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By Staff | Jan 1, 2010

It’s happened at last. We finally got an old-fashioned, batten-down-the-hatches, burrow-under-your-blankets blizzard.

The Christmas Blizzard of 2009 is wonderful news for our young people since they’ll now have a storm story to tell when they reach geezerhood. But the blizzards we had when I was a kid were much, much worse. Obviously.

Children these days don’t know how to enjoy a proper winter storm. Their idea of blizzard activities means playing their Xbox until their thumbs develop calluses the size of hooves.

Tell a modern child that it’s time for a game of “fox and geese” and you’ll get a blank stare. And whatever happened to the fine art of building snow forts? Kids nowadays probably think their parents should provide them with a snow McMansion that they can “flip” for a quick profit.

Maybe I’m too much of a curmudgeon. Or maybe I live too close to my ancestors.

My wife and I reside on the farm where my great-grandfather homesteaded. My grandparents were the sons and daughters of pioneers.

One can only imagine what went through the minds of those homesteaders when they experienced their first prairie blizzard. It must have been difficult to step out into the storm, the wind pressing against your face like an icy anvil, and continue to believe that moving out here was the right thing to do.

These days, an impending winter storm might mean making a pre-emptive stop at the supermarket. For most of us, enduring a blizzard involves being sequestered in our comfy homes for a few days. Not much of an inconvenience.

Imagine carrying hay and water and grain through blinding billows of snow. Visualize what it would be like to hack a path through towering snowdrifts, hoping that you’ll soon find your drafty old privy. Picture doing this while in the throes of an explosive digestive disorder.

The snowplow went past our place shortly after this latest snowstorm died down, ending our entrapment in the comfort of our home. This stands in stark contrast to pioneer times, when a winter storm might leave you isolated for months.

Suppose you lived in a sod shanty that was surrounded by an infinite expanse of stark, barren snow. No wonder people went berserk and began to see things like giants in the earth! Today’s equivalent would be imaging that Paris Hilton is a nuclear physicist.

A person can lay in provisions for himself and his livestock, but it’s impossible to store up a supply of companionship. And blizzard-induced cabin fever can affect even the most antisocial among us.

An example of this occurred back in the winter of ’68. And no, I don’t mean 1868! I’m not that old.

It was a tough winter, one that still stands tall in the record books. We had a blizzard every week, with each storm lasting seven days or more. Climate scientists theorized that the polar ice cap was slowly spreading into our area.

During one particularly nasty storm, we were playing Crazy Eights to keep our minds off the advancing glaciers. The roar of the wind was suddenly punctuated by a tapping noise. All conversation came to a halt. There it was again! A definite knocking at the kitchen door.

Said door was opened and there stood Martin, our Norwegian bachelor farmer neighbor.

We were dumbfounded! How could he have gotten here? The roads were impassible, except for by snowmobile – a device that hadn’t yet been invented.

Martin was swiftly invited in. He shook off his heavy sheepskin coat, which reached from his ears to his ankles. An actual icicle dangled from the tip of his nose, something I had only seen in the funnies. The dead stump of an unfiltered Lucky Strike clung to his lower lip.

He had walked nearly a mile, much of it into the teeth of the blizzard! He had come, Martin said casually, just to check up on us and to see how we were weathering the storm.

Martin tried to convey that there was nothing special about walking a mile through a blizzard, that this was the sort of thing any manly man would do. But there was something sheepish about his manner.

It was as if he had to admit that he’d run short of some essential item – an unpardonable sin for the son of a pioneer.

We fed Martin scrambled egg sandwiches and hot coffee. After a couple of hours of kitchen table conversation, Martin declared that it was time to head home. He pulled on his sheepskin coat, lit a fresh Lucky Strike and tromped back out into the storm.

And as he departed, Martin said something that stuck with me.

“You kids sure have it easy!” he opined, “This storm ain’t nothing compared to those we had when I was young!”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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