SHE WAS NOT QUITE 33 years old, this young mother of five living on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm in March 1965. It was an especially harsh winter, documented in a spiral bound notebook she kept.
She filled page after page with several-line daily entries about everyday life. She wrote about crops and household chores and kids and food and the most ordinary daily happenings. And, always, she recorded the weather—the wind, the precipitation, sometimes the temperature.
This keeper of prairie history in rural Redwood County was my mother, who died in January 2022 at the age of 89. I am the keeper of her journals, which she kept from 1947-2014, from ages 15 to 82. Sixty-seven years of journaling. Several years, when she met and fell in love with my dad, are noticeably missing.
Recently, I pulled the tote holding her collection of writing from the closet. This snowy winter of 2022-2023 in Minnesota prompted me to filter through Mom’s notebooks from 1964 and 1965. That winter season of nearly 60 years ago holds the state record for the longest consecutive number of days—136—with an inch or more of snow on the ground. We are closing in on that, moving into the top ten.
Mom’s journal entries confirm that particularly snowy and harsh winter on the Minnesota prairie. From February into March, especially, many days brought snow and accompanying strong wind. Two photos from March 1965 back up Mom’s words. Her first March entry is one of many that notes the seemingly never-ending snow falling on our family farm a mile south of Vesta. She writes of the weather:
March 1—What a surprise! Snowing & blowing when we got up & kept on all day. No school.
March 2—Still blowing & started to snow again. Really a big drift across the driveway. Mike came & opened up driveway. No school again. Milk truck didn’t come so Vern has to dump tonight’s milk.
Let me pause here and emphasize the hardship referenced in Mom’s March 2 entry. My dad had to dump the milk from his herd of Holsteins. That was like pouring money down the drain. I can only imagine how emotionally and financially difficult that was to lose a day’s income. But if the milk truck can’t get through on snow-clogged country roads to empty the bulk tank, there’s no choice but to pour away milk.
On March 3-5, Mom writes the same—of snow and blowing snow and efforts to keep the driveway open and no school. Then comes a respite from the snow. Dad was even planning ahead to spring, receiving a delivery of DeKalb seed corn on March 15. But then snowfall resumes on St. Patrick’s Day in this land of wide open spaces, where the wind whips fierce across the prairie.
March 17—Snowing & blowing. Got worse all day. Good thing the milk truck came. No school.
March 18—Quit snowing, but is really blowing. Huge drift across driveway & in grove. Almost all roads in Minn are blocked. No school. Cold, about 10 degrees.
March 19—We all went outside & took pictures of the big drifts & all the snow. Mike came over through field by gravel pit & started to clear off yard. Clear & cold.
Mom’s March 19 entry is notable for multiple reasons. First, my parents documented the snowdrifts with their camera. They didn’t take pictures often because it cost money to buy and develop the film. Money they didn’t have. That is why I have few photos from my childhood. That they documented the huge drifts filling our driveway and farmyard reveals how much this snow impacted their daily lives. In the recesses of my memory, I remember those rock-hard drifts that seemed like mountains to a flat-lander farm girl. That my Uncle Mike, who farmed just to the east, had to drive through the field (rather than on the township and county roads) to reach our farm also reveals much about conditions.
In the two days following, Mom writes of a neighbor coming over with his rotary (tractor-mounted snowblower) to finally open the driveway. But when the milk truck arrived at 4:30 am, the driveway was not opened wide enough for the truck to squeeze through the rock hard snow canyon. The driver returned in the afternoon, after Dad somehow carved a wider opening.
The weather got better in the days following, if sunny and zero in the mornings and highs of 12 degrees are better. At least the snow subsided. On March 23, Mom even notes that they watched the space shot on TV. I expect this first crewed mission in NASA’s Gemini Project proved a welcome diversion from the harsh winter.
In her March 27 journal entry, hope rises that winter will end. Mom writes: Sunny & warmer than it has been for days. Got to 45 degrees. Minnetonka beat Fairbault (sic) in basketball tournament. I almost laughed when I read that because Minnesotans often associate blizzards with state basketball tournament time. I also laughed because Faribault would eventually become my home, the place I’ve lived for 41 years now.
So much for optimism. On March 28, snow fell again. All day.
But the next day, Mom writes, the weather was sunny and warm enough to thaw the snow and ice and create a muddy mess. I stopped reading on March 31. I’d had enough snow. I expect Mom had, too.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling