How cold was it?

An old friend stands more than 8,000 feet tall.It snowed a couple nights ago. Road crews were out trying to make the roads unslippery. I met a former co-worker grocery shopping and mentioned I hadn’t yet pulled out my snowthrower or even a snow shovel. Where he lives, he said, a borough ordinance requires him to shovel snow – even when the wind would blow it away quicker and cleaner – from his sidewalk.

I once lived where there were no ordinances requiring that I keep my sidewalk cleared. Of course, I had no sidewalk. Winters when the need to shovel snow was indicated by snow piled up, 24 or more inches at a time, outside the kitchen door.

We lived out in the woods, at the edge of a town so small the “Welcome to” and “Come Back Soon” signs were on the same two-by-four. We’d have used a four-by-four, but the year the expense was slated for the town’s budget, there was only enough money for the smaller post.

Our two snowplow drivers didn’t even fire up their trucks until three inches had accumulated on the ground and more was falling. An inch of snowfall an hour was no big deal, although, since each half of the town took about six hours to plow – longer if the white stuff had piled high on some of the side roads – there could be significant snow piled up by the time the plow came by on another trip.

One year, so the story goes, the snow was falling so fiercely that by the time Jack reached the mid-point of his route, he couldn’t tell where the snow banks ended and the drifts began. He’d plowed a quarter mile into a farmer’s lower pasture before he realized the road had bent to the left and he hadn’t.

We drew our water from a well with a hand pump. Inside the pump was a glass sleeve and a leather gasket. If one didn’t drain the pump after each use, the water would freeze and break the glass, requiring purchase of a new pump. Thus one had to prime the pump – pour a teapot of hot water into the water chamber – and start working the handle like crazy until it started pulling the precious liquid from the 20-foot hand dug well.

At night, which came early during the cold season, one carried a lantern with the tea kettle, and a pail to carry water back to the kitchen where it was used for cooking, drinking, and bathing – the latter on Saturday night, when the water the eldest child hauled from the pump would be heated and poured into a Number Three washtub and children prepared for Sunday morning Mass.

We joked that we had running water, just like in town. how fast it ran depended on the speed of the duty water carrier. If one walked too slowly, ice sometimes would form on the pail before the young carrier would get back to the kitchen. On bath night, more running was necessary to get back to the pump before it froze and, if one was lucky, had to be reprimed to collect enough water to bathe all three siblings.

How cold was it? It was so cold the lantern had to be set behind the wood stove for 20 minutes before the flame was warm enough to blow out.

I have to admit, last week it was wicked cold in Adams County – though not quite cold enough to freeze a lantern flame.

Though the TV weatherman says we may get another chance next week.

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