Late season snow memories


Cecile Hardie, Chris Hardie’s grandmother, had a pot of coffee going on the stove.

Chris Hardie, Contributor

Late season snow storms always take me back to March 24, 1979 in the tiny town of Franklin in Jackson County. My feet were wet, and I was beginning to shiver as the three of us stood at the dark back door of my grandparent’s Keith and Cecile Hardie’s house.

I had tagged along with my older brother Kevin and his friend Jim on a Friday night expedition to the Golden Palace bowling alley and theater in Holmen. The forecast called for rain turning to snow, but we paid little heed.

We were young. It was Friday night, and we had things to do. The high on March 23 was 51 degrees and it was raining. They said it would turn to snow.

By the time we got out of the late movie, the rain had indeed turned to snow — heavy, thick wet stuff. There were 6 to 8 inches on the road. It was still falling and we were about 35 miles from home.

Somehow we managed to chug along in our big rear-wheel drive car until we were about two miles from home. It was the unlikeliest location — a straightaway – but the tires hit a patch of ice and we slid into the ditch. It was about 1 a.m. Our tire tracks were the only ones visible on the lonely country highway.

The closest telephone was about a half-mile away at my grandparents’ house, so we trudged through the snow — clad only in windbreakers with no caps or mittens — to their door.

We pounded and pounded. Finally a light came on. Grandpa came to the door and let us in.

Grandma emerged from the bedroom wearing a bathrobe and deep scowl. As we stomped the snow from our shoes, she scolded us with her Norwegian lilt: “What kind of idiots would be out on a night like this? Anyone with common sense would have been home in bed hours ago. You better call your parents because I’m sure they’re worried sick about you boys.”

We never thought about calling the folks. No cell phones then, of course.

As we hung our heads in shame, there was another knock on the door. In walked my parents, who had also gotten stuck on the road on the way home.

“Grandma, there’s the answer to your idiot’s question,” Kevin said, and the scowl on her brow lifted as she began to chuckle.

“Bobby,” she said to my dad. “I just called these boys idiots for being out on the road in the middle of a blizzard. Now I see where they got it from.”

We all laughed, the snow melting into tiny puddles on the floor. Suddenly there was another knock on the door. In walked another neighbor who had driven off the road.

“Well, as long as we’re all here I might as well make some coffee,” Grandma said to her impromptu house guests. She put the pot on and prepared the social lubricant that was the mainstay in her house.

We drank a few cups, laughed some more and shared our storm stories until the neighbor’s son came with a tractor to remove the cars from the ditch.

Weather records for March 24 for nearby Blair say that 1.71 inches of precipitation and 6.9 inches of snow fell that day. It was the last snow Grandma would see. Spring snows don’t last long. A few months later she became ill. By fall she was gone.

To this day I think it was more than just slippery roads that steered us to Grandma’s house that night.

Because 44 years later, whenever the late season snow falls, I think of Grandma and my father and smile. They’re probably smiling too, no doubt with a cup of coffee nearby.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].