Our winters of yesteryear
Resourcefulness appears to be one of the common threads that run through the tapestry of life. I remember well the frigid, blustery and wind driven snows during the winters of my youth back in the Depression days of the mid 1930s.
Our family farm home was located in the Boston Hills of Western New York. Rural electrification had not yet arrived.
Wood was our chief source of energy. Kerosene lamps were our source of illumination and the kitchen wood stove and a circulating heater served as the main source of heat. I guess the temperature outdoors back then was not any colder than what it is these days; it just seemed that way. Back then, the “wind chill” factor was not part of our vocabulary.
We just knew it was cold when the harsh winds penetrated the non insulated wood frame house. Well do I remember trying to scrape the encrusted frost from the glass inside the kitchen windows just to get a glimpse of the blustery weather. It might have been frigid outdoors, but inside my parents managed to keep our home at a reasonable temperature (kind of) but, inside the warmth of the farm family spirit kept us warm and genuinely comfortable. It was not until some time later in life did I begin to realize the resolve, resilience and resourcefulness of my parents and ancestors and the folks of their generation.
Indoor plumbing was rare in our rural area. It did not come to our simple home until some years later. Thus, it was in the cold windy winter months that we knew the challenges of out-door plumbing. A hand pump in the kitchen was our source of water. And with no running water or electricity, clothes washing meant a hand washer and ringer, wash tub and a wash boiler. I remember well when the cloths were hung out to dry in the bitter cold of the winter. “Freeze dry” was the term.
There were three children in the family; I was the youngest. We each had our chores to do, helping the other when the need arose. Our farm was basically a dairy and vegetable farm. Coming from a dairy farm, meant milking the cows morning and night, by hand of course. Now, it being the winter season, the cattle were indoors most of the time. That meant drawing hay from the hay loft, straw from the straw mow, hand pumping water for the cattle, and the endless job of keeping the stalls clean. On the plus side, the barn was rarely uncomfortably cold; the cattle had a way of maintaining a comfortable “room” temperature. Rarely did the water pump in the barn freeze even in below zero weather.
The town maintained most of the rural roads. Keeping the roads cleared of snow was an almost impossible task. Being located at the highest point in Erie County, meant that the winter winds had a way of whipping the snow into 15- to 20-foot drifts. It was not uncommon to find the roads, particularly roads running north and south, completely plugged with snow almost to the level of the two strand telephone wires. It was almost impossible for the town single V shaped snow plow to handle that amount of snow. Trudging one’s way to the one room country school in blizzard conditions had its challenges. And the only way the farmers could get their milk to the milk plant, was to daily haul the nearly dozen or more ten-gallon cans, each weighing 120 pounds, to the nearest pick-up point, which for us was the Village of Colden. The team of horses was hitched to the farm sleigh and the milk was transported through the treacherous hilly terrain. Somehow, the farmers accomplished that task against overwhelming wintry odds.
Much has changed over the past years: snow removal equipment, farm tools, living styles and the normal affairs of life. However, what remains are those winter memories which are far more than just a passing thought. These memories live on, as do the durable threads woven through a tapestry. The threads of resolve, resilience and resourcefulness remain firmly in place. For you see, this tapestry of memory lives on not for just a season, but for a lifetime.
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is a resident of Gowanda and Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at SUNY Fredonia.