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February 9, 1951

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February 9, 1951

Ed DeMattia

Mildred Beebe didn’t hear the scratchy voice on the kitchen radio warn of the blizzard. She knew, though, that the weather was changing by the weariness she felt. She shooed the few chickens into their coop, gathered the eggs, and shut the big barn door. Mildred looked up the lane to the gravel road, expecting at any minute to see Levi, the blacksmith’s son, with his wagonload of stove wood. He was uncharacteristically late this time. The dwindling stack on the porch would last another day, she hoped.

Although the 45 degree temperature gave this rainy February day a spring-like feel, Mildred was troubled. The southerly breeze was swinging around to the northeast, and the temperature was dropping. Mildred moved the remaining few pieces of wood into the kitchen by the stove.

By afternoon, the temperature had dropped rapidly, and the wind was gusting over 40 miles per hour. Mildred’s ankle was swollen, and the area below the skin was turning black. She couldn’t remember spraining it, but she couldn’t remember details anymore.

The old house was damp, and the woodstove wasn’t firing like it used to. Mildred decided she would ask Levi to check it for her. The rain and fog became sleet, and the whistling wind became growling gusts that drove ice pellets into the windows like BBs. Mildred pulled the sofa over nearer the stove and tried to nap, but the storm made her too anxious. The little sudden noises tore at her nerves, and she thought she heard the jangling of Levi’s wagon harness, but it was only a loose chain on the hay conveyor.

As Mildred finally slept, sleet turned to snow. Daylight revealed that more than a foot had fallen, dragging down the spruce branches in the yard. Mildred threw the last of the sticks into the fire, and put the coffee pot on. The burbling of the percolator and the aroma of the brew would calm her for a while. She switched on the radio for the Farm Report, the first show of the day, to listen to the rural news and weather, but there was only static. Maybe the announcer was late. Mildred tried to keep busy in the house, but she kept looking for Levi. As the morning progressed and the snow kept falling, Mildred realized that he might not come after all. She also realized that the snow was piling up around the house, up to the windowsill already. The house was groaning under the assault by the wind, and snow was sifting through the drafty window frames.

Mildred dragged the maple dining chairs into the kitchen, and chopped them up with her hatchet. The varnished wood stank in the fire, singeing her nostrils, but she had no other choice. Mildred began to worry. In the dozen years since her husband had died, she could not recall a blizzard like this one. She began to feel an ominous chill that the stove couldn’t offset. The outside thermometer was nearing zero. The light bulb in the kitchen flickered, dimmed, and went off. Mildred lit one of her candles, and retreated to her sofa. Darkness was creeping across the floor toward her like a stalking cat.

The morning of the third day brought temperatures near 20 below. Mildred was exhausted. What had been a fire was just glowing coals now. She couldn’t stand the cold any longer. Her breath created clouds in the frigid room. The windows were blocked with snow. She dared not open the door. She realized the snow was far too deep for her to get out. Panic set in, and Mildred became strong and clear-headed. She pulled the parlor door out of its pocket, and attacked it with the hatchet. She dragged the pieces to the stove, and the large ones she piled on the floor. She placed papers and old clothes on the pile, and threw a pan of coals on top. As the papers began to smoke, Mildred gathered her Bible and the old family picture album, and wrapped herself in her quilt. She lay her old aching body on the sofa, and waited.