FOOD & FUEL
Two fat sparrows sit in the trough of a bird feeder outside my office window and eat their way through today’s snowstorm.
Six feet away, a squadron of chickadees does touch-eat-and-goes on a second feeder. In the snow below, a plump dove dines on the sorghum scattered by the unmannered sparrows.
As I sip my coffee and watch this home entertainment center my thoughts slide back to snowy days on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.
While we didn’t receive an abundance of snow, winters usually brought a day of stay-home-from-school weather. Some years, and a lot of hard praying, brought two or three snow days.
Yes, I confess, as a schoolboy I prayed more for snow in January than, as a farmboy, for rain in July. The reason was simple: you couldn’t sled on the fescue-wearing levees that ringed the Bottoms in July, but you could in January if they wore a blanket of snow.
And we did. If the snow was too deep for the school bus to safely slide down the big bluffs that stood guard over our part of the Mississippi River flood plain, it probably was deep enough for my sister, brothers and me to glide down the levees that guarded the farm from the Mississippi River.
Snow pants? Ski jackets? We weren’t on TV; we were on the farm.
A sledding adventure meant two of everything – jeans, socks, flannel shirts, jersey gloves – and off we’d slog the quarter-mile or so to the huge, steep levee.
Then we’d launch ourselves downward and reach astonishing speeds, leaving screams and laughter hanging in the air far above and behind us.
The stockcar-like ride had only one drawback. The wide, flat shoulder on which the levee sat was also home to a four-strand, barbed-wire fence.
From the top of the levee, the fence – that made our part of the levee into wonderful summer pasture for dry cows – resembled an egg slicer. Half-way down it looked like a kid slicer.
To avoid the tragedy of an early demise (and one that might require four people to retrieve you) our trick was to bail off the sled just as the levee’s steep slope met the flat shoulder, 20 or so feet before the slicer, which, of course, we did.
Except for the one time I froze – either out of fear or nihilism, I can’t remember – and remained glued, belly down, on the sled. My brothers yelled and my sister screamed and I flew, unthinking and unsliced, under that fence.
My brother David dove under the wire and ran to me, eyes the size of milk buckets. “It’s a miracle!” he shouted. “How’d you do it?”
I don’t know, but I do know no one ever tried it again. Miracles, we suspected, were like lightning bolts, they don’t strike the same place twice.
Several years later, when both brother Rich and I were on the farm after college, snow day afternoons often brought card games.
When that occurred, Rich and I partnered against Mom and Dad in red-hot games of pinochle, euchre or 500. We’d play until the light faded and the cows came home.
And when they did, Rich or Dad or I would join the ever-faithful Howard, our herdsman, in the dairy barn for the evening milking.
Now, as daylight fades on another snowy day decades later, I’m pretty sure that my two older brothers – one in southern Illinois, the other at a meeting in northern Georgia – looked out on the newly fallen snow where they were and one wondered how I survived the barbed-wire slicer and the other got a really strong itch to play euchre or 500.
I know I did.
The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.
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