Al Batt: Take that job and shovel it — the song of the snowbound

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I knew him a little, but not a lot.

Al Batt

“How are you doing?” I asked.

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He responded by telling me he was all bound up. I didn’t think it had anything to do with being snowbound and I was right. He went into excruciating detail. Some people shouldn’t be asked how they are doing.

My family didn’t tell fishing stories, brag about golf scores or go on about the cabin. We fished some, didn’t play golf and we didn’t own a cabin, other than the one I’d built from Lincoln Logs.

Our collective memories resided elsewhere. We measured time’s passage in the way of my people — achievements, births, birthdays and deaths of loved ones, but there were other mileposts. We labeled years by their storms, particularly tornadoes and blizzards. The tornado that battered my hometown on December 15, 2021 will be memorable, but two earlier storms dwell large in my mind because freedom is just another word for not being snowbound.

The Halloween Blizzard of 1991 was when 36.5 inches of snow fell in Duluth. None of it had been tripped or pushed. Our area got enough snow, way too much ice and 60 mph winds. We had a major league ice storm. People with eyeglasses had to carry an ice scraper with them at all times. Power lines were downed and utility poles snapped like matchsticks. A 180-mile stretch of I-90 was closed. The governor declared a state of emergency in the county where I live, even though it was a county of emergency. Water became scarce. I learned that reading by candlelight was romantic, but hard on the eyes. We were without power for five days. My wife’s Aunt Alice was without power for 14 days. She won.

The St. Patrick’s Day Storm of 1965 occurred when we had annual snowstorms around the time of the state basketball tournament. A winter with little snow became a March with superabundant snow in 1965. The storm raged with heavy snowfall, fierce (60 mph again) winds and subzero temperatures. Those wearing the green outdoors were soon wearing the white. Snow drifted so high on one highway that officials considered using dynamite to make it go away. Dairy farms were forced to dump milk. We were one of those. Without electricity, we had to milk the entire herd by hand. I’d milked an occasional cow that way, but not an entire herd. I discovered hand cramps. We fed the milk to the pigs, leaving us without the milk checks from the creamery that we lived on.

The world was better suited to operate without electricity in 1965 than it was in 1991. Some people hadn’t caved into peer pressure and did without electricity. In 1965, I had a carefree life, but I didn’t care. Winter wasn’t in the enemy camp. I was giddy in anticipation of its arrival until my black-and-white world became all white with snow. I had a small transistor radio, but only one battery as we didn’t need to know everything. We had an outhouse.

Folks who enjoyed shoveling snow were in their glory. I wanted them to take the job and shovel it.

When the snow melted, it left our gravel road in a pitiful condition. It couldn’t handle traffic. That meant no milk trucks and more milk for the pigs. School buses traveled hard-surfaced roads only. I had to walk three miles uphill while wearing shoes wrapped in barbed wire to aid traction just to get to the bus. I walked to school because my parents wanted me to realize how lucky I was to go to school.

One day, I had the great idea of driving a tractor to school. Genius! The tractor had chains on its tires and could roam the roads with ease. I picked up a neighbor kid to act as my copilot and flight attendant.

There was one fly in my oatmeal. The chains grabbed mud and when I gave the iron beast full throttle, the chains threw the mud into the air. The tractor couldn’t outrun that mud. Much of it fell on us. Bright, shiny faces became mucky. Our mission was terminated due to mud.

I’ve done many things that weren’t awesome.

That was one of them.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.