By Rebecca Price Janney, Jan 4 2018 04:12PM
Today in the Philadelphia area a “high impact” storm is moving through, which includes wind-driven cold with total snow accumulations of 4 to 7 inches. All schools are closed. Driving is treacherous. The storm even has a name—Grayson. I’ve read about ice and snow in Florida, of all places! My friend, who is vacationing in New England, says they’re expecting upwards of 20 inches, along with high winds.
As I sit snug in my centrally-heated home with no place I need to get to today (sorry, gym, but I’ll have to postpone my work out), my mind goes back to a terrible winter many years ago. I wrote about this event in Great Women in American History back in the 1990s, but the memory of the account has lingered all this time. Today I’d like to share an excerpt with you, to provide perspective on our present situation, and to encourage you.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of America’s most beloved authors, the writer of the Little House on the Prairie tales of growing up on the frontier in the latter part of the 19th century. In this particular story, her family’s very survival was at stake during an especially perilous winter.
Thirteen-year-old Laura Ingalls strained to read her school book in the half-hearted light of the day. The blizzard of 1880-81 raged outside as if nature had pulled a shade on the sun.
“Ma, couldn’t I please go out for a few minutes?” Laura begged. Bored and restless, she’d been cooped up for days. Although she read, sang, and memorized Bible verses to pass the time, the teenager yearned to stretch her muscles and breathe fresh air.
“No one is going outside in this, young lady.” Caroline Ingalls spoke sternly. She knew about people who, during other blizzards, had frozen to death between their barns and their cabins due to poor visibility.
Laura sighed. “May I at least have a little more kerosene for the lamp, then?”
“I’m sorry,” her mother said gently. She hated to keep saying “no.” “We have to conserve everything.”
Charles Ingalls nodded. “We can’t keep the snow off the tracks long enough for the trains to get through with supplies. I’ve also just heard that the stores in town are running out of everything. We have to make all our reserves last if. . .” He didn’t add the last part of the sentence: “if we’re going to survive.” Everyone knew what he meant.
Fiendish blizzards lashed DeSmet in the Dakota Territory all winter long, creating snow drifts that rose to forty feet. No one went to school or church. The trains didn’t make it in time to bring material Christmas cheer, but the tiny community quietly celebrated their vital faith in God, a faith that sustained them until May, when the first trains finally made it through.