Writing the Blizzard of 2011

The blizzard of Twenty Eleven caught few unaware. Eager meteorologists tracked and broadcast in minute detail its conception, gestation and birth, then, like proud parents, kept us apprised of the monstrous infant’s first steps and howls, so that by the time the angry toddler tore through the Midwest, we had already closed our schools and topped off the tanks in our snow blowers and clicked “I’m Attending” in response to our Facebook invitation to BLIZZARD!!!! The child crashed against our doors, did belly flops in Lake Michigan, kicked mountains of snow in our paths and threw fistfuls of the hard sandy pellets against our windows, while we watched the tantrum play out on television and YouTube and waited for him to tire himself out, or move on.

The work I am doing for a writing project involving the Great Plains diaries of Harriet “Hattie” E. Whitcher, written from 1920 – 1957, has made me realize how much of daily life we lose if we don’t write it down, somewhere—in a journal or on a blog or even in an email.

Consider this entry from January 23, 1952, written by Hattie when she was 70 years old:

The blizzard quit but none too fair, only partly, as hazy clouds when sun came out. Cows just stood as they are, frozen snow on their backs and sides. One calf was down, but Dan got it limbered up and it got up to eat later as the men gave hay to cattle. Fed the big herd behind the hill S.E. of the house.
Will is about all in, but we stayed up late to get weather conditions. A Mr. Maxwell from Winner froze to death near his truck, as he was a trucker. Virginia Spinar died at the school house where her mother had taken her, and brothers going from the school had their Jeep stalled. The older brother walked, then mother tried to get a tractor there, but it stopped, so she sent the boy back to care for a small one, and she took the others to the school house where the girls had died from exhaustion. A trucker died somewhere near Pierre at a school house. Mr. Kourt, Winner, died at Vivian from exhaustion. A lot of folks are away.
When I shared this entry with my family, Hattie’s niece and nephew remembered the following:

Harley: “This blizzard started on the 21st. It was a nice morning and Dad and I went out to get hay for the cattle. Suddenly the weather got very still and I remember Dad felt we should get to the house and get Mary Alice and Jean Chauncey from school. We got home and picked up the girls at school. On the way home the blizzard suddenly hit. I was driving and I don’t think I went 50 feet before I hit the side of a drift (the roads had been opened with a snowplow). We walked something over a mile home. We were able to stay between the drifts on the sides of the road, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to stay on course.

We never went out until the storm eased the evening of the 23d. We had ear corn and took some and fed it to the cows. I remember seeing a cow trying to eat an ear and she could only push it ahead of her as there was probably 6 inches of ice frozen on the end of her nose.

I don’t remember how cold it was but, it was cold and this before they thought of wind chill.”

Photo of Young Steer After a March Blizzard, Rapid City, South Dakota
Young Steer After a March 1966 Blizzard ~ Rapid City, South Dakota

Dorothy: “Aunt Hattie wrote about the Blizzard of 1952…and…I remember that day! I was teaching at the Lone Hill school southeast of Mission. I roomed and boarded at Veryl Holmes about 1/4 to 1/2 mile west of the school. About a foot of snow fell with no wind during the earlier part of the day. Then, with no warning, a strong wind came up. Parents came and got their kids. No phones. Who knew what was going on? Then I walked to Holmes. I could see nothing and walked right along the fence line until I got to their driveway.

There were huge drifts along Highway 18 east of Mission. The regular snow plows couldn’t handle the snow and ‘rotary plows’ were brought from somewhere.”

I like to think that Hattie would be so pleased that what she wrote over 60 years ago allows others to call up memories that might otherwise lie sleeping.

How will you write about the blizzard of 2011 for someone to share in 2072?

1 thought on “Writing the Blizzard of 2011

  1. Wow, Lisa, these entries from your Aunt Hattie are just amazing. I think you’re right. We don’t realize the value of recording life events (big or small) until much later on. I haven’t written about the storm last night, but I will! We’re just getting ready to dig out. Hope you’re staying warm 🙂

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: