PARENTING

Winter is Coming

My maternal ancestors were homesteaders. They traveled across oceans and prairies, mountains and rivers, and settled in Canada, Northern Wisconsin, and ultimately North Dakota. Growing up, one of my favorite books was My Prairie Year, a picture book with pencil sketches that tells the true story of one year in the life of a girl growing up in the prairie: canning foods, hanging out the wash to dry, tying string from the house to the barn during a blizzard so the path wouldn’t be lost in the mountains of snow. You know, the usual.

my prairie year

To be totally honest, there is little to connect me to the life of a homesteader. I got excited last night because I managed to make a crockpot dinner, which I believe was delicious, with only five minutes of prep. I literally dumped items into the top, put in some thawed chicken thighs, and then picked up my screaming son, who was of the opinion that five minutes not in my arms was five minutes too long.

But I think about my homesteading great great grandparents, especially as the weather turns from crisp to frigid. I remember visiting my grandmother one Thanksgiving a decade ago. We had eaten too much, so I decided to go for a walk. My mom had talked about being young in North Dakota, the wind cutting through you like a knife, and a Minnesota native, I believed I knew what she meant. I didn’t. Bent at a forty five degree angle, pushing with all my power, I managed to walk to the edge of town, probably only due to the houses breaking up the wind. Once I hit the farm land, game over. I nearly had to crawl on hands and knees to get back to my grandma’s home.

I wonder what it was like to fear the coming of this intense cold, no houses to break up the wind? What was it like to watch the dying of all vegetation, hoping and praying you had planted enough tomatoes and onions to get through the whole of winter? Did we harvest enough? Did we preserve enough? Will we last until February? Will we see the first bud of the next spring?

I wonder, and I know. Because I ask the same questions myself this year. I have a Costco a mile from my house, and my survival needs are met, but it is this time of year that I wonder if I have stored enough to get me through the cold. It’s this time of year when the stark, bare trees and snow turned crusty and charcoal from car exhaust turns me thinking inward, wondering whether I’ve planted enough sunshine, goodness, and love to endure not weeks, but months of gray, gray, gray.

I could move. I suppose the homesteaders could have, too. There are places the sun never leaves, the plants always grow. But despite the fear of the shortening days, and the quieting of colors, I’ve also grown to anticipate this emptying. I’ve learned to prepare for it, maybe in the way of my great, great, great grandmothers, spending autumn soaking up the rich red and gold of the trees, eating freshly picked apples and tomatoes still warm from the sun, taking long walks in perfect sweatshirt weather with the desperation that only comes from knowing that the days are numbered and few.

And then, to quote Alice Walker, comes the time to live frugally on surprise.

frugally

It’s that time of year for me now. Today is gray, and I can’t remember the last time the sun peeked out. And as much as I’ve anticipated the emptying, when it happens all I want to do is spend my days curled in bed, hibernating for winter’s end. It’s the time of year when it seems certifiably insane that anyone ever stopped a covered wagon in this place and thought to themselves, “Here. This is far enough.”

And then, like discovering a shelf of forgotten canned produce, comes a surprise.

A kiss from my husband after a long day at work, the outstretched arms and sleepy grin from my son when I wake up in the morning. A compliment from a colleague, a phone call from a dear friend, the right song at the right time, a warm bath, a beautiful poem.

One such poem was sent to me by my father several months ago, and I pulled it out today, a jar of preserved tomatoes, and savored it’s words again, knowing that I needed the sustenance more today than I did in the summer when it was first sent.

DSC_8884

One Good Thing

It’s been a dead parade
of hours since 5 AM
a march of the bland
with the meaningless and
I can think of nothing
I have done to merit
mentioning or
remembering.

But now, at 8 pm,
I am bathing my son
in a tub filled with bubbles
and blue battleships,
the soapy water over
his Irish white skin
makes him glisten
like a glazed doughnut

and I should tell him
to stop splashing
but this is the first time
all day I have felt like living
so how can I scold
my boy who’s found joy
in something ordinary
as water? And when

I wash his hair
with Buzz Lightyear
shampoo, Liam
closes his eyes and
smiles like a puppy
being petted as I massage
the sweet lotion into
his red curls and I know

this is one good thing
I have done with my life
this day that has waited
for this moment
of water on my sleeve
and soap on my nose
to turn emptiness
into ecstasy.

…Edwin Romond

And that poem may not be enough to get me through all of winter. But it’s enough for today.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

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