Memories are fleeting. Why do we remember some things in vivid detail and others not at all? As I’ve been writing stories based on my dad’s memories, I’ve realized that the stories he recorded were those that made an impact on him. Enough of an impact that 70 years after the event, he still recalled them vividly. Seeing the wonder of snow through my Arizona grandchildren’s eyes, I gained insight into my dad’s memory of a big snowstorm. Here is my fictionalized telling of that event.
The Big Snowstorm
By Diana Elder, based on an account by Bobby Gene Shults.
“It’s snowing!” Bob exclaimed. The sight of the huge snowflakes coming down heavy and fast thrilled the six-year-old boy. He had spent the first years of his life in the central valley of California so snow was a novelty.
When jobs dried up in California in 1932, his parents, Les and Ettie, decided to move to Colorado to farm near her folks, Grandma and Grandpa Harris. Bob especially liked Grandma Harris’ cooking. She made the best cakes. They’d fall in the middle and she’d fill up the hole with frosting. Grandpa Harris made things too – little toys out of wood for his grandchildren. Bob loved living near his grandparents.
The snow of southern Colorado gave Bob and his siblings Helen and C.H. hours of fun. Generally it only snowed a couple of inches then melted, but gazing out the window, Bob thought this storm looked different. The children watched the snow falling until their mom said, “Time for bed, the snow will still be here in the morning.”
As she tucked him in, Bob sleepily murmured, “I can’t wait to play in the snow tomorrow.”
The next thing Bob heard was his dad calling, “Bob, Helen, C.H., come see the snow!” Bob rubbed his eyes and gingerly threw off the heavy blankets. His mom had the coal stove going but the bedroom was ice cold. Everything was darker than normal and when he ran out into the front room he saw why.
Overnight so much snow had fallen that it covered the windows and no light was coming in. “Ettie, I can’t get the door open,” called Les. “The snow’s blocking it, I’m going to have to go out the window.”
Les forced a window open, boosted himself up, and squeezed through the opening. Bob and C.H. were right behind him, eager to help. A stark white landscape greeted them, snow glittering on every surface. Only the tops of trees and buildings emerged. Les and the boys located the door and dug a clearing so Ettie and little Helen could come out and see the winter wonderland. They spent the day tunneling to the outhouse, the woodpile, and the barn to take care of the animals.
After the heavy snowfall, the temperatures turned freezing cold and the snow stayed put. The boys couldn’t get to school, so Bob and C.H. had snowball fights, built tunnels, and played every day until their noses turned bright red and their eyes stung with the cold.
One morning they heard sleigh bells far off and looking towards the sound they saw what looked like a horse team pulling a sleigh coming. When it neared, Bob saw it was Grandpa Harris. He had hitched up his sleigh and come to give his grandchildren a ride. The family piled into the sleigh, even 4-year-old Helen. Wrapped in heavy blankets and hot bricks at their feet, off they went across the fields. No roads to follow. No fences to interfere. Just snow everywhere. Bob reveled in the fast moving sleigh, glad that the horses could stay atop of the crusty, frozen layer of snow.
One winter we woke up and there had been a blizzard during the night. Snow was deeper than the door. Folks had to tunnel out. I remember going sleigh riding with no fences in sight. Snow was hard enough to hold horses on top – didn’t have to follow roads, could go any direction.
Writing the story
I had just a few sentences from my Dad’s history to go on, so I had to use my imagination to flesh out what it might have been like to have that much snow. I have vague memories of him telling this story and that it was Grandpa Dock Harris who owned the sleigh. Since this is a fictionalized story, I took the prerogative to make it so! I do have Dock and Allie Harris living in Las Animas County, Colorado on the 1930 census, so that adds credibility to the story.
Writing my dad’s stories has become a wonderful way to connect to his past and the great grandparents I never knew. Trying to visualize just simple everyday happenings has brought me closer to my family.
I’ve realized that as I write the stories of my own life, I need to include as much detail as I can.
Future generations will want to know what we wore, ate, thought, and more.
Are you ready to try your hand at some family history writing? Just do it. Find an interesting story and create a little scene that your children and grandchildren will cherish.
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!
Other stories in this series: