Historically Speaking: Weather governed our lives and activities
Today with our modern vehicles, air-cooled homes, modern heating, efficient snow plows and snow blowers and stylish rain clothes, we certainly don’t need to pay too much attention to the weather as our parents and grandparents did years ago. We still may get stuck in a drift with our car or get a few sprinkles on us as we run from our cars to our destination.
Not so years ago. Of course we know that the farmer will always have to pay attention to the day’s weather; that will never change as long as we have farms and farmers.
However, in winter years ago we certainly cannot deny that the weather totally controlled our lives. Both the temperature and snow were the main culprits, although the wind was closely watched before outside activities such as sledding, skiing or tobogganing. There were times we skied to school and found the teacher not at school because of the weather. This meant a free day to play, but if the temperature was extremely cold, we had to settle for indoor games instead of our usual outdoor activities. If our road did not get plowed in a day or two we would have to help raid the underground root cellar for food to get us through until we could get into town for necessary groceries. We considered ourselves quite isolated at times during the long winters as the rural mail carrier could not complete his rounds if the roads were not plowed. This meant no daily paper or mail of any sort until the roads were passable.
In the spring when the warm weather started, we had to put our skis away and walk the “long” way to school as the river was not safe to cross and the sloughs and swamps were beginning to be a hazard. There were some wet feet and soggy clothes because we tried to make short cuts along our walk to school. The water overflowed the ditches along the roads, and the culverts could not handle the extra water and huge puddles on the country roads produced soft mud and slush. Clothes got splattered and wet feet were almost a daily occurrence.
Planting in the spring was governed by the Farmer’s Almanac and the warmth of the sun. The phases of the moon were recorded faithfully and various plantings were done according to the charts in the almanac. Spring rains meant summer was on its way, but also that outside activities would be halted somewhat. Rain gear was scarce for us kids but my father did have a raincoat (poncho) and hat because he had to work outside, rain or shine. During the summer, we had many severe dry spells and this meant hard work as we had to carry many pails of water from the river to the garden area. After a good rainstorm we had a welcome respite from this activity—until the next dry spell. When we could tell by the skies that a storm was coming, we would have to bring a supply of dry stove wood into the house, because the kitchen range was used every day for preparing meals and the wood box had to be full of dry wood.
Haying time needed good warm days for the cut hay to cure before it could be stored in the hayloft for winter use. If it would happen to rain on cut hay in the fields, we had to spread and toss the hay again after the rain so it could dry again and not get moldy. If hay that was not properly cured was packed into the hayloft, it would create an area of “bad” hay.
It seemed the fish in the river did not bite on our worms after a heavy rain, as the rain knocked many kinds of food into the water. So our fishing excursions were controlled somewhat by the rainy weather. Berry picking was not wise after a rainstorm as we’d get pretty soaked among the bushes and trees; we’d have to wait until the sun dried the leaves. The berries tended to get mushy and hard to handle, so our berry-picking trips would have to be on sunny days.
Laundry day was usually Monday, so a rainy Monday meant that all the clothes would be on the line for a day or two. My mother claimed that a good rain on her clean wash meant that the clothes would be softer and not so wrinkled. Mother did not have much time for her beloved handwork (knitting, embroidery, crocheting, making pillows) but on a rainy day when all her inside housework was done, she would indulge in her handwork projects. She was not a reader except for her women’s magazines and the daily newspaper. Rainy nights were filled with inside tasks for my father, such as sharpening his saws and repairing things in the house for the family, and of course, his very favorite pastime (when he could find free moments) of reading. And how well I remember his story-telling especially on evenings when we would have a severe thunderstorm. I think he was trying to distract me from my fear of storms, so his stories would all be woven around tales of past storms and how wonderful and awesome weather oddities were for all peoples, especially those who depended on the land for a living.
We never had to be concerned about too much rain or floods, but the Wisconsin River would get high after repeated heavy rains and the hardwood area along the river would be flooded. Then our cows had to graze in other pastures until the water receded.
Now back to today and today’s weather, I guess I had better mention the many picnics and golf outings that a sudden rainstorm has interrupted, but all in all, there are not too many activities today that a simple rainstorm can postpone or interrupt, Heavy snow in the winter is quickly and completely removed by modern equipment and with the four wheel drive cars and excellent tires our travel is much safer and faster. Air travel and weather conditions go hand in hand, as do hazardous icy road conditions. But soon the highways are cleared and most travel goes on. Heat in the summer seems to be under control by the use of air conditioners, fans, and central cooling systems. Only in extreme heat do we change our activities.
Aren’t you glad for all of the modern conveniences that help us enjoy each day? But still of course, we hear the phrase ‘weather permitting,’ just as in the days of yesteryear.