Long ago and not so far away, people in North Dakota relied on their instincts regarding winter weather. Sure, there were weather reports, but rural folks became familiar with the land they farm, microclimates, and, most importantly, the sky. I am a "sky watcher."
To this day, I still get teased about my watchful weather eye relying on folklore and my eyesight to determine the weather. My husband is one of those nonbelievers.
My first job out of college was a year or so, at Dierk's Printing in Moorhead, Minn. Art Dierk Sr. used to greet me in the morning singing, "Oh, the hens in Gackle will cackle tonight." (That should give you some indication of where I graduated from high school.)
Then, he would ask me about the weather having the utmost respect for my instincts, whether right or wrong. If you took today's weather reports and matched them to mine, I would say I was correct more often than they.
Of course, weather reports back then did not necessarily predict the weather days in advance. I prefer that to the long-winded usually never happens weather reports of today. Don't get me started on things like wind chill and naming blizzards. Sometimes it is best not to know these things keeping in mind you must dress for winter when it's winter and use some common sense.
This story happened before the age of cell phones. That's correct; if you were stranded in the middle of winter, alone, in a car, without proper clothing, you were most certainly in trouble. So, like the boy scouts when I traveled for my on-the-road art job, I always carried "a winter survival kit."
Adam traveled to many places as my sidekick in his middle school years. When planning one such journey, my son became concerned about my well-being in the winter. He was a great traveler that required only a Subway sandwich once a day to remain content. Before I left, he put a brown-colored Gourmet Supreme Folger's coffee can in my van. PLEASE NOTE, youngsters, that not only did we not have cell phones back then, but Folger's came in metal cans requiring a can opener. There was a plastic lid included to keep those grounds fresh after opening. Oh, the best part of waking up.
Inside this can were several mini-Snickers bars, stick matches, small pieces of notepaper, pencils, two candles and a note. If you read this column regularly, you guessed it – I still have that note. I also have that can with its contents.
The note reads (in middle-school cursive pencil): "Mom, I hope you survive. I "heart" you a lot. Draw me a picture."
The note, the can, the candles all form memories for a mom-turned-grandmother. My days of traveling as an artist, the young children I raised during quiet trips without cell phones, and the superb winter storms of my youth are lovely memories. My "heart" aches for those days.
Yes, we still have winter weather, and people continue to venture out when they shouldn't drive on icy roads with wind chills well below zero, but not as often I remember.
Maybe I should not have tried to drive that week to my appointed destination. But a commitment is a commitment, and I have faith that my precious can with that "heart" warming note would have saved my life. Stay safe out there. The January thaw more than likely ends this weekend.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.