From the large window in our farmhouse living room, I inspected the thin layer of snow covering our farm yard. It had fallen over a week ago, and looked paltry. I wished for more to fall, a lot more. I didn’t want to go out and play in it as I did when I was little. After all, I was now a grown-up fifteen-year-old. I just liked the way a thick layer of snow looked.
Feeling bored and restless, I paced around the house for a while, then finally sat down on the sofa, pulled an afghan around my shoulders and grabbed one of Mom’s woman’s magazines from the end table.
One of my brothers leaned into the room and said, “There’s a big snow storm coming. I’m going to walk down to the woods while the walking is still easy. Do you want to come along?”
Jumping to my feet, I blurted one word, “Yes!” Quickly gathering the proper clothing for a walk in the cold, I was ready to go within a few minutes.
Throughout my childhood, a walk to the woods with one of my older siblings was a major treat. We often picked wild flowers in the spring, ate picnic lunches during the summer and cut down balsam trees to drag home before Christmas. When I was very small, these trips usually ended with my brother having to carry me.
As I got older, some visits to the wood lot on the back forty acres of our farm were spent just watching birds, squirrels or any other animals that happened to be around. I also loved looking at the minnows and frogs in the small creek we had to cross before getting to the woods.
A long, fenced lane connected the cow yard near the barn to the creek and wooded lot. On hot summer nights, the cows would sleep in the woods where I supposed it was cooler. Daddy and my brothers often told about things they had seen or heard while herding the cows to the barn for their first milking of the day. It was always very dark, since the barn chores started at four in the morning.
Shuffling through the thin layer of snow, I silently followed my brother. Half-way to the woods, he stopped and said, “Listen.” Holding my breath, I listened. The world was very, very silent. No birds were singing. No wind was sighing. From the railroad tracks three miles away, we heard the rumble of a train passing through the small village of Stratford.
My brother said, “Before a snow storm, the world becomes silent, like it’s waiting.”
I sniffed and said, “It gets stinky, too.”
Chuckling, my brother said, “The wind blows out of the east when it rains or snows. You smell the paper plant in Mosinee.”
Many years have passed since that walk to the woods with my older brother. I am now sixty-six-years-old. My two brothers never married and never moved away from the farm. They both were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As their health failed, I began to help by filling their pill boxes, doing paper work and taking them out for a weekly Friday fish fry.
I knew that there would soon be a time when their health wouldn’t allow them to live on the farm without more help. Many Friday evenings as I drove home, I called my daughter to tell her how the “boys” were doing. One evening, I said, “We had a nice visit, but I know this is just a moment of grace. It won’t always be like this. I need to enjoy what we have right now.”
Last year at this time it became apparent that my brothers needed more help than I could supply. They moved to homes in Marshfield. During a visit this past week, I took one of them to the clinic to pick up his new glasses. A sleet storm was forecast for later in the afternoon and I was anxious to get home before it started.
A light rain had already begun to fall as we got out of my car after our clinic visit. My brother suddenly stopped and listened. A look of pure pleasure crossed his face. He said, “Do you hear it? Do you hear the silence? It’s like the world is holding its breath, waiting for the storm to arrive.”
I listened. Not a bird was singing. No wind sighed or rustled. Off in the distance on the highway, we heard trucks accelerating. Taking my brother’s arm, we walked into the home. I thought, “This is another one of those moments of grace. Thank-you Lord.”