Shelter: NaPoWriMo 2019, Day 10



On the prairies of Dakota, 
weather often came with exclamation marks.
My father’s forehead was ringed like an old tree,
white from above his eyebrows to his fast-retreating hairline,
from his hat pulled low to guard from every vagary of weather.
“It’s hot as the hubs of Hell!” he’d exclaim as he sank into his chair at noon,
sweeping his hat from his head to mop his brow.
A nap after lunch, then Mack’s Cafe for coffee with his friends,
then back to work in the field until dark, some days.

Those long Julys, we kids strung tents across the clothes lines in the back yard
or lazed under cherry trees,
no labors more strenuous than wiping the dishes
or dusting the bookshelves in the living room.
Books were our pleasure during those long hot summers:
our mother on the divan, my sisters and I on beds in dormered rooms
with windows open to catch infrequent breezes,
or deep beneath the veils of the weeping willow tree.

“Cold as a witch’s teat in January!” was as close to swearing 
as I ever heard my dad get, November through March, stomping the snow off rubber
overboots in the garage, tracking snow from his cuffs through the mudroom/laundry.
Cold curled like Medusa’s ringlets off his body. We learned to avoid his hands,
red with winter, nearly frozen inside his buckskin gloves.
His broad-brimmed hat, steaming near the fireplace
as we gathered around the big formica table in the dining room.
Huge beef roasts from our own cattle, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Always a lettuce salad and dessert. The noon meal was “dinner”—main meal of the day.
Necessary for a farmer/rancher who had a full day’s work still ahead of him.

Our weather was announced by our father
with more color than the radio weather report.

Spring was declared by his, “Raining cats and dogs out there!” 
We knew, of course, from rain drumming on the roof as we sat, deep in closets,
creating paper doll worlds out of Kleenex boxes for beds and sardine cans for coffee tables, rolled washcloth chairs and jewelry box sofas. 

Only afterwards, now, have I really thought about how we were protected
from the vagaries of weather as from so much else.
A mad dash across the street to school was the extent of it,
or short trip from car to church or store or school auditorium.
It was a though my father bore the brunt of all of it, facing it
for us, easing our way. It was his job.
As my mother’s job was three hot meals a day, a clean house, afternoons spent
over a steaming mangle, ironing sheets and pants and arms and bodices of blouses.
After school, one or the other of us girls at ironing board, pressing the cuffs and collars.

We were sheltered, all of us,
from those extremes of that land I didn’t even know was harsh
until years later, living in milder climates:
Australia, California and Mexico.
Our lives, seen in retrospect,
as though for the first time, clearly.
Remembering the poetry
of how a man who really lived in it
gave us hints of its reality.

The NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem making use of a regional phrase describing the weather.

19 thoughts on “Shelter: NaPoWriMo 2019, Day 10

  1. Martha Kennedy

    Funny. I moved back to it and grateful for it. But I’m not working the land, protected by a house and efficient clothing that didn’t exist back then. For me, there’s something true and honest about weather. We just had a brief snow and now sun and a snow bow somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leland Olson Hoel

    Thanks for sharing those memories, brings back some of my own. The sound of that hot, south, August wind coming through the window screen. It played a tune you never forget, your head stuck to a sweaty pillow. My father wore a hat just like your dad. He also had a few sayings, ‘colder than a witch’s teat, or a well-digger’s ass. We lived through some hard times, but we were so poor, we enjoyed every minute of it. Some days the gravy got a little thin but that didn’t happen very often. I just put a picture on my blog the other day, it shows my older brother and my mother with the horses and wagon getting ready for a trip to town in 1936. I have to start eating my own cooking now, my wife went home to be with the Lord last Friday. Probably a terrible thing to say but my wife got to heaven and all hell broke out here on Earth, this is the worst storm we’ve ever had on the Prairie. Hope this finds you well. Please continue your work creating more memories for the next Generations.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. lifelessons Post author

      Oh, Leland, so sorry to hear about Rose Marie. You know, my husband died the week of the Twin Towers bombing and it was so strange..It was like the whole world was in mourning, but not for the same thing I was in mourning for–like the larger world was echoing my pain or vice versa. Somehow, this terrible blizzard reminds me of that. Everyone around you is feeling your tempest, but not necessarily putting the same name to it. Do you have someone staying with you? I found that the very best way to deal with what I was feeling was to write about it. I hope you find some comfort in doing so, and also, I’d like to give you a different starting line as well: “The sound of that hot, south, August wind coming through the window screen. It played a tune you never forget, your head stuck to a sweaty pillow.” That line is so beautiful and is a starting line..I’ll be thinking about you on Saturday. xo Judy


    1. lifelessons Post author

      Yes, she really did. We always had a mangle–at least until I graduated and they moved to Arizona. Without us there there was less to iron. Once I married, my husband made her a beautiful hardwood wall cabinet. When you opened it, a small ironing board descended. This took the place of her mangle and since she had no utility room, it could be in the living room and just look like a piece of furniture until she opened it.



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