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Back of Beyond: A Memoir from the North Woods Chapter 4

BLIZZARD BIRTHDAY

“Quick, shut the door! Jean, wrap Colonel in that old sweater of mine and put him on your bed. The floors are too cold. Poor dog, no real fur to speak of,” Mother said as she unloaded brown grocery bags. “Anna Marie go see if you can help your father haul in those extra hunting clothes he brought along. I’m glad we got here before dark; it’s getting colder. This rain may turn to sleet or snow.”

Jean wrapped Colonel, her toy Boston bulldog in a torn green wool sweater and gently placed him at the foot of one of the beds. Colonel looked up at her with his bulging eyes, sighed and then snuggled into the warmth of the sweater.

The family had come north to the resort for the weekend of Anna Marie’s birthday in November 1940. Father wanted to bring extra clothing for the upcoming deer season, check the cabins and deposit paper sacks of coal briquettes for the wood and coal burning Heatrolas. For the first time, uncles (Father’s brothers and brother-in-law) and nephews would be deer hunting at the resort.

“Did you girls remember to bring Colonel’s leash?” Mother asked. “We can’t let him run loose in this cold rain. Besides, it’s getting dark.”

“Yup. I stuck it in the bottom of our suitcase,” Jean answered.

Anna Marie and Father struggled through the outside door, arms loaded, laughing and nearly out of breath.

“The wind is picking up,” Father observed. “Really strange out there. It’s been too warm for November. Temperature is dropping and it’s starting to sleet. Good thing I brought this coal. I turned the car around so it isn’t facing into the wind. Think I better go down to the light plant shed for a shovel and that big can of kerosene. You girls think you could bundle up, get some kindling and fire wood from under the cabin?”

Anna Marie stared at her father. She could tell from the seriousness of his voice that he was worried about something. But what? They were safe inside the cabin. Mother had made a fire in the Heatrola and the cabin was beginning to feel warm. The Skelgas cooking stove was also working perfectly and Mother’s homemade vegetable beef soup, prepared at home was simmering over a low flame.

“Well, if it snows the deer hunters will be happy. It’s so much easier tracking deer. Just think, Anna Marie you’re almost eight years old, getting so big. Soon you’ll be as tall as your sister,” Father said, leaving the room to attend to business outside.

“She is not! She’ll always be a shrimp,” Jean insisted. “Now girls, be nice. No arguing. Will one of you please set the table?” Mother asked. “Did I remember to bring the crackers for the soup? Go easy pouring the milk. We may run out. Before we eat, Jean take Colonel out for a short walk. Don’t go too far or you’ll get soaking wet. I wish the rain would stop.”

Jean and Father came in from the out of doors together. Colonel was nestled in Jean’s arms and shivering.

“You’re right, Marie the temperature is dropping. We’ll have snow for sure,” Father remarked, frowning at Mother as he spoke.

“Come on everyone. Let’s eat! Watch that kerosene lamp. Isn’t this cozy with the lamplight and a good hot supper?” Mother said.

“Are we going to home in time for my birthday?” Anna Marie asked.

“I doubt it,” Father said. “Depends on the weather. Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to be here at the lake for your birthday?”

“No! No birthday cake, no party, no friends, no presents, nothing.”

Tears started to sting Anna Marie’s eyes. “We’ll see,” Mother said through a smile.

After supper, Mother and Father played cribbage. Jean and Anna Marie sat with them at the kitchen table each absorbed in a library book. Logs in the Heatrola hissed and cracked. The yellowish light from the kerosene lamp on the table cast long shadows on the cabin walls and floor. There was a second lamp mounted on the wall in a holder that included a shiny metal back plate to reflect light.

“15-2, 15-4, 15-6, try and beat that,” Mother laughed. She was an excellent cribbage player.

“You win. I quit,” Father said, laying his cards down and lighting his pipe. “Best you put those books away until tomorrow. Lamp light isn’t too good for reading. It’s getting late. Time to turn in.”

The girls dressed in flannel pajamas and burrowed beneath warm green wool blankets. Outside the wind raced around the corners of the cabin. Anna Marie fell asleep to the sound of heavy rain falling on the cabin roof.

Then it was morning.

“Anna Marie come open your presents,” Mother called out from the kitchen.

“Do I get to open them now? I don’t even have to wait until supper?”

Anna Marie tore off the wrapping paper and was pleased to find new crayons, coloring books, a writing tablet and a new fairy tale book from her Aunt Mary in the pile of presents.

“Think you can find enough to do to keep busy?” Mother teased.

“Let me see,” Jean insisted as she sat down next to her sister. “Can I color too? Rip a page out of the coloring book. We can share the crayons. Maybe we should play school. I’ll be the teacher.”

The day passed. Mother had made chocolate cupcakes with white frosting at home and brought them north with the other food. Cupcakes were easier to take to the resort than a full-sized layer cake. For supper they had Anna Marie’s favorite: Roast beef with carrots, onions and oven browned potatoes topped with rich brown gravy.

The next day brought blowing and drifting snow. Father decided he should be the one to take Colonel outside. The path he had shoveled to the outhouse kept drifting over making walking difficult. On the night of the “Big Snow” as Father called the storm, he dug out his old harmonica from the pocket of his hunting pants. Time passed quickly. Old tunes from the Great War filled the cabin. Father’s foot thumped in time to the music. Mother sat in a rocker by the Heatrola crocheting. Colonel slept wrapped in the green sweater burrowed snuggly in a heap of hunting clothes. No one mentioned the weather. It was just there, pushing against the cabin with wild furry.

Each time someone opened the main cabin door the strong wind blew cold snow into the cabin through the screen door. The cabin seemed to be getting smaller in size, the walls pushing in from the inside while the howling wind and swirling snow pushed from the outside. All those inside gravitated towards the heat source, the reliable Heatrola. No one complained about being cold. They were warm, safe for now and there were four of them, not to mention the sleeping black and white dog. Father had thoughtfully loaded the trunk of his car with sacks of coal briquettes which were supposed to be used by the deer hunters a few weeks later. Every so often Father let his chair to peek out a frosty window, and when needed, tramp to the car to retrieve coal to be added to the wood already burning in the stove.

“This stove hasn’t cooled off since we got here. Anyone want a snack? I’ll peel some apples,” Father offered. “We should have brought popcorn,” he added as he stared at the blowing snow through a window.

“Just listen to that wind!” Mother said. “You girls warm enough? You know what? I think I may have a pair of small scissors in my purse. Maybe you want to use them,” Mother added.

“For what?” Anna Marie asked.

“We can make paper dolls,” Jean suggested. “How will we do that?”

“Out of drawing paper and the paper grocery bags Mother has saved.”

The paper doll project kept the girls busy all that evening and well into the next day. The snow continued to fall piling up around the cabin.

“Wouldn’t even pay to try to shovel,” Father advised as he opened the main door a smidgen. The slight crack to the outside world displayed snow clinging to the screen door. “The wind blows the snow right back in. The wind is strong. Can’t figure out where this storm came from. Sure was nice before this. We’ll have plenty of snow for deer hunting that’s for sure.”

Supper that night was bacon and eggs and slightly brown toast. Toast was difficult to make on the pyramid-shaped toaster that sat on the open flame of the stove burner.

All that night the wind howled. Sometimes big gusts of wind slammed against the three-room cabin walls. Snow infiltrated under the window frames from the force of the wind. Soon the lake would freeze, the first ice forming close to shore. Father had been lugging water by bucket from the lake but with the snow that would be difficult. A summer cabin was not much protection against a winter storm.

Anna Marie woke up early the next morning to the sound of….silence. No wind! The cabin was cool, the fire low in the grate. Father rose, made coffee and re-stoked the fire. Mother busied herself filling cereal bowls with Wheaties for everyone. She poured condensed milk into a large pitcher and added a little water.

“Try this on your cereal,” Mother said.

“Just a little,” Anna Marie replied. She was crabby. It was only 7:30am! “I can’t stand the taste.”

“Now hush Anna Marie,” Mother said.

Jean glared at her younger sister. Anna Marie was slouched over her cereal bowl.

“Quit being a baby.” “I’m not!”

“Are too.”

“Marie, the snow has stopped,” Father observed. “I think I’ll walk out to the highway. Maybe I can catch someone driving to town.”

“Driving? What do you mean? The roads are probably blocked.”

“I’ll give it a try. Where are my thick gray wool socks? You’ll be OK while I’m gone? Girls behave. No fighting. Stay in the cabin. It’s really cold out there.”

“Jack, eat something before you go. And pull your ear flaps down! Wish we’d remembered to bring the snowshoes.”

Father bundled up; first in long gray wool underwear; then wool trousers and shirt; and finally, his heavy read wool hunting coat. Tucked into a pocket of the jacket was his pipe and tobacco pouch. And yes, he did pull down the ear flaps on his black and red plaid wool hat.

Leaving the cabin, Father trudged past the Plymouth buried in snow, eventually making it onto the gravel access road. The snow was waist deep in places. Mother watched Father disappear.

Timber Wolf  Lodge is honored and excited to share the delightful book “Back Of Beyond” A Memoir from the North Woods. We will be sharing a new story in the blog from time-to-time.

 From Susanne Schuler’s memoir “Back of Beyond”.  Susanne’s family founded Timber Wolf Lodge over 70 years ago and her book recounts her childhood days growing up here.  

You can find her book on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Back-Beyond-Memoir-North-Woods/dp/0979217504 

2017-03-20T18:42:21+00:00 September 30th, 2016|Ely, Minnesota Travel & Tourism, Uncategorized|