My Dad is a weather prognosticator. He comes from a long line of weather prognosticators and has developed the skill to a high state of the art. What I’m saying is, my Dad’s skill is such that everything means something. It could be a slight change in the wind direction; it could be dew or the lack of dew; or yet, it could be something as mundane as the degree of intensity of the pain in his right ankle. (That would be the ankle he broke when the horse kicked him way back in forty-three.) The uncanny thing is how very often he is actually right. With a skill so highly honed, held out as an example for me, you can be sure that I take every available opportunity to learn all I can about these awesome powers. I sure wouldn’t want to let down the family tree.
One winter during my mid-teen years; I got one of the most powerful lessons in weather prediction yet. We were living in Missouri and had somehow wrangled a wedding invitation from Albert and Mary who lived two hundred miles north of us in Iowa,. Now in those days when something like that happened, Mom and Dad usually went by them selves and left us kids at home to take care of the livestock and each other. This time however; Oh Miracle of Miracles, it was somehow decided that Mom would stay home and Dad would take my oldest sister and myself. We would drive up after school on Friday night; stay overnight with friends and be there for all the activities of a Saturday Amish-Mennonite wedding.
Excited? Were we ever! The two of us could not remember ever being to a wedding before.
When that glorious Friday night finally came, we hurried through our chores and headed to the house to get ready. We scrubbed diligently behind our ears and washed our feet. My sister braided up her long hair and we put on our better clothes. The three of us piled in our old gray nineteen-fifty Nash and we were off.
The euphoria was short lived. Being winter, it soon got dark. On the heels of the darkness came the snow.
We are not talking about big, fluffy, lazy snow. Neither was it a wild, wind driven snow that piled up in drifts. This was a pesky snow. A ‘not quite rain’ kind of snow. A snow that freezes to roads and windshields and reduces your progress to barely tolerable levels.
Of course; the snow had to be accompanied by griping. Dads griping. The “insanity” of traveling north in the wintertime. “Why do the Amish have to have their weddings in the winter anyway?” And, worst of all, “if I had a lick of sense we would turn around this minute and go home.” This litany (Playing like a broken record.) came at not more than five-mile intervals, as we slowly, relentlessly made our way north into “Godforsaken desolation.”
After a while I began to relax a little. I was wise enough to know that one “cannot go more than halfway” into the forest; and eventually one reaches the place where it is easier to proceed than to return, or so I thought. I had also calculated that point to be roughly at Keokuk, Iowa and at the river that runs through it.
The river. Ah, that river. It soon became very apparent that Dad and I had strongly different opinions concerning that river.
“That’s it,” Dad announced, “I’ve had enough, we’re going home.”
“It’s the river.” “Everyone always knows that the weather changes at the river.” “If it’s this bad on this side of the river; just think how positively horrid it must be further north.”
No amount of logic or argument would change his mind. My Dad, with two very unhappy kids in tow, turned that Nash around and slowly, relentlessly, (This time it was our turn to gripe like a broken record,) we made our way, the whole long one hundred miles, back home. Dad, not being completely heartless, did offer a consolation prize though. We would go again in the morning and get in on as much of the wedding as we could.
The morning dawned exhilarating and clear. The snow completely off the road lay pristine on the trees and fields. With spirits, once again soaring, we were going to a wedding, or at least what would be left of it by the time we got there. In the back of my mind however, I couldn’t keep from wondering what would happen when we got to the river and Dad’s “frozen wasteland” to the north of it.
I was not to be disappointed; Dad was absolutely right, the weather actually did change at the river. A sudden, drastic change. Before we got ten miles north of Keokuk there was not a sign of snow.
As it turned out, instead of a trip to Iowa, I got a trip and a half. I also got to the wedding in time for the reception, which, with all that food, was probably the best part.
On top of everything else I got a wonderful lesson on forecasting the weather. I learned that, at least in the Midwest, the weather changes. It changes when you cross the river. It changes when you go around that hill. It changes when the wind changes or when the pain changes in your right ankle. You just don’t always know what that change will be.