Once. Maybe twice a year. That was normally the number of times the Hallelujah Chorus echoed through our house following our mother’s announcement, “No school today!” She would have heard it on KWAT, Watertown, the designated radio station for local weather-related cancellations.
A snow day did not happen very often back then in rural South Dakota. It was difficult to get the word out, and someone was bound to show up at the schoolhouse. Some people in our parents’ generation were needed to help on the farm; they were not allowed to finish school, so their children’s education was top priority. Regardless of the reasons, when we were kids, neither snow, nor rain, nor heat kept us from our appointed duty, getting to school.
In the early years, Deloris, Donald and Darlene trekked a mile and a half to Rose Hill District #12 Country School. In good weather they walked, but wild winter winds and sizable snow drifts made travel difficult for little legs. From the nooks and crannies of their minds, my sisters Darlene and Deloris recall cozy commutes in an unconventional cart. Dad removed the wheels from a wooden grain trailer and hitched Bud and Riley to the front. An old tarp over the top kept out wind and snow. Mom heated rocks in the cook stove and wrapped them and her three school-aged youngsters in blankets and rugs for the ride. Though the drive was a bit frosty for the horses and driver, the children thought it was great fun.
A few years later buses transported the six of us to public school at Erwin. Blizzards blocked gravel roads, but county snow plows opened the main highways. Dorothy remembers riding on the flat bed in a hay bale shelter. With his John Deere 730, Dad maneuvered the hay rack over the snowy gravel roads to the main highway a mile and a half north. There we waited until bus driver Clarence pulled over and cranked open the folding door for us.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and farmers are good inventors. Our farm pickup had only two-wheel drive. So, when we needed to get to school and the roads were packed with snow and ice, Don and Delmer helped Dad put chains on the tires and load a dozen hay bales in the back for weight. With the added accessories, the old pickup plowed through snowy roads like a team of huskies on the Iditarod.
No innovation could beat the blizzards of ’68. I was the only one left at home and had just begun my freshman year at De Smet. Heavy snows came early, much like in The Long Winter. Even the main highways shrunk to narrow cuts with six-foot snow walls looming on both sides. At night 20 mph winds drifted them shut, making the roads impassable almost daily. Schools struggled to remain open.
Finally, the school board came up with a plan: bring the students to town. Some of us stayed with relatives, but many De Smet residents graciously opened their homes to families from the outlying area, including Bancroft. For several wintery months, we became town kids. I remember thinking, “This is the life!” No chores, and I could walk to a friend’s house in five minutes. Soon the novelty wore off, however, and I could not wait for the weekends when the weather allowed me to go home to the farm.
Yes, life was different when you lived in the country, especially on Snow Days. Delmer recalls those mornings and how excited some of us were. A fun day at home. No classes, no books, no school. After enjoying Mom’s hearty breakfast, he bundled into warm coveralls, coat, two pairs of gloves and a cap with ear flaps. Grabbing a snow shovel he headed out into the bitter wind that was still laced with snow crystals.
Meanwhile, back in the house, Mom decided it was a good day for the girls to do some extra dusting. A couple of batches of cookies and cinnamon rolls would be good. The men would need something warm when they came in for a break. Milk for hot cocoa warmed on the back burner of the cook stove.
There were no snow blowers then, so while Delmer shoveled by hand, Dad and Don spent most of a Snow Day on the cabless tractor, using the loader to scoop snow and haul it to growing piles. The yard had to be cleared for vehicles. The cattle needed open space to eat hay and a walkway to the feeders.
Delmer with his trusty shovel scooped snow to create paths to the henhouse and all the outbuildings. He cleared openings to the barnyard gates and made the doorways accessible for chores. After a few hours, fingers feeling frozen and arms and back aching, the boy wondered why he had been so happy that morning over a Snow Day. By three o’clock that afternoon, feet and shovel dragging, my brother was thinking maybe he would rather be in school.
Mom’s Hot Cocoa
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
9 cups top milk
1 tsp vanilla
In large kettle, combine sugar, cocoa and 1 cup milk. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil Cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add remaining milk and heat, but do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Serve hot with marshmallows.
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of five books, "Promises to Keep," all of which are available at Amazon.com.