Wind howling at the bedroom window woke me up. I turned over, unwilling to open my eyes so early. Surely it wasn’t time to get up! The morning light filtering in through the screens and my bedroom’s net curtains was gray, cold, and unfriendly. Just as I was drifting back to sleep, another arctic gust howled around the side of our farmhouse.
Using the raised lip of a storm window like a harmonica, the wind produced a long, eerie, three-toned sigh that echoed throughout the house as if it had been amplified. Goose bumps that had nothing to do with the frigid temperatures in our farmhouse-upstairs covered my arms. From the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, Mom called, “Time to get up.”
My big sister immediately got out of bed and put on a bathrobe. In the bedroom next to ours, I heard my other sister moving around. From the doorway, my sister turned to scold, “Kathy, today isn’t a Saturday. Get up right how. We have to get ready for church. If you don’t hurry, you’ll make us late!”
The world outside our farmhouse was a study in whites and grays. Instead of combing my hair, I stood by the living room window staring out at our now unfamiliar backyard. A white sheet of snow hung suspended in the air. Wind played with the flakes as they tried to join the ton of snow already drifted on the ground. Gray shadows and gray skeletal tree branches arched over all my favorite backyard play spots.
Behind me, Mom and Daddy were discussing our trip into town for church. Debating the pros and cons of our trip in terms of relative safety, Mom finally fussed, “We could stay home. In weather like this, missing Mass wouldn’t be a sin.”
“The roads are still passable this morning.” Daddy rumbled. “Later on…they’ll be a problem. Just make sure everyone has boots, hats, and mittens in case we have to walk.”
We left for church earlier than usual. My large family packed into our round-fendered family car. Due to the close proximity to each other, no one felt cold. Being a small eight-year-old meant that I had to sit in the front seat between Mom and Daddy This gave my father elbowroom to drive. I liked sitting there even though I had to duck when we went around corners. The alternative seating plan had me ‘floating’ around on the knees of all my brothers and sisters in the back seat.
Snow banks along the road were tall from past storms. The wind, thick with snow, swooshed over the top of them above our car. Here and there, deep snow grabbed at our car and slowed our progress. Dad sat hunched over, tightly gripping the steering wheel…willing us through three miles of white, blinding misery.
There was a hush…a special feeling of peace in our church when we trooped in. We sat in our favorite pew…right side…fifth from the front. Snow from our boots melted into puddles under our feet. I looked up at the Saint Joseph statue. His beautiful brown eyes seemed warmer, and more compassionate than ever. I loved this statue because looking at it made me think of MY Daddy.
After the final blessing was said, we went back out into the storm. Would our car be able to battle through the new drifts that formed while we were in church? Deep tracks on the street were nearly filled in. The snow hadn’t let up at all, and the wind seemed even more vicious than before.
Drifts pulled at the undersides of our car. The tires spun, then grabbed. We slid around the corner at the edge of town. When we reached the top of the hill half a mile from our farm we sighed with relief. If we got stuck now…it wouldn’t be such an awful, cold, long walk.
Our old car bucked bigger and bigger drifts as we came down the hill. Near our driveway a large snow bank nearly enveloped the car’s front end and held us tight. Our tires spun crazily, but we didn’t move an inch. Finally Dad said, “I’ll use the tractor to pull it out later. I don’t think the car will be in any danger from the snowplow. We’ll be lucky if the plow comes through before the milk needs to be picked up tomorrow morning.”
Leaning against the wind, we stumbled through the deep snow. A strong gust caught Mom off guard, and her black pillbox hat with its pretty little black veil flew off her head and rolled away in the snow toward the barn. I stood watching it with horrified fascination. Over and over it rolled, stark against the blinding white background. No one made a move. My mother exclaimed, “Will someone PLEASE go after my hat?”
Although it was difficult, we managed to make it to Mass that day. Everyone felt good about that. Best of all, I knew there wouldn’t be any school on Monday morning. That made ME feel good. For the rest of the day the storm raged on, rattling our storm windows, and howling in its fury.