“My it has been a long, cold winter. I am sorely itching for some activity.”
“If you ask me the whole settlement is tired of being cooped up and that brings me to the reason for my visit today.” Miss Edith took a long sip from her coffee, “It’ll be time for school to reopen soon and I’d allow the children aren’t too anxious for classes to begin.”
“Mine ain’t that’s for sure and certain,” said widow Heaton.
“I’ve been thinking about that. What if we had a back-to-school celebration? The men could push the desks against the walls so we’d have plenty of room. We’d have a pitch-in dinner and the children could have themselves a spell down.”
“I declare,” Miss Edith, “that’s a wonderful idea. It’ll give folks something to look forward to.”
Word of the back to school celebration was met with welcomed support. It was decided to hold the gathering on April 1, believing the time for bad weather would be long past and it would be safe to have a family outing. The women folk took stock of their larder and planned what they would contribute to the fare and the children dug out their slates to practice their spelling.
When it was time wagons loaded with families from all the neighboring cabins filled the muddy, rutted trail but no one minded the mud on this day. Even the animals pulling the loaded wagons were in high spirits glad to be out of the dreary barns and into the bright sunshine.
Folks arriving at the log school greeted one another with smiles and hugs. Everyone filled their vessels with the good food the ladies had laid out. After the meal heavy quilts were placed on the plank floor for seating. The parents gathered their children and in anticipation of an enjoyable afternoon a hush fell over the group. Miss Edith opened the recitations with a passage from the Bible:
“For lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;” Song of Solomon 2:11-12. (KJV)
There were hardy amen’s from the group and each family went in turn from the oldest to the youngest quoting favorite poems, scriptures or singing songs. Finally it was time for the spell down.
The younger students and poor spellers were quickly set down by the better spellers and soon only Crocker Daily and Rosa Heaton were left standing. Everyone was caught up in the excitement. Who would miss a word first, Crocker or Rosa? All were so engrossed in the drama going on at the front of the schoolhouse that not one heard the wind whistling around the corners. Had there been windows in the structure surely they would have seen the day turning gray, but alas there were no windows so how could they have known menacing clouds had put out the sun hours ago?
Miss Edith turned to Rosa. “Astonishment”, she said.
“Astonishment,” said Rosa but whether she could spell the word or not was never known for at that precise moment a blast of wind hit the little building with such force it blew the door open. It came up through the cracks in the plank floor raising the quilts like bubbles and it blew out the candles leaving the group stunned with wonder. What was happening?
Someone yelled, “Blizzard,” and with that the long siege began. The poor settlers were held hostage by the storm for five long days. All the livestock on their homesteads perished. The teams that carried the settlers to the schoolhouse survived only because they were brought inside. The only food they had to eat was the left overs from their pitch-in. It was scarcely enough to feed all the hungry mouths.
Their heat came from the homemade desks that were burnt for fire wood. Some boasted about the mercy of God that they had a measure of heat while others cursed the fates that had left them to such peril. Mostly however the good folk of Paradise Valley were thankful, saying Miss Edith had saved their lives for surely they fared better together than they would have alone in their cabins. There had been no loss of human life and in that they could take heart for surely spring would yet come.
And so it did.
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