perhaps we should just keep them home today, Will.” “How cold is it?” Daddy asks. “Minus 2 on our thermometer, and not much wind,” she answers. They decide Doris and I can go, and Mommy puts on her outside clothes too. “I’ll walk with you to the Christensen road and break a trail for you.” We are so happy. It is nice to walk with Mommy, and only a quarter of a mile to the school house after she turns back. It works well having Mommy breaking trail, the snow is deep for our legs. I’m six and Doris is seven, and we are used to walking to school. When the snow is deep, Daddy usually drives us in the sled. Now he is sick, and Mommy can’t get harness on a horse – but she is a good trail breaker.
All the students make it to school that day. It is just another winter day. However, the snow continues to fall gently in big, soft, lacy snowflakes. At recess and the noon break we all bundle up and have a great time playing in the school yard. In the afternoon the snowfall continues even harder, and there is some whispering among the children as we and the teacher cast anxious glances out the windows. “What if the wind comes up?” is the unspoken worry in every mind. Even the youngest ones understand the danger. The telephone, situated in the boys’ cloak room, starts to ring frequently. One call comes from our Mommy. “I am starting out now for the school, but it will be slow going. Please have the girls get dressed. I have talked to Mr. Otto Christensen and he has agree that Deward and Oliver should go with our girls and wait at the corner of our quarter until I get there.” The Christensen boys are about the same age as Doris and I, but are big lads. They walk on ahead, and we follow in their tracks. As we near our corner we see Mommy coming. When she reaches us she is out of breath, but helps the boys tramp a path through the snow-filled ditch. Then they head for their home, just a short way down the road. We have still over a mile and a quarter to ours.
The teacher watches us go down the road, and stands there a while, looking at the situation, and then makes her decision. She speaks to the class and informs the students that she has decided to close school for the day. Furthermore, no one is to leave until their parents made arrangements to pick them up. Then she goes back to the phone and starts phoning the remaining parents to inform them of her decision. Many of them are already on their way, it appears, as soon various parents arrive in sleds, wagons and on horseback.
In the meantime, Mommy is leading us back home following the path she so recently had made, and which is already filling in. I am so relieved to have Mommy with us and once again, breaking trail! There is not much conversation as we plod on. Mommy calls encouraging words back over her shoulder, and stops frequently to let us catch our breath. I don’t know how long it takes us to cover the mile and an eighth. It seems like forever, but when we reach the back door, there is Daddy, fever and all, waiting to let us in. In Mommy’s absence he has moved down to the main floor bedroom, from where he had watched her departing progress, until the density of the snow storm blotted her out.
Mommy pulls a chair up near the stove, puts Daddy into it, and wraps him in a blanket. After putting more coal on the kitchen stove, she goes to the basement with Doris and me. There we strip off our snow-encrusted clothes and hang them on a line to dry. Up to our bedrooms for dry clothes, and then we return to join Daddy. It is a happy evening – warm and dry, and smelling something good simmering on the stove. The wind gradually picks up and in gusts moans its way around our house, carrying the swirling snow with it as it blows. Mommy stirs the stew – listens to the wind and says, “Whatever the night brings, Will, it’s no school tomorrow for these two.” He smiles agreement, and my sister and I jump up and down in noisy celebration.
Later all four of us move to the kitchen table. Daddy says grace, and gives thanks for our food, for our safe return, and for the travellers – both those we knew and those unknown – still abroad in the swirling storm. Never has our home felt so much like a safe haven as it does tonight.
It’s been more than 80 years since that night. Now, as an adult, I can imagine my father’s anxiety as he watched for the three of us to emerge into sight from the curtain of snow. I can feel my mother’s near-exhaustion and fear, wondering if she would be up to the task of getting us safely home. But overwhelmingly, during the long years since that night, the feeling of warmth, love, and safety that were evoked that evening have lingered with me. The words, “Let’s go home,” trigger something of the same emotions I experienced so long ago. What a beautiful gift from the past I have received!