The Old Ones

I guess it serves me right. I asked for this kind of snow, this kind of winter. I longed for those mysterious fingers of drifting that crawled across the gravel roads, to fill up the ditches. I wanted to hear the clock radio from downstairs say, “No school in Paynesville.” I wanted the complete silence that came with the snow. However, I wanted it in 1965 when there was a father strong enough to dig a tunnel from the front door.

I never saw the work, the scoop on the tractor, or the amount of energy it took to carry a pail of milk into the house through hip deep snow. All I saw were the golden, fuzzy gloves that held the pail and stretched out to counter balance the load as he moved through the triangle of yellow from the yard light. All I anticipated were drifts above my head, rolling in the snow, and a landscape re-defined. It was like being transported to another planet. It was fresh, it was clean. The storm would always end with bright, snapping cold days when we waited to be plowed out.

Eventually there would be the sound of the plow in the distance. Soon Dad would suggest we try to make it to town. I am not sure if we needed to go to town but it was the explorer in him that needed to see just how bad it was. At least one of us got to go with him. On those trips he would narrate our ability to get through drifts, when we should “gun it” and when we should back up and go on another road to see if it’s open. He knew the “bad spots” where drifting was always a problem. Sometimes the drifts were so hard we drove over them. We were bundled warm, ear flappers down. In the trunk was the survival kit including matches, kindling, a candle, a metal pan and a box of oatmeal. Uncle Orville once told a story about someone who had to burn the stuffing out of the seats to keep warm, ever after we carried kindling. 

We knew at a young age that if visibility is zero, stay with the vehicle, conserve gas, make sure the tail pipe is clear of snow. He told stories of other snowstorms and being snowbound for a week. He talked about the sleigh being pulled by horses and when he and his little sister Pearl were told to stay in the rocking chair by their mother’s bed while his Dad drove the horses to town to get the doctor. I never contemplated the anxiety of my Grandma, ready to give birth, with only children in the house. I never thought about my mother feeling trapped as the drift rose half way up the kitchen window. What if the furnace went out? What if the pipes freeze? Two people and neighbors stood between me and the dangers of the storm. They were a screen to allow me to feel only the excitement and see the beauty of the event.

My 97-year old father says that he “misses the old ones.” The deeper I go into aging, the more I understand his words. The old ones were always there with stories of when it was worse and of survival. The old ones blocked the view of danger and allowed the magic to creep in. I’ve been thinking about them a lot these past weeks. Sometimes I think they are just around the corner, shoveling to meet me half way. Sometimes I see them in the eyes of a neighbor who stops to commiserate about the never-ending winter. Sometimes they stop the wind and let me hear nothing in the silent city.

Yes, I asked for this winter. The difference is now I see the danger, my body feels the never-ending work, and I know the truth of the storm. It is only because of the old ones that I catch a glimpse of the wonder.

Augustana Care Open Circle Adult Day Services offers three convenient locations throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. Each of our locations offers programs, recreation, personal care, respite and social connections to individuals with memory loss or other emotional or physical needs. Contact one of our centers to learn how Augustana Care Open Circle can support care partners to find balance and meaning in a life touched by memory loss or other diagnosis. We offer care consultations that are targeted to the needs and values of caregivers. Click here for more information.

The author, Patty Crawford, is the Center Manager at Augustana Care Open Circle of Apple Valley. She has been a part of Augustana Care for over 40 years. Patty is also a sought-after public speaker on subjects of aging. She weaves her insight and research into meaningful presentations. Patty is a Master of Leadership graduate from Augsburg University.