I was born in December of 1976 in Cincinnati, a bare month before the Ohio River froze over.  My parents took me home to rural Ohio, and my Dad went back out on the road. That left Mom home alone with a newborn. In a blizzard.

The front part of our home was built in the mid 1860s. It’s just a very old brick farmhouse.That front area is just one big room with another room above it. (And the upstairs totally unheated.) The middle of the house was added in the 1920s and the back in the 1940s. All sturdy, yes, but poorly insulated.

It got very cold that year. First, Mom closed the upstairs door. Then, she shut off the front room by hanging blankets in the doorway, because the fire she could keep burning couldn’t compete with the drafts that blew down the chimney. Then, the oil line froze, and she hung more blankets between the middle room and the kitchen. The water  froze, even though she ran the pipes religiously. Finally, she was living with me on a little bit of gas heat run through an antique oven.

Besides the new baby, she had pets to take care of, and Mom’s dogs were her other children. She was low on everything, but she couldn’t get out for supplies. The car was frozen shut, and everything in the gas tank was probably iced solid anyway. She couldn’t call out, because the storm had taken out her phone lines. So she got by day to day melting snow on the stove and trying to figure out if she was going to have to walk to town in a blizzard with a new baby.

Then one day, while she was sitting at the kitchen table, a man came banging on the back door shouting “Anybody home?”

It was the mailman.

He hadn’t just stopped in randomly or due to the letter carrier’s creed taken to the nth  degree. My grandparents in Loiusville had sent in the rescue brigade. Frantic when they lost phone contact with Mom, they called down to Dave’s Grocery five miles away in Marathon. They asked if anybody had seen Mom. When nobody had, the grocers got the mailman involved.

I’m not sure what he was driving, and I know Mom didn’t have much to take with her, but he fit  my mother, newborn me, and both dogs into his vehicle. We stayed with him and his wife until my grandparents arrived in the camper to take us all home to Louisville for the remainder of the winter.They had already gathered in their relatively small home my great grandmother and her sister and another distant aunt of some variety before we arrived.

Whenever my grandmother told the story, she showed me the scratch marks on the door, where Mom’s golden retriever, Sissy, jumped up and demanded to be let out every morning. She shrilled her fears of what could have happened. She conveyed a sense of portentous fear.

When Mom told the story, it became an adventure. Not exactly thrilling or starring Errol Flynn, but not at all gloomy or frightening. Just one of those things we had to deal with to live in the country, with a cozy family gathering at the end. I liked Mom’s version better. I’m certain she made sure it felt safer. Because seriously, I grew up in that farmhouse. She didn’t want me worried about meeting my own ghost some January night. She didn’t want me frightened of the next blizzard.


I’m hooking this up with Story Dam’s weekly Dam Burst prompt which asked us to present a story about somebody stuck in the worst part of winter. I wouldn’t have had room for any fictionalized version, though I’m sure I have some details wrong.


22 thoughts on “Frozen

  1. This was a awful winter, as was 1977 when my first daughter was conceived. Jay and I were snow bound in our house and we were only able to get out by hanging on the back of a large tractor driven by my father-in-law. Snow drifted to 4 feet in out driveway blocking all traffic in or out. I quickly learned how to survive in the winter in the woods; plenty of animal food, tp, papertowels, NEW books to read, board games and easy meals. We all made it and it was an adventure. Thanks for the memories.

    • Note to readers:
      Their driveway HAD to have been two miles long. HAD TO.
      Said daughter went on to become my first ever friend, and she remains one of my best friends on the planet.

    • The funny thing is that I don’t think there was ever any doubt we’d be just fine. If she’d run out completely of something, she’d have put on six thousand layers, bundled me inside all of them, and walked it. In the negative awfuls. And been fine. I tell people my Mom is the last living hippie and they have NO idea what i mean until they meet her, at which point they stop in awe.

    • My husband and I are in Montgomery, Alabama. One of our favorite things down here? HARDLY ANY SNOW. We do miss being close to family and stuff, but I’m not sure we could ever live in a wintery climate again.

  2. Love that the town sent the mailman out to find ya’ll! I’ve got a grandmother up on a mountain in rural VT who just broke her wrist – she’s got her octogenarian neighbors driving out in their ATV’s to check on her every few days!

    • Marathon Ohio was population 50 back then, and I think it’s down to 25 now. I’m not even sure if it still has its own zip code any longer. Your grandmother sounds like my husband’s grandmother (another Vermonter) VERY independent!

  3. ’76 has been the standard bearer for every winter since! It went below freezing on January 2nd and stayed below ZERO for WEEKS! I remember being picked for work on a sunny day and taking my coat off – it was 2 degrees! After the water froze we had to haul it in by hand and I learned that certain wood burn hotter than others. Wonder what people would do if that happened today???? Back then we just dealt with it without the 24 hr talking heads. They would be calling it the end of the world for sure.
    Your mom always has had the ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – one of the reasons I love her so much!

  4. Wow — I can’t imagine what that must have been like for your mom! We had the heat go out and the pipes freeze one year, but since our house was only on 1/2 acre, other human beings were not far to go.

    • Mom’s house was on 33 acres. At that time, it was a rental, though she’s since bought it. (“My mother bought the farm” chanted to the tune of “Da Wabbit Kicked Da Bucket”) It’s five miles one way to Marathon and five miles the other way to nothing. If she had known them, she had neighbors about a mile away, and I think she’d have tried their house first. Now, she has some closer neighbors than that. I LOVED growing up like that. Now? Oh dear god give me a city. I don’t know what changed or when, but I don’t like to be more than 10 minutes from my grocery store these days.

  5. What an experience. I would have been terrified in that situation. Kudos to your mom for keeping a level,head and surviving!

    Great story

    • Mom is really one of the most creative people I know. I think the reason she never panicked is that it never crossed her mind that she might not survive walking five miles with a newborn and sixty layers of clothing. It was somewhere on the level of “Well that’s not going to be good” for her.

  6. Brandon and I lived on a farm, we were stranded out there our first winter together. We had heat, food, etc. I knew if we could survive being stuck in that tiny house together without wanting to kill each other, we’d make it through anything 😉
    And I’m glad you’re Grandparents sent out a ‘rescue party’, sounds like something my Grandparents would have done.

    Thanks for linking up!

    • They were SO connected to my Mom. To me, too for that matter. We had the weirdest communal experience when I was in grad school. My grandfather got sick in Florida, and my Mom and I both knew because of external things. It wasn’t like feelings or something weird. I heard a song that shouldn’t have been playing. I’ve forgotten what happened to her, but we both KNEW something was up. By the time I got ahold of her, she had gotten ahold of them and knew what was going on, but it was always like that with them.

  7. I think we’ve lost the survivalist attitude to a large extent now, which is a shame. We live in a country where there’s panic and meltdown everytime we get an inch of white/grey/brown stuff. The first winter my parents were in their then derelict cottage was a record winter too, tales of snow on the duvet and the last gas

    • Haha! I wondered what “last gas” meant! I had visions of a line poofing dry. I know I wouldn’t be half so competent as my mother in the same circumstances, that’s for sure.

For the love of Mike, TALK to me! (Concrit welcome on fiction)

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