This week’s extreme cold had me both worrying and thinking back, to a simpler time.
First, I worried about my two miniature horses who had no choice but to endure the frigid temperatures. When we had that first crazy drop in temperature in mid-November with an accompanying snowstorm, I found my smallest one — Georgie McLittle — shivering. That’s when the blankets came out. After that, both minis grew the thickest coats I’ve ever seen on any of the equines in my life. I took that as a warning that we would have extra cold days winter days ahead. This week, those pony predictions came true.
When I was young, my parents scoffed at our complaints. My mom said, “When I was growing up, we had to walk to school 3 miles uphill both ways in 3 feet of snow.” My six siblings and I would invariably hear about the famous "Knickerbocker" storm of 1922, which dumped over 29 inches of snow on Baltimore City where my mom lived as a child. Never mind that she was only 2 years old at the time, she recalled that storm as if she had total recall.
Both of my parents spoke of the freak Palm Sunday storm of March 29, 1942. The 22 inches of snow that fell snowed in cars and caused city bus ridership to spike, at least until cars were dug out of the piles of white plowed snow. My mom told us how the drifts piled against the doors of the house, so high that they could not be opened.
The nonstop howling of wind during the blizzards of my own childhood would cause me to cover my head with blankets and shiver, not so much from the cold, but from that scary sound. Our bedrooms were not heated well, so my siblings and I procrastinated about getting out of bed. Staying under piles of warm blankets was so much better than laying bare feet to cold linoleum floors. Storms like that literally shut down the community for a week or more. With no school in session, other things took precedent, like building snowmen and packing an indestructible path for sledding.
Kids don’t pack paths for sledding anymore. Light plastic saucers and toboggans glide on top of piled snow, but our old fashioned sleds with metal runners cut right through the snow and forced us to work for our fun. Oh, those beautiful Flexible Flyers with shiny wooden slats and metal runners painted red! We longed for one of our own, and then the hand-me-downs came from our cousins, who had outgrown sledding. We spent hours stomping down a path, heel to toe, heel to toe, packing the frozen snow to try out our two “new” Flexible Flyers. There was a short one and a longer one that held up to three kids sitting in a line.
The sledding path of my childhood ran through a giant cornfield, all the way down the hill to the bee-keepers pond at the bottom. When we finished packing, we carried buckets of sloshing water to pour over top. Influenced by howling winds and single digit temps, the water flash froze, making the trail — you guessed it — as slick as ice! We dried out and warmed up inside, waiting for dark, because sledding parties were always held after dinner and in the dark. The roaring fire at the top of the hill drew neighborhood kids like moths to a flame. We flew down the hill at speeds no child should be traveling at without helmets and protective gear, and invariably, someone always got hurt. But it was worth the risk. After all, school was out and storms like that only came along every few years.
While I remember snowstorms in an idyllic country setting, my husband, Dan recalls a different kind of snow. He grew up in a rowhouse just outside Baltimore City. His memories include up to 10 kids piling onto the scrap metal hood of a junked car to sail down the big hill at Sixth Street Park. He always ended up squashed on the bottom! Dan also remembers a mid-60s winter with temperatures so cold that the Chesapeake Bay froze. His grandmother lived on Stoney Creek, a wide tributary to the bay. That year, his dad and siblings walked on the ice all the way out to the Stoney Creek bridge. There they saw two teens driving a Volkswagen on the frozen waters of Stoney Creek.
“That was also the first time I saw seagulls carrying clams high into the air to drop them on the frozen ground and break them open,” Dan recalled.
Animals are uncanny, finding ways to survive in the worst of conditions, but in this kind of brutal cold, there is still reason to worry. All across the Midwest this past week, farmers worked extra hard to keep their animals thriving. My smart little minis — Georgie McLittle and Princess Hazel — stayed inside the barn through most of the cold snap. I was amazed to find them choosing to do their business outside. Usually, they trash their stall, but not a drop of manure could be found in the barn during the cold snap. I guess, if they had to live in there, they wanted it clean!
This week, according to the National Weather Service, nearly 90 million people experienced temperatures at or below zero in the Midwest and New England. Then, that cold found its way to us, with temperatures near 0 and wind chills below zero. Temps like that can cause frostbite in a less than a half hour. When body temperatures drop, hypothermia and heart attacks can happen, too — for humans and for animals.
I am grateful for our cold weather shelter, to churches who serve warm meals to the homeless, and laws that are meant to protect. I’m hoping everyone in the community gave their pets extra attention and got through this one unscathed. Here’s to warmer weather ahead!