Extreme low temperatures in the Midwest have been in the news for the last two months. We even broke a couple of records along the way. Recently we surpassed the number of below zero days for one season. The winter of 1976-77 had held the last noteworthy low temperatures. That winter not only went down in history, but also is etched in my memory.
In 1976, Bob and I lived in a mobile home on the family farm in Mokena, Illinois. Our second child was due to arrive the end of December. Our first, Robby, would turn two on March, 26, 1977.
That used mobile home was only supposed to be short-term for us. We didn't mind the oddly colored fridge or stove. They were a strange shade of blue-green. The oven had the bad habit of going to extreme temperatures though.
Once when a cake went into it the temperature skyrocketed to 500 degrees and the cake erupted like a volcano. The fridge went the other direction and started freezing everything, even milk and lettuce. We managed with the oven. I just had to keep a close eye on it, but eventually the fridge was replaced.
In the end, we lived in that mobile home for five years, even with all its peculiarities. The roof was another example. When the wind blew it sounded like someone was running down the length of the home, right above our heads. This noise really caught a person's attention, but was hard to explain to a toddler.
As we neared Christmas we told Robby that it was Santa practicing his take-offs and landings with his reindeer and sleigh getting ready for the big day—not only did little Robby believe us but so did everyone who spent time in that house when it was windy because that's exactly what it sounded like.
Two days after Christmas Baby Becky was born and that's when the temperatures plummeted to below zero and stayed there. When we came home from the hospital, even with the furnace at its max, we were cold. The windows were drafty and insulation was lacking, so when the wind blew, the cold couldn't be kept at bay.
Of course, we worried about our new baby girl. We had to figure a way to keep her warm and comfy. The answer came in the form of the smallest room in the house, the bathroom. It was in the center of the mobile home, next to the furnace and it was the only warm room we had.
Even though space was an issue, we managed to wedge the bassinet in between the built-in closet and the toilet. The bathroom became the baby's room. There she slept, was changed, and bathed. The little sink made bathing interesting, but at least there was enough room on the counter for baby supplies. And most importantly, even though it wasn't very comfortable for me, I even nursed her there.
For at least 30 days, we all lived in a deep freeze. Keeping Robby warm was an effort, too. He wore layers, topped off by footed pajamas. The little guy looked very roly-poly, but this was a benefit for him. Whenever he took a tumble all that padding kept him safe.
Family members did venture out in the cold to see the new baby. My mom and dad and sister were introduced to Becky in the bathroom. It might have seemed like an odd setting, but we didn't want to take any chances. Becky's care was our upmost concern and she didn't seem to mind, not even when someone came to use the room for other . . . um . . . activities.
Eventually, the weather did change for the better. At that point two cribs were squeezed into the second bedroom. Robby didn't mind sharing his tiny room with his baby sister. He soon discovered he could reach the light switch from his bed. Often, when he was supposed to be napping, I'd find him standing there switching the lights on and off. It looked like he was signaling to his allies on the outside to come and help him escape.
We left the mobile home and that farm a year later and moved to Seymour, Wisconsin. It was so nice living in a solid, non-mobile home. The memories weren't left behind though. They came with us to live on and be shared.
Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; Sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net; http://www.facebook.com/susan.manzke.