First snowfall marked important changes for farm kids

Jerry Apps
Each year, the first snowfall marked important changes for farm kids.

The morning sky was slate gray; it was dark, and more than a little dreary. Shortly after eight a.m. I saw snowflakes flying on the wind, just a few of them, and then more and still more snowflakes.

The first snowstorm of the season. Within an hour or so, grassy areas turned from green to white, and snow was clinging to the bare branches of the trees. The snow continued falling, reminding us that no matter what the calendar says, we have moved from autumn to winter.

And oh, how the memories have returned to the days of my youth on the farm. The coming of the first snow was bittersweet. On the plus side, it was time to crawl up into the woodshed attic and find our skis, sleds, and clamp-on ice skates. It was time once more to slide down the big hill back of our one-room country school on our sleds, to slip on our skis and ski to the back reaches of the farm, often with a rifle in hand as we searched for a rabbit for supper, or just skied for the fun of it, leaving the rifle at home.

Or maybe, with a few school friends, grabbing up our ice skates and walking the mile and half to Chain O ‘Lake where we shoveled the snow aside and skated. We also would build a campfire on the edge of the lake, a place to put on and take off our skates, and to warm up a bit if the temperature, as it often did in those days, hung around zero.

On a snowy day like today, it was exceedingly quiet. I so enjoyed walk in the woods, especially by a row of pine trees. I listened for the subtle sound of snowflakes on pine needles.

The first snow had its down sides, too. Because the cows were kept inside all day, the barn chores increased. Besides milking and feeding the cows, there was always straw to carry for bedding, and manure to shovel from the barn’s gutters.

A major task was shoveling a walkway from one farm building to another. From the house to the barn, from the house to the pumphouse, from the house to the chicken house. From the barn to the pumphouse, from the barn to the granary. From the chicken house to the granary. And the driveway from the country road to the milkhouse so the milk truck could pick up our several cans of milk every day.

I always welcomed the first snowfall of the season— remembering how our lives changed as the seasons changed.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Each year, the first snowfall marked important changes for farm kids.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to or contact him