We talk about the changing weather patterns and complain of the disruptions and discomfort caused by extreme winter conditions. I submit that the significant change has been in our preparation for such extremes, or rather the lack thereof.
Modern means of heating our homes and year round availability of fresh food at the nearby grocery store blind us to the reality that nature can occasionally be strong enough to override our daily routines.
Four seasons are a fact in this area of the globe, and a few generations ago we began preparing for self-sufficiency during winter with the planting of seeds every spring. From experience we gauged the amount of food we would need to carry us through a hard winter.
Canning, drying and preserving went on from the first garden produce to the hulling of walnuts.
We ate chickens from the barnyard while the shoats were growing into hogs the size for killing and curing. We bred the cows so one or more would produce milk twice a day at any given time of the year.
Hay was packed in the barn loft and corn dumped in the corncrib to feed the livestock when pastures went dormant.
Whenever there was any slack time in the field work, the men were cutting wood and stacking it in the woodshed plus rows against the outside wall. Contact was made with a trucker to fill the coal house while we were still working in shirt sleeves. Didn’t want to be caught in the delivery rush during a sudden cold snap.
The womenfolk kept constant inventory of bed linens and knew if there were enough quilts to outfit all beds on a cold winter’s night.
Quilting frames stayed up in the corner of a room for long periods of time so every spare minute could be used to make a few stitches or tie a few tacks on a quilt that might be needed in upcoming months to keep the family warm.
To conserve fuel, we moved rocking chairs from the living room into the bedroom when winter approached and cocooned there and in the kitchen unless special company was coming. Who cared if the furniture arrangement was not perfect?
We made sure that everyone’s galoshes were good for another winter. If there were breaks in the rubber or snaps pulled loose, Mother made sure that she bought new galoshes with her egg and cream money when she made that rare trip to town before the weather got bad.
She checked the long underwear and heavy stockings drawer and the supply of all garments that made possible our doing the necessary outside work.
I remember well a wide and long dark brown wool scarf that we shared. In zero weather, the one who had to be outside for the longest period of time got to wear the scarf. Wrapped over the head and around the neck and face, it was truly a lifesaver. Each season it had a few more small bites taken out by moths, but we cherished “the scarf.”
Now what do we do to prepare for winter? Not much more than adjust the thermostat, pull different clothes to the front of the closet and hope that we will be able to get to the grocery store at least once a week. Not too much planning ahead for unusual weather circumstances.