The Second Half: Adventures of senior snow days

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

“The taller we get, the less snow we get,” Hubby told me. In his Second Half, my guy drives a school bus, something I love and admire about him. He actually gets a kick out of the kids. “When you’re 5 years old and no taller than a tree stump,” he explained, “the snow seems pretty deep!”

Well, even to grown-ups in our Second Half, it seems like we’ve been inundated with the white stuff this year. Are we really getting more snow, or is it just our “geezer memory” that makes it seem that way?

Stuff I’ve heard this year:

“When I was a kid, the snow used to pile up so high we had to clear it away from the second story-windows to see outside!”

“The bigger kids had to escort the younger kids to school so when they got stuck in drifts over their heads, someone was there to pull them out.”

“The snow was so deep, we had no electricity and everything was shut down. We took a sled to the grocery store and a guy was selling staples from the loading dock door.”

That last one was one of my stories and it was true. Back then, there were fewer snow plows, so deliveries couldn’t get through so quickly. That guy at the local Jewel was just helping out the community, making sure people had what they needed until the trucks could get to us and the power came back on. And he didn’t raise the prices to gouge us during the emergency, either. Of course, in those days, bread was only about a quarter—but, for my family, feeding nine kids added up to a lot of quarters!

Frankly, snow had a much different meaning when we were kids. Like the Blizzard of ’11, everything stopped when it snowed. Everything! Schools, banks, stores, businesses all closed and everybody stayed home. I still get a rush of excitement when I hear a weather guy or gal crow, “Substantial snow fall coming this way!” Nobody worried about missing work or other stuff because, “You can’t argue with Mother Nature.”

Folks stayed home when it snowed—kids played for hours in the white stuff, neighbors helped dig each other out, parents made pots of hot chocolate with marshmallows, and driving was optional, or even silly. “Where would you go?” a Second-Half girlfriend scoffed. “Nothing was open—the fun was right there in your own back yard!”

OK, back to the winter weather: seems like everyone who grew up in the Midwest has stories, but I wanted some facts. The Channel 13 weather guy posted some statistics that I thought were revealing. The following years boast some of the top record-breaking snowfalls from a single storm in the Rockford area:

December 1987—11.4 inches

January 1979—12.3 inches

February 1944—12.5 inches

December 1909—12.9 inches

March 1948—13.8 inches

March 1932—15 inches

March 1926—16 inches

January 1918—16.3 inches

I tried to find a pattern in those dates, but the only interesting one was that three of them occurred in March—big deal. I guess what it tells me is that weather is unpredictable and some years are worse than others. This year appears to be right up there, among the crappiest—or snowiest—winters in the last 100 years.

While the Blizzard of ’11 only dropped about a foot in most areas, many folks I spoke with told me, “We had a lot more than that at our place!”

Perception is everything, I guess.

I’ve heard some great stories, too. Here’s a good one:

Second-Half pal David got off work after midnight and started home on Highway 20 during the blizzard. His truck got stuck and a state trooper picked him up about 1:30 a.m. She only drove a little way and couldn’t go further, so they spent the next several hours in a snow drift, in a cop car, strangers chatting the night away. Finally, after sunrise, someone in a pickup came by and offered to take him home.

I wondered, “What the devil did they find to talk about all that time?” Well, David could have a stimulating conversation with a tree stump, so I guess circumstances were no deterrent. Now that will be a fun story for the grandkids!

Speaking of snow, Jimmy the Groundhog from Sun Prairie, Wis., must have liked the storm. His website declares:

“Feb. 2, 2011—Jimmy had a rough time digging out from beneath huge snow drifts. When he finally popped up, he did NOT see his shadow! That means EARLY SPRING!”

Visit Jimmy the Groundhog’s website at Punxsutawney Phil agrees with him, but we don’t care about that. He’s in Pennsylvania, for heaven’s sake!

What can we learn from the snow? I admit, I’m the first one to suggest a trip south when the sub-zero weather starts to suck the oxygen out of my lungs. Every week during snow season, I haul numerous sleds of wood from behind the barn and lug armfuls of it into the house. That healthy task begins to feel dreadful when I can’t breathe; “Where does the oxygen go in the cold?” I gasp.

Hubby explains patiently, “Oh, the oxygen is still there; it’s just that your lungs are frozen and can’t process it.” He’s such a comfort that I shove him into the deepest snow drift in the history of mankind.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

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