Cold as Hell

Coleridge, 1948

Outside the Coleridge school there was a blizzard, a blizzard so difficult to see in that an emergency was declared and means to move the students to safety were implemented.
It had been colder than Hell that morning as we waddled to school in our snow suits and galloshes (we called them overshoes). Although I would not have thought to use that word to describe the storm, it was evident that the wind and low visibility due to the snow storm was something out of the ordinary, even in Northeastern Nebraska.
I was in Miss Klandred’s 2nd grade classroom working on my Dick and Jane or my math worksheet. The school was a 1-12 grade small town school and there was no way we were going to our own homes after school.
Word came that we were to get our winter coats, scarves, and boots on. Our closet was a long narrow room with hooks on each side for coats, hats and scarves. Boots sat on the floor under each students coat. Girls were to dress first and then form a line in the big hallway/foyer for the school. The girls would go to one house nearby and the boys another.
Each of the girls was blindfolded with their scarf and connected with the other girls to make a long line, a train of girls, to be led to my house, a few blocks away, by one of the teachers. The front door opened to the howling wind and a curtain of dry snow flakes that blew in and covered the floor near the door. The teacher led the girls out the door to disappear into the wind and snow that made up the blizzard. I would later in my life learn about ‘white-out’ when trying to climb Mt Hood in Oregon and being defeated and so returning to TimberlineLodge. But this was the same white wall of invisibility with the same threat of getting lost in the storm. The girls would not be defeated though, and each girl held on to the girl before and behind to get to a safe place to spend the night.
Now it was the boys turn. We re-garbed redressing in each component of our winter outerwear and then stood in a line in the hall. Each of us blindfolded like the girls for the trek to the principals house next door. Out the door we went, passed the patch of ice on the playground where I had learned not to be the last person on Crack-the-whip (gaining an egg sized lump on my forehead). We went past the swing set where I had stuck my tongue the winter before and had to pull it loose. But today we saw none of these things as we were blindfolded, listening and feeling the wind, icy cold, and snow as we completed the short walk to the house next door.
I don’t remember much about that night except for 8 boys per room and Bonnie. You may know Bonnie (a Scottish girl?) as in “My Bonnie lies over the ocean….” But we sang a little different version that night, in the storm, with a houseful of boys, an early version of a ‘sleep-over.’
My Bonnie has tuberculosis.
My Bonnie has only one lung.
My Bonnie spits blood in a bucket
and dries it and chews it for gum

So bring Back, bring back
Oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me, to me.
So bring Back, bring back
Oh bring back my Bonnie to me [Refrain]

My Bonnie lies over the mattress.
My Bonnie lies over the bed.
My Bonnie stuck her feet out the window, and
The next morning the neighbors were dead.


There was another stanza. Something about Bonnie an empty gas tank and a match, but I’ve forgotten it. S
However since I slept next to the window, I dreamt of Bonnie’s feet and the dead neighbors all night.
The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and went home. When we got outside the house there was nothing left, i.e. no large drifts of snow or deep snow or soft snow or any remainder of the blizzard, except 2 – 4″ of crust. The blizzard blew so hard that it left only a hard crust of snow and not very much of it. You could walk on it. The sky was clear and the morning brisk. I hurried home to see what the girls had been up to at our house.


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