In my youth I heard the old seed stock folks say the winters were getting balmier, and we had nothing now like the old-time snows of the 1800s when people froze to death, or a blizzard like the night the Steamer Portland went down. Now, I spend my old age telling everybody we "haint" had a decent snowstorm since I was a tad and the wind blew six feet of snow through the keyhole and we had to shovel out the kitchen stove to make breakfast.
My present contention seems substantiated by the scientific data indicating global warming, but I've heard nobody extolling how happy things were back then. I remember how disgusted Ralph Philbrick was to read in the paper that New York City spent $8 million to remove snow from just one storm. Ralph said, "Whyn't they jist tread 'er down, same's I do?"
To go back to Ralph's boyhood, the plowing of highways was unthought of and snow was welcomed for winter sledding. Towns did not clear snow from roads, but had "rollers" to pack it down and make firm treading for oxen and horses, and smooth sliding for the runners of traverse sleds. If an arrant wind had blown a bare spot on the road, they would shovel snow onto the road. Frivolities like school buses did not prevail to bewilder, and school kept if the teacher could get there and shovel out the front door.
There were school lunches then only if you brought yours from home, and if you didn't, you could walk home at noon or go hungry. We brought lunches, disliking hunger, but the walk home in new snow was no chore. The big boys went on ahead, stomping a track, and, Indian file, we made it there and back; classes resumed promptly at one. At first, I toddled behind, and annually worked forward.
My wife's birthday is Feb. 18 and George Washington comes next. We always had a "baister" of a snowstorm "on or about," and we welcomed it because it was helpful in the run of maple sap coming up. And, as motor vehicles were now important, we liked the attendant sociability of the snowplow party. The town now plowed roads of snow, and had a huge Oshkosh truck with hydraulic wings and distended dimensions. Elmer Keith and Dubber Taylor crewed her, and there was usually a third hand.
When we enjoyed an afternoon settling-in of a mid-February whopper, as we did in those days, we'd be well snowed in come midnight, and before turning in for the night in the farmhouse we'd have snow up to the downstairs windowsills and the wind bringing more. We were snug and cozy, the barn was tight for the stock, the children were asleep. Then we'd hear the Oshkosh snort as it turned from Main Street onto our road and began the uphill push. In 20 minutes, it would be abreast our dooryard.
It would be about two in the morning. We were toggling the switch of our yard lamp, and the Oshkosh would signal back. Just after the Oshkosh dumped tons of snow on our mailbox it would stop. Elmer and Dubber, and helper, would wallow to our door, stomping in the mudroom and coming into our kitchen. It was snowstorm snack time. Apple pie and coffee. The Oshkosh engine was left running to keep the cab warm and the generator charging. The children would come to the kitchen in their nighties and get cookies and milk.
There was something nice about the way the children would yawn, say "Hi-Elmer-hi-Dubber," and reach up to shake hands. And when the men said "hi" and tousled their heads. And something nice when my wife said, after supper, "This feels like a storm, I'll make a pie for the snowmen before I turn in."
This also made a merry moment for Elmer and Dubber to take their minds off the dreary snowfall, and when the pie and coffee were gone the Oshkosh roared away and we went to bed.
There is one special snowstorm night in memory when drifts built up and the Oshkosh broke down, and by dawn we were deep in trouble. It would take a week to get repair parts from the factory, and after a few days, our town officials called the United States Naval Air Station to ask for a bulldozer. The Navy had a bulldozer twice the size of the nuclear carrier Enterprise for clearing runways, and they said they'd be right over.
So we got plowed out, and as the Navy boys didn't know where our road was under the snow, they picked up Elmer to guide them, and he told them why our yard light was blinking. There was, indeed, something wonderful about a kitchen full of sailors on a Maine farm eating pie. The children were impressed.
The worst birthday snowstorm was for my wife's 63rd, and by milking time in the evening it had made about two feet. I started for the barn with an empty milk pail, and it was snowing so hard I had to dump snow from the pail three times from the house to the tie-up.
That was the storm that built up such deep drifts it clogged up the fan on Henry Reynold's windmill on a 30-foot steel tower. Henry went up to shovel things clear, and he was gone three weeks. When he got down he'd grown a beard, and not recognizing him, his wife wouldn't let him in the house. Slammed the door right in his face and eyes. We don't have winters like that no more.