September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

The winter has been an uphill battle

By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

"As changeable as the weather."
That's a saying I heard often, growing up. They were always my mother's words, usually uttered in my father's direction, after he announced a change in plans.
As for Dad, I don't much recall him saying anything about the weather - not "too hot" or "too cold." He just pretty much stayed silent and dutifully battled whatever weather the day, hour or season delivered.
He shoveled snow and moved it with the Massey-Ferguson and its bucket. He lay on the frozen, snow-covered ground and wrestled with chains for the tractor and the '63 Chevy pickup.
To be sure, my father was anything but silent during his weather wars. Having been born and raised in Sweden, he could eloquently weave verbal tapestries that contained threads of both English and Swedish. More often than not, he turned to words and phrases seemingly more suited to a sailor than a farmer.
This winter of 2012-'13 is definitely not the worst I can remember. But some days it sure seems that way.
I have photographs from the winter of 1957. There I am, bundled up in a snowsuit and standing chest deep in the white stuff. That was at my folks' first farm, near West Prairie, in Vernon County.
My mother sometimes spoke of having to dig tunnels through the snow that year, to get to the barn. Looking back now - older and more realistic - I suspect she was exaggerating - just a wee tad bit.
We moved to a farm near Richland center in 1961. I was seven. During some of those ensuing winters, I strode atop the snowdrifts alongside the county road, almost being able to touch the overhead wires, had I been so stupid. Thankfully, I was not.
Yes, I did walk to school in those days. It was almost a mile each way. But no, it was not uphill both ways.
Some mornings I'd arrive at Elm Grove School with my fingers nearly frozen. I'd huddle by the oil burner in the back of the one-room schoolhouse, or run lukewarm water on them in the "boys'" room in the basement. To this day, I do not like being that kind of cold.
This winter seems especially long. I know it's no longer than any other winter, but it sure seems longer. One reason is our lovely driveway.
Our house lies 0.15-mile from the county road. It's not a great distance, by any stretch of the imagination. But sometime it might as well be 15,000 miles long instead of 0.15.
The driveway races uphill to the main road. And the first third, from our snug A-frame, is quite steep. Making matters worse, our hilly driveway faces north. It doesn't catch the warming rays of the sun very well, so it's often snowy or icy - or both.
We pay a fellow to plow it, and that usually works okay. But early in February this year, he didn't plow deeply enough to get to any gravel. Then we got more snow, followed by melting, followed by freezing, followed by rain, followed by freezing again. You get the picture.
After hauling much sand-salt mixture and applying it liberally to the driveway, I did manage to coax the car up the hill. Now, not wanting to take any chances, I leave it parked in a wide part of the driveway, near the mailbox, a mere 10 feet from the well-plowed, salted and sanded county road that is my winter Promised Land.
Meanwhile, thank heaven for our four-wheel-drive truck. It scales our Everest of a driveway with little hesitation or complaint.
To give the car a boost, I bought a set of chains. Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to track down tire chains in this high-tech day and age? I spent three hours on the telephone and internet on a recent Saturday afternoon.
Most places do not stock them. The two farm supply stores I contacted didn't have any. Nor did the auto parts stores. Finally, using the computer, I located a chain manufacturer in Ohio.
The chains arrived. I saw the UPS truck stop at the top of our hill, then back out and leave. By our mailbox I found the package containing the chains. I have to hand it to that UPS truck driver: He was wise indeed to not test the ice-covered snake trail down to our house.
Soon I will lie in the snow and ice and wrestle the chains onto the car's front tires - only to wrestle them off again when - if - the vehicle scales the hill and reaches the main road - all of 0.15 mile away.
If not for my driveway battles, winter might be somewhat fun once more. Maybe, if I try, I can remember and put to good use some of that English-Swedish verbal tapestry that helped my father get through winter.
On a cheerier note, spring must be on its way. On Feb. 13 I noticed two birds exploring one of last year's houses, up by the garden. They brought a bit of immediate happiness my way, for they were bluebirds. They must have read the wrong travel brochure, but they were bluebirds.
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