MONDAY MEMOIR: BABY, IT’S COLD!

ALTON SCHOOL BUS BARLEY DARTS

It’s almost January here on our homestead.  And it will be cold.  I mean more than a little bit cold. It will be extremely cold.  The freeze your nostrils and eyelids-shut kind of cold.  The kind where you can spit snowflakes and cry icicles.   There will be -36.6 temperatures, without the wind chill reading.  Yes, you read that right.  Almost 70 degrees, below the freezing mark.  We’ll be at the point where most thermometers stop reading temperatures.  When that happens, just know that cold is cold and numb is numb.

On such days, Keith will be up at 4:00 am for a shower and breakfast.  He’ll put on layers of winter clothing and head outside.  He’ll mix up the pigs’ slop with hot water and give them extra-hearty portions.  Then Keith will add firewood to the stove.  Afterwards, he’ll start the truck.  Fortunately, it has an electric block heater.

Years ago, Keith’s grandfather Alton did not have it so easy.  He had to drain both the water and oil from his truck.  On cold nights, it was kept inside, by the fire.  A pan of hot coals was also placed under the truck’s motor.  Each morning the coals were refreshed, as the fluids were replaced and the truck was started.

Alton also drove the school bus back then, too.  Not only did the water and oil have to be drained and replaced, wood also had to be provided for the “heater”.  By “heater”, I mean the bus had a wood stove to keep the students from freezing.  Interestingly, Alton’s students didn’t burn the bus down or burn others.  In fact, some kids even tended the fire.  They were living in the days of common sense.  Alas, these are the days of nonsense and lawsuits…

Last year, I read a Facebook post from a school bus driver, in a nearby town.  The driver was concerned for her students.  She said she would not take any student who did not have a winter coat, hat, and gloves.  She also said some kids needed snow pants, too.  Most parents agreed with the bus driver.  In fact, they were angry at parents that neglect their children.  Some were more empathetic.  They offered to help these children and parents.

Unfortunately, there was also one that was blind with rage.  How dare the bus driver tell this mother how to dress her children!  She had the right to dress her kids however she wanted!   The bus driver had no right to keep her kids off the bus!  This woman demanded and shouted her rights in anger.  She ignored the rights of her children.  She ignored the rights of the bus driver.  She ignored the risks of frostbite or worse.  Such parents make me shake.  Such thoughts make me shiver.

Honestly, on such extremely cold mornings, I just want to stay in bed.  I long to snuggle deep within the warm embrace of our blankets.  I want to remain there; all day.  Instead, I will write at a desktop computer, in the dark.  As I find a rhythm to my keystrokes, minutes and then hours will fly by.  When a glare covers the computer screen, I will realize I have missed the sun rise.  It will be low this time of year.  It will rise more southeast than east and set more southwest than west.  When it caresses my right shoulder, it will be fleeting.  Then the sun will rise above our south windows.  Afterwards, I will prepare for the great outdoors.

As I exit the house, I will be awestruck by a frozen world.  I will have never seen a more intense, true-blue sky.  Every tree and pasture will be richly blanketed in snow.  The silence will be deafening.  It will seem so holy.  I will find myself trying to walk softer.  And each crunch and squeak through the snow will sound blasphemous.

The pigs will greet the day with reverence.  Instead of loud squeals, there will be murmurs.  They will exit their shelters of deep bedding, quietly.  Each will stretch and I will be greeted by long yawns.  As they exhale, tiny clouds will form around their snouts.  Yet, they won’t be anxious, whiny, or frozen.  Since pigs cannot sweat, they retain their warmth quiet well.  Even without fur, heat (not cold), is the greater danger to pigs.  More hay will be offered and it will be sampled.  Shortly afterwards, they will retreat to the warmth of their communal beds.  Meanwhile, I will continue my rounds.

I will find the horses packed together, eating from their hay bale.  I will be pleased to see that their winter coats have grown quite dense.  Steam will be rolling off their backs.  Unfortunately, their manes and tails will be knotted and tangled; a grooming project for warmer days.  The cow, heifer, and bull calf will be bedded down alongside their bale ring.  Their eyes will be shut, as they chew cud and bask in the sun.

The goats will hear me coming and stick their heads out of their shelter.  They are “fur endowed royalty”.  Each will offer a cheerful greeting, but then snub me.  It’s their way of telling me they will not come out to eat their breakfast.  Yet, I will not worry.  They will be not hungry.  They will have been snacking on their fresh bedding, instead.

The chickens, ducks, and turkeys will have been up for hours.  They will have eaten from their oat dispensers and want their morning treat.  I will scatter cooked squash and there will be a mad scramble.  In between feet and feathers, I will find their water bowl.  Ice will be stomped out of the rubber pan and fresh, warm water will be added.  They will all drink with gusto.  Meanwhile, the cats will remind me to feed them, too.  Eventually, they’ll be rewarded with a warm meal of milk gravy.  Next, they will lick both their bowls and paws clean.  Then they’ll rub against my legs in gratitude.  Afterwards, I will put away feed buckets.

Inevitably, the holy silence that surrounded me will be shattered.  Sometimes it will be a loud POP from the ground heaving.  Other times, it will be BOOM from a tree trunk, exploding in the distance.  Yep, it will be that cold and honestly, I will be cold, too.  Despite my winter gear, I won’t be able to feel my nose.  My ears and fingers will go numb, too.  Even my teeth will chatter.  And as I head inside my warm home, I will wrestle with cold, cruel reality.

Humans can be so cold-hearted.  And there are those whose brains have frozen, as well…  Somewhere nearby, a child will be left outside without shelter, coat, hat, and gloves.  At the same time, there will be a pampered pooch, inside a people shelter.  It will be dressed in a $40 sweater, $88 coat, and $60 thermal boots.  Alas, blood can run cold, too.

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