December 15th…“WHAT DID YOUR PARENTS DO TO PREPARE YOUR FARM AND FARM HOME FOR WINTER THERE IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA?”
Sagaciously savvy to the wicked ways of winter’s weather, our stalwart parents were steeled against whatever Jack Frost and his hordes could dish out. Having gleaned winter survival tactics since 1918 and 1919, Russell and Clarice Noorlun both grew up in Norwegian families that acquired the will to survive and thrive in the white hinter-world of connecting the dots and seeing the continuum of daily activities carry on in farm life. No matter what white wildness was cast in their directions, our parents had procured the strength and forethought to prepare for what frightful frigidity inevitably would transpire anytime between late October and what felt to them to be a millennia until winter’s spell was again broken by the relentless warming of spring.
Naked tree limbs, surrounding my childhood home, reflected the overall naked world in winter that had been stripped of all cover, color and warmth. Most birds flew south to escape the bleak months ahead. Various wild animals burrowed deep below the frost line and settled down for a long hibernation to escape the killing cold. For us human beings, it was layers upon layers of clothing and stoking furnaces or fireplaces to make our abodes more hospitable while white rage swirled around us outdoors.
We Noorlun children were the grateful inheritors of our father and mother’s wisdom when it came to securing a warm home for our family to be cozy within each winter. One way our parents showed how to maintain warmth within our home was to create multiple rows of straw bales and pack them tightly around the base of our exterior house walls. This helped to shield our home’s water pipes from freezing in what often were drops in temperatures from zero degrees to as much as 30 below zero.
With storm windows battened down tight and straw-bales in place, the next phase of protection of life and family was laying in a supply of fuel oil for our furnace that warmed the home and also our hearts. My little sister and I both recall a coal bin down in our root-cellar (called a basement nowadays) for supplemental heating, if necessary. Our parents even burned corn cobs in the kitchen stove back in the days when our corn harvest was “shelled” right there in our yard resulting in a mountain of corn cobs to use as a fuel for our stove. Vital to our surviving comfort was a single oil-fired furnace in the Living Room and our combination wood and propane stove in the Kitchen. No fancy duct-works or blower fan systems, it was just simple emanating heat that radiated from the furnace and stove outwardly to us. That was it, for heating our home. The only way the two upstairs bedrooms received any heat at all was from an open metal grating in the ceiling of the Living Room. Since heat rises, some of that heat from the furnace would meander upstairs to our bedrooms…..very little as it was. To keep our fuel supply nearby, our farmer father would use a tractor to pull a wagon load of coal or wood right up next to the house. That way, it was easier to fill the coal scuttle and/or wood bin directly from the wagon or shovel the commodities through the root-cellar window at ground level and store it in respective bins in the cellar.
With the tenacity and grit of a Marine attacking the beaches, our father, Russell “manned the guns” of attacking the enemy called “COLD” that invaded our other farm buildings each Winter. With his immediate family now safely warm inside our home, Dad had to be sure his animal “family” were cared for also. Oftentimes, our father’s blowtorch had to be fired up to thaw frozen water pipes in our barn so thirsty cows and livestock could stay hydrated in the cold weather. But, one Winter, Dad was dealt an almost deadly blow by Old Man Winter, himself. We lost all electrical power!!! So, even if he COULD thaw water pipes with his blowtorch , there was no electricity to pump the water.
To solve the immediate crisis of watering our animals, Dad called me over to him and said, “Elliott, I need your help loading these empty milk cans onto the “lowboy” hog trailer.” “We’re going down to Brush Creek for water.” Riding on the “lowboy” trailer (that operated only a foot or so off the ground) with the milk cans, Dad pulled us with his tractor down the snowy gravel road to the bridge that crossed over frozen Brush Creek. Upon arrival at the bridge, our father took his axe and slid down the embankment to the frozen creek’s edge. As he made his way down the slippery slope, I tied a rope to the wire bail of a five gallon bucket and lowered the bucket to Dad below. With flailing axe, our patriarch eventually pierced the ice and broke through to the water beneath. Trading places, father came up to the wagon on the bridge while I went to the icy water’s edge and dipped the bucket into the water. Up, up, up he pulled the rope and the bucket went to the bridge level where Dad began filling the milk cans for watering our animals.
Dad knew that if this crisis went on for too many days, lifting countless water buckets up from the hole in our creek would be rigorous torture of his arm muscles over time. It was then that a light-bulb went on in our Norwegian daddy’s head. The widow of a neighboring farmer, Mrs. Faith Parks, possessed the royal blessing of a year-round artesian well that bubbled forth a tasty continuous flow of delicious water. Back at our farm home, Dad picked up the party-line phone receiver (making sure not to interrupt someone’s conversation) and gave Faith a phone call. She graciously gave us permission to visit her farm for our water needs. The Parks farm was just a wee bit more distance of a tractor drive to their farm property and so we drove the extra mile to the Parks family artesian well and helped ourselves to as much flowing water as needed to fill our milk cans and water our animals. Mrs. Parks truly saved the day for us all!
We are so spoiled by the modern conveniences of today’s world. As one of the four offspring of our wonderful parents, there will always be a grateful heart inside of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.