by Roger Poppen
Sitting around my parents' breakfast table, we were talking about springtime. Dad was looking forward to trying the upside-down tomato planter I'd given him for his nintieth birthday. It was February in North Carolina and the weather forecast said sixty-five degrees and sunny. I remarked that, nice as spring was, you needed a cold winter to really appreciate it.
Dad said, "I remember one winter when I was a boy on the farm in South Dakota. There was six, eight weeks when the temperature never got above zero." He stared off through the kitchen window. All that could be seen was the pale green siding of the retirement cottage next door, but he wasn't looking at the house. "One night, there was a snowstorm," he said.
He described the wind howling out of the north as though it would lift the roof off their farmhouse, driving ice-hard flakes like buckshot at the windowpanes. The next morning was the kind where you put your clothes on under the covers before getting out of bed, the kind of morning where the water was frozen solid in the pitcher in the washbasin on the nightstand.
Bundled in a thick fleecy jacket, woolen mittens and scarf his mother had knitted, cap with earflaps, and heavy boots, he set out to do his morning chores just as the sun edged over the horizon. The blanket of snow lay smooth and unbroken, mounded over fences and outbuildings, and stretching flat over the prairie to the west like a silent ocean reaching to the edge of the planet. The orange rim of the sun cast deep blue shadows and lit the eastern sky in a pinkish glow. The air was still as a frozen crystal. Dad said, "It was the most beautiful sight I've ever seen." The thermometer read forty below.
He trudged through waist-deep drifts to the barn to care for the animals. His father worked the farm with horses and mules, believing there was no sense in hauling grain to town and selling it to buy gasoline for a tractor. It was simpler to keep it home and feed it to the draft animals.
The air inside the barn felt warm, smelling of hay and manure and old leather. He lit the kerosene lantern and the animals stamped expectantly, mooing and whinnying their greetings. The back walls of their stalls were rimed with frost like a reflective movie screen, and their shadows swung eerily as the lantern swayed on its hook.
Returning to the house was harder than the trip to the barn. He carried two buckets of milk, steam rising from their covers. He had worked up a sweat pitching hay and shoveling manure, and he hurried before the cold penetrated to his skin. The sun had fully risen and the blue fields of dawn now glared with blinding whiteness.
Dad took a sip of coffee and smiled. "I've had enough cold winters," he said. "I'll always appreciate springtime."
Roger took up creative writing after retiring as a professor of behavior analysis. He finds making up people easier than dealing with real ones. He has published one novel, Mister Lucky, and several shorter pieces in online literary magazines. You may read more of his work at http://mypage.siu.edu/drrock. Contact Roger.