Tonight, the wind roars outside my windows. I sit typing in my home, several hundred feet southeast of the farmhouse in which I was raised. It had horizontal lapboard siding over vertical boards--no studding and no insulation. The windows were single pane glass that rattled on a windy night such as this.
My winter memories are abundant and vivid. The way the stairs creaked--even when children trod on them. And the crooked kitchen floor that listed a bit to the south. The smell of warmth--of cherry and oak burning, and then the smell of the smoke after coal was added later, slacking it down for the night. The hissing sound of trapped and expanding gas in heating lumps of coal-- followed by torches of flame bursting out. And the cracking and popping of wood--sometimes sending red coals soaring out onto the cold, tile floor.
And off to bed, to the unheated upstairs. I lay with piles of covers over me--an old hap, army green wool blankets, and quilts made of heavy, salvaged cloth. Outside the rattling windows, the white pine--a full story taller than the house, sang a lullaby with a voice of a whispered "hush". It was the song I had heard since infancy--its comfort at bedtime, unequaled.
I woke at dawn and looked at the most intricate designs on the windows. The ice had formed overnight--fueled by the breath of eight children who shared the room. It started at the bottom of each of the four panes making up the window. And as it crawled upward, the edges were so delicate, as if the ice was tentatively reaching out- testing what lay on the glass above it. And below that, it was thick, making it impossible to see through.
Still, there was a brightness in the room that had not been--just one day earlier. The bitter cold had been accompanied by snow.
I snuggled deeper under the blankets, against my older sister, Anna. Stepping out into the room--into air that filled with a gray puff of mist each time I exhaled, would be bad enough. But the thought of going to the outhouse made me shiver.
Poor Anna; she would have to get up to go to school, along with four other, older siblings. Three of us were still too young.
As I listened for sounds telling me if anyone was moving around downstairs--and ready to make cream of wheat--or if I was really lucky, cocoa wheat, I heard a noise that sent me to my feet. Was that a baby?
It made no sense.
I headed down the stairs, indifferent to the creaking of the old wood beneath my feet. My footfalls made little pounding noises as they landed; I was in a hurry.
I turned left when I reached the bottom landing, and then stood in the living room doorway, looking at the hearth. My dad was kneeling beside a wooden crate--the kind of crate in which soap powder was shipped to stores. I had seen plenty of them in the chophouse. My dad brought them home from work-- to store his tools in. And there was one out in the summer-kitchen, beneath the spring-house pump. It was full of Mission pop-bottles for making homemade root beer in the summer.
The noise was coming from the wooden box.
Not sure whether I get into trouble, I cautiously approached it. After hearing a noise behind me, I turned to see my mom walking into the room. She looked tired.
My attention back on the box, I looked down into it at pink skin. The little grumblings began again. I saw little pink legs and faces. I admit, I had no idea what I was looking at. They sure weren't human.
I heard brothers and sisters coming into the room behind me.
Mom said, "Look at the little baby pigs, Aren't they cute?"
Now that I knew what they were, it made more sense. But they sure didn't resemble those great big, hairy things covered with mud in the pigpen. I had watched my dad and my oldest brother "slop the hogs", dumping buckets of potato and apple peels into a metal trough for them. And we dodged them in the summer while we built log houses out of the corncobs lying in the small pig pasture. There was no resemblance to what was before me.
Mom picked up a piglet and let us look at it up close. Teeny, tiny, little hooves, just as clean and white as anything. And their delicate little faces were actually cute, snouts included.
Dad said that their mom had them in the middle of the night and he was afraid that the bitter cold would kill them. So he had gathered them up and carried them to the house.
It was exciting, but we knew from that moment that they were not toys. We couldn't play with them like baby dolls.
As soon as the weather warmed from bitter to just plain cold, they were returned to their mom--full time. But it had been a thrilling experience for us, to see such an incredible thing up close like that.
And all these years later, on a cold winter night with snow blowing past my window, my thoughts wandered back to that night--to the caring my parents instilled in us.
Funny thing, where thoughts go when they have time to wonder/wander. :-)
Where have your thoughts wandered/wondered to, recently?