The principal ingredient of a blizzard is intense cold, and wind is the next. Some snow helps, a foot or so, and the next morning it was fun to bundle up and go to school. I, who lived only a mile from the schoolhouse, would get a lunch in a paper bag on blizzard days, sparing me the struggle home and back during noon hour.
From our front window, on the wind'ard side so snow was blown away, we could watch for the Jameson boys to go by with their horse and sleigh. Once they passed, they'd leave a track in the snow and it was easier for us to walk. They lived three miles out and came to town to school, stabling their horse in the village with Mr. Pritham, where all the rural children left their horses. The Jameson boys were always early to school, as they had to unharness the horse and put down his hay before school.
We didn't use the word "blizzard" too much. To us, a blizzard was always a plain knowtheaster (sic) and as a Down East, seafaring town, that was handier for us. Nautically, there is no such word as "nor'easter," even if you do see it in the newspapers. "The snow had begun in the gloaming," said Mr. Lowell when he was talking to Mr. Cabot, quoting from his own poem, "The Vision of Sir Snowfall."
Blizzards generally started about that time, or just as we left the schoolhouse to go home after the day's inculcation of culture by Mrs. Tyler. It gets late early in a Maine winter.
When a knowtheaster (sic) is "breeding," you can smell it. That is, you don't smell anything, but that's how you know. The air is still. It is cold. The sun can shine, but it seems "logy," as if its heart weren't in it. The day is silent. Ominous. Uneasy.
In school, the day such a storm would be making up, Mrs. Tyler would tell us what to look for. She'd consult the tide calendar, and tell us when we'd see the first snowflake flutter past the window. Northeast storms "make up" in the Sow-west and work upwind. (They clear off the same way.) So it'd be snowing in Massachusetts before we saw any, and we'd get snow commencing on the floor of ebb tide, whichever was "clost-est" to the gloaming.
Oftentimes, that first flake would bring on enough new snow so we'd be wading before home, depending on distance. It did happen, now and then, that Mrs. Tyler would send us home a bit earlier, but I never knew our school to be called off because of snow. And in those days of horses and oxen, the Teamsters would have lynched anybody who suggested snow on the roads should be plowed away. Mercy!
We had a dog of barren intellect who shared our family ties, and when we youngsters were about to open the door and go, he'd be a-quiver, and the instant there was room for him, he'd dart forth into the glorious morning. Leaping and bounding, he'd cavort and gambol, and bark himself inside out and carry on. Then he would stop, as he had been trained to do, and wait for us to come home in the afternoon.
But on the morning of a Down-East snowstorm, Gelert would prance out of the kitchen ahead of us, find snow on the piazza, and back into the kitchen, us and all. He wanted no part of a blizzard. We children, having human intelligence, wallowed to school, where Mrs. Tyler brushed us down, helped us off with our bolsters, and told us it was a magnificent storm, the world was clean and bright, God's in His heaven, and what would we like to sing to start off this wonderful forenoon?
School was always different on blizzard mornings. Somehow things would wander off from wherever we were to the storm. And if Mrs. Tyler told Mabel to spell "polyglot," Mabel would be staring out the window at the snow and would rouse to say, "Huh?"
Mrs. Tyler would say, "Pretty as a pail of new milk, isn't it?"
So at noon on our snow days, not only the scholars who brought their noonin' every day, but all of us would have our dinners, and it was like a good picnic. Mrs. Tyler would bring extra sandwiches and cake, should any child not have enough, and we'd all share to some extent. And, for instance, Mrs. Tyler would tell about the train that got stuck in the drift.
It was when she was a little girl, she said, and the morning train eastbound came along and stopped for the station. When it started again it lacked momentum, and it ran galley-topside into the drift by Staples crossing, and the pony wheels went off the track. There it sat, high and dry, and all the equipment needed to retrieve the train was snowbound and in the wrong direction.
Mrs. Tyler and her Mommie and Daddy could see the train from their windows, and as the locomotive sent up smoke, it was decided the marooned passengers were warm. But they would be getting hungry.
Mrs. Tyler's father, with snowshoes and a "hand shark" sled, took some food Mrs. Tyler's mother packed, and delivered it to the train. Mrs. Tyler said that crew and passengers, and two postal clerks, came to 28 people, so they wondered how they cut the two apple pies in the mother's baskets. That figures 14 pieces from each pie.
"Now," said Mrs. Tyler, "assuming my mother's pie was one foot in diameter, how much of the circumference did each passenger get?" It seems to me Mabel wrote, "not very much," but Percy Flanders, our math whiz, gave her the right answer off the top of his head.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society