Dad in the Amana Colony, visiting my sister Betty in College, 1958
In front of Murdo Drug Store.
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.