Wednesday, March 31, 2004 in I Forgot To Pick A Category

Sarah’s first winter

(Get something to drink, this is a long one.)

It seemed to me, even then, that when we finally moved into the shell of our house, our own house, that was when life truly began. Addison was running around in toddler boyhood and mostly in circles, yelling at the top of his lungs. Yes, this was a daily occurrence. I was good and pregnant, big as a house in fact, and Ron worked day and night. Twelve hours a day in an office, including commute, and however long at night, until it got too dark to see, on the house. He had less grey hair then.

We had our own space to breathe, a chunk of land 45 minutes away from anything resembling civilization, and more than 200 feet back from the road. The driveway snaked around, hugging a low downward slope, until it reached the clearing in the trees at the edge of the field.

The house, shaped like a large and imposing barn, rose up from the rocks themselves. Downstairs, two open gaping doorways meant for a garage. Off to the side, a porch and stairwell were tacked on, partly to get upstairs and partly to hold the wood stove. The heat drifted upwards into the living area. And what a living area it was! Undecided on where actual rooms should be, and not needing the framework yet, since the roof was held up, I had improvised with baler twine and sheets. Every so often, I got bored and switched some rooms around. It was like my own full-sized dollhouse.

Ron spent that summer and fall getting the outside of the house ready for winter. It took all of August to get the shingles on the roof. He made sure some wiring got done, installed the toilet and tub, and the outside had all the tarpaper securely fastened down. There just wasn’t time or money to get the wood siding and get it on before it got too cold. Some of the other things I did, lumbering around with my belly out front, was insulate some of the walls, which leaned up into the ceiling. Far too high for me to climb. I managed gingerly with the huge pink fiberglass bats and was proud because I did it myself. I’d take a break for a day or two before I stapled the plastic vapor barrier over top, cutting up strips of cardboard to help hold the plastic and staples on better, since it would be a while before we could get any drywall to make it a real wall.

Eventually Sarah came.

And it sounds so simple, saying that. Sarah came into the world and we took her home to *our* house, to envelop in *our* little family.

None of the pictures show how worried Ron was when I was in labor. Nothing but a memory of me calling my grandparents, saying I can’t meet them in town, I have to go to the hospital instead, I think my water broke. Shared memories with Ron of the endless wait at the hospital because it was my mucous plug, my water hadn’t broke, but I was actually going into labor slowly, very slowly. They induced me to help me along. Fuzzy black memories of laughing gas. Nothing but scar tissue and a creaky hip to remind me she got stuck, her shoulders too big. All the nurses in wonderment, she’s so big, so red. So loud. Ron following after the nurses, they have his baby, taking her to be measured and weighed. 9.448 pounds, he still remembers.

Sarah came home, all dark and red and wailing. A couple of weeks later, I finished insulating the bedroom between naps. Winter came after that.

There are parts I don’t remember, parts that melt into other endless memories. Everything was endless. Of course, it was the worst winter in twenty years. I had an energetic toddler, a baby who was an angel all day and screamed all night, and three channels on my tv. Four, if you counted the French one, but it didn’t come in so good anyway.

The snow started falling in November and didn’t stop. It came early, and covered our woodpile. Sometimes I had to brush snow off the wood before I put it in the stove, because I had used up all the wood in the house for the day. Somewhere in there, I’m not sure when, the water froze.

Our well had been hand-dug that summer. Hand-dug by Ron when the little bucket loader he rented wouldn’t go down further. The ground where we put our well was wet and slightly swampy, sure signs of a spring underneath, and pretty much a straight line from his brother’s well uphill. It was a wet muddy summer, digging the well and the trench for the pipes to bring it into the house, downstairs where the pump would be.

The pipe froze solid, right where it came into the house. It also froze inside the pump, cracking it. There was no point in getting a new one, not until spring. It would just freeze again, since it was too cold, too frozen and too snowy to fix why it froze in the first place. The pipe carrying waste from the house, including the toilet, froze as well.

Since our well was dug, it was essentially a big hole in the ground. Every night, Ron would come home and in the declining light, go uphill to the well with an axe, a sled, a pail and two buckets. An axe to chop a hole in the ice, a pail to dip the water from the well, and two 10 gallon buckets on a sled to bring it back home through the two feet of snow. Downhill. Back to the house. You couldn’t fill the buckets more than halfway, or they’d spill and overturn. The snow was awful deep that year, and even after we wore a path, it would snow again, and we’d have to break a trail all over again.

Sometimes I needed more water than Ron could bring me, and he couldn’t get it for me in the middle of the day, when he was at work 50 miles away. I’d take the axe, the pail, the two buckets and the sled up the hill myself, after making sure Sarah was fed, dried and safely in her baby seat, and Addison was playing or watching tv. Naptime was a good time for this. One of the first times I did it on my own, in Ron’s winter hat, his old warm coat, two layers of wool socks and his boots, since they could go through deeper snow than mine, I misjudged how much water I could put in the pails, even getting my mittens wet. Coming down the hill and around the corner, almost to the bottom, it spilled. I wanted to sit in the snow and cry. Dishes were everywhere upstairs, laundry was piling up, and Sarah was about to run out of cloth diapers. Even from outside, I could hear her starting to fuss, so I trudged back up the hill and got more water.

I would bring the water in, in the snowy buckets, dragging them one at a time up the stairs. I would heat up two large pots at a time on my electric stove. I had learned the hard way not to heat them on the wood stove. The house grew far too cold. I would wash up the dishes, sometimes leaving the water to cool, then forgetting them and having to take out the water and heat it up again. And there was the endless laundry mountain and our second-hand (free!) Apartment sized washer-spin-dryer. I never knew why the word “dryer’ was in the name, because all it did was spin out the water. I hung up our wet cold laundry on that baler twine that divided the rooms.

We didn’t drink this frozen and thawed water, we got that from Ron’s parent’s house across the road, when we went there for our weekly baths. I guess they thought we were crazy, and worried about us constantly, but they didn’t really say much at the time. We were too positive, too resilient.

Too crazy in love I guess.

The January thaw came. It always came around the middle of January, every year. The snow was too deep that year for it to thaw our pipes, but it made getting water from the well easier. One day Ron came down to tell me there was a frog in the well. Being from the city, I had to ask if that was okay, and could we still use it. “Sure,” he said, “But come next week when it freezes again, that frog is in for a surprise.”

Well, it froze good and solid that next week. The thaw hadn’t got rid of much snow, it just turned everything to ice. Including our wood pile. We had to chop some logs out of the pile, just to bring them in. Sometimes I thawed some out in my electric stove. I don’t think it got above -20C at all that February. I wouldn’t let Sarah scoot on the floor without a blanket under her, two pairs of pants, plus wool socks and slippers. We wore out a lot of socks and slippers that year.

We were pretty much used to the water situation by then. Ron would bring down buckets of water and ice from the well. One day, I noticed something in the bucket. “What’s that?” I asked my dear sweet husband as he took off his outdoor clothes. “I dunno, I never noticed anything,” he said, “Have a look.” I peered closer and much to my horror discovered that Well Frog hadn’t burrowed back in the mud. It was his leg.

After I was done screaming, Ron went back up to the well to see the frog encased in ice. He said it was cool. I took his word for it. He made sure it was gone before it was my turn to go to the well.

Spring slowly came around, and we were still smiling. The house warmed up with the sun, the snow started to melt. There was that one rainstorm that drove ice under the shingles, causing the roof to leak buckets and insulation to come crashing down in our doorway, but at the time it was funny. What more could happen? Sarah eventually stopped screaming all night, and sometimes Ron didn’t have to sleep sitting up in the rocking chair, soothing her so she could sleep. My pipes eventually thawed, and one day I could flush my toilet. It was a good day.

We made it. We did it. All on our own.


  1. That was really a great story. 🙂 Will there be more?

  2. I must agree with Kat! It was a very good story. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Wonderful! I can’t wait for the next story!

  4. I enjoyed that, Andrea. I never would’ve survived, you know how pathetic I am. I can see myself running around whining for a bottled water. Oh, then after reading your story I got caught up in the story of the Wild Boys. Very interesting! I hope there’s a follow-up because I’d be interested in knowing what happens to them. This is the first I’d heard about it.

  5. Thank you. 🙂

  6. That is one of the most amazing stories of determination I’ve heard in a very, very, very long time. Now that’s a winter to remember.

    Beautifully written, too!

  7. Laura Ingalls Wilder, eat your heart out! Love your blog and your writing style!

  8. That is an awesome story. You probably think I’m crazy, but I’m jealous…


  1. […] A far cry from where we used to live, especially in the early days where frozen pipes occured on a regular basis and we really had to fight and spend a large protion of our time keeping them thawed. Plus it was darn cold back then. You can read about the worst winter we ever had if you haven’t already or don’t remember, coincidentally Sarah’s first. Yes, we had a new baby, cloth diapers and frozen pipes. After that and a few other things, I can handle all kinds of water problems. It still gives me a little thrill when fresh, clean and even HOT water comes right out of the taps. […]