A white Christmas – it’s a cultural heritage, even for those who never share it directly. Hawaii and Florida get their snow on TV and Christmas cards. Californians go to the mountains where the snow is cold and deep, then return home and string Christmas lights on their palm trees.
During my childhood, Oklahoma was on the border of the snowfall. We had snow, but it was rare and sparce; never fluffy, but hard and small like buckshot. We occassionally had no-school days because of snow, but not for reasons you could anticipate. An inch would fall during the night, accompanied by monster winds. Come morning, the fields would be blown brown and bare, and all that snow would be deposited in the roadways, trapped between the barbed wire fences on either side, three feet deep and impassible.
I do remember that the front yard was once covered with snow, an inch deep held up by the brown, dead grass. It was a chance to make my first snowman. I rolled snow for what seemed like hours and finally had stacked him up three feet high – a lumpy, anorexic figure with stick arms and nose, rock eyes, and a borrowed hat. Unfortunately, the whole yard was rolled bare to make my snowman.
Oklahoma in winter was brown everywhere – except where it was green. There were fallow fields, winter stripped trees, prairie grass pastures cropped close and brown by cattle, but there were also field of winter wheat. Planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, those fields were as green as Ireland throughout the winter. Our dairy cattle were grazed on winter wheat. It was a major boost to our income, but what green wheat did to their digestive output I won’t detail in a family friendly post.
For two thousand years, Christmas has been part of the agricultural cycle of the seasons. Even in the sixties, the seasons ruled our activities. In spring, we harvested winter planted crops and planted for the fall harvest. In summer, we bailed hay both commercially and for ourselves. The cattle were bred to drop calves in autumn. Through the summer they were mostly dry and needed little care, but they came into milk production just as the last fall harvest was over, and kept us working – and earning a living – through the long months of winter.
And it was work; and it was cold. The coldest I remember was five below, but zero was not uncommon. That might not seem like much, but come along for the ride.
Each day began about 4:30 when my dad opened the bedroom door and growled, “Get up!” in a voice you wouldn’t even consider not obeying. I would spend the next half hour crouched in the living room in front of the space heater putting on three layers of clothing, warming each piece individually. I don’t know why I bothered; the wind pierced to the skin within the first five seconds of leaving the house.
Morning milking took about three hours. Unlike the other seasons, I didn’t have to go get the cattle; they were waiting impatiently for the grain they would get while they were being milked. I won’t describe the process again (see post 47). The floor was concrete, deep frozen overnight, and the cold telegraphed up through thin boot soles all the way to your knees. At least when I had to walk outside, I didn’t sink; the mud-manure mixture was frozen to brown cement. When the milking was finished, my dad would drive out into the pasture to distribute hay while I stayed behind and washed up all the milking machines, strainers, and milk cans. Then it was a mad rush through breakfast and a bath (twice a day, every day, you can figure out why) in order to dress and catch the bus for school.
I loved school, and not just because I was scholarly by nature. It was warm inside.
Home in the afternoon, with an hour to do my homework, then out to the barn to do it all over again.
Every day, seven days a week, all winter. Including Christmas. More tomorrow.