Girls in white dresses…..

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.

-Albert Camus

To say that I’m thrilled that it is the end of January would be an understatement.  It is Sunday as I write this, and the wind is rattling the house.  Our furnace works to keep up with the falling temperatures outside, the dog glares at me accusingly each time she comes in from outside, and I am, in a word, Grouchy. So grouchy, in fact, that I should probably change my name to Oscar.  And live in a garbage can.

I live with a good man.  He knows that I take winter personally. And so,  he brings me candy bars from town, hoping to sweeten up the old crow he’s currently married to. I force a weak smile and a thank you for these small kindnesses, feeling foolish for being such a pain in the you-know-what about something over which human beings have no control -the weather.  For the second time this month, the prairie where I used to live is having a full-blown, close all the highways, batten down the hatches, hide the women and children kind of blizzard today.  It looks like the kids in the Twin Cities might be getting another day off from school tomorrow, too.

And so, when I’m not growling and grouching, I have been going through old photo albums in a feeble attempt to organize and control one small corner of my life. Yesterday, I came upon a familiar photo taken in front of the house nestled in a grove of red and white pines near Max that was homesteaded by my ancestors in the early 1900’s.  Based upon the age of my grandmother and her younger brother in the picture, it seems to have been taken around 1912 or 1913.  It was a sunny day and my grandmother is wearing a frilly white dress, squinting into the sunshine.   The adults in the photo look about as happy as most Scandinavians do when things aren’t awful.  Based upon a little research I’ve done, they had survived some pretty awful weather a few months before the photo was taken.

Because January, 1912 was one for the record books, according to Dr. Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension professor of meteorology and climatology in his article, “The Great Cold Wave of 1912”  ( According to Seeley, that month in 1912 still ranks as the coldest, with temps barely reaching above zero throughout most of the state for the entire month. The author writes about the ways that the frigid temps impacted transportation and how major waterways like the mighty Red River  froze to depths of 32 inches, which no doubt made for great ice block harvesting, if nothing else. It wasn’t just a little cold.  It was a LOT cold. It was constantly cold. All thirty-one days of it!  And the rest of the winter of 1912 was much better, according to the article.

As I read about trains and street cars frozen to tracks and the lack of coal needed in urban areas during the coldest month of all, I thought about that photo of my ancestors outside the tiny, two room cabin in the Big Woods they’d called home. I wondered how they ever made it through a winter in a two room log structure with virtually no insulation, a wood stove, a hand pump for their fresh water supply and not one, but two little children.  What must that winter have been like for them and all of the other  families who homesteaded here? It is humbling to think of as  I sit here in a warm house with an electric thermostat I can turn up to fight the chill that tries to settle in my bones.

I will never be a lover of the cold.  And I’m pretty sure my partner hasn’t seen the last of Oscar. But I’m going to work a little harder on being a little more grateful not only for what I do have, but for what I don’t, as I count the days toward springtime, one of my favorite things.

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