“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” ― Mark Twain
Well, Mr. Twain, I’ve been waiting but we seem to be stuck in a rut! But then I guess I could say that going from cold to colder is a change. You would think that people living in the North Country would come to expect, even embrace the cold winters. Most do! The others either head south for the next few months or hunker down and gripe about it. After all it is a great topic for conversation!
We all have heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about having to walk to school/work in a blinding snowstorm through four (six, eight…) feet of snow uphill both ways. We walk away laughing at their expanding exaggeration of the past. But how exaggerated is it?
After her granddaughter, Fannie, went to live with her father’s family in Hartford, CT, Betsey wrote often to keep her updated on what was happening in Plattsburgh. These letters give us a detailed description of the lives of family, friends and neighbors, and the community. Also, we see how the weather impacted those events.
Betsey loved her plants. Her house and garden was always full of them. You can feel her desolation when she writes to Fannie about losing many of them in the winter of 1851:
Feb. 11, 1851
My beloved Child,
This being your birthday, your mother and you, my Frances, have been much on my mind, all the trying scenes of 17 years ago. Both of us have been spared while many that are near and dear have been taken and only God knows why. Last Saturday was by far the coldest this winter. In the night the wind blew from the south a freezing gale and for the first time in twenty years has Frost touched my flowers. It entered the hall upstairs and the adjoining room and cut down all plants I had been saving with so much care for years. I had some which I kept in the front room [downstairs] that did not get hurt. How sad it made me to see my pets so cut down. I shall no longer try plants that take so long to arrive at perfection. I hope you will write me all the particulars of Mr. Matson’s very suddend death. How sad one so young cut off so soon. Goodnight, my dear child. May God bless and keep you.
Your affectionate g.mother, E.S.
A letter in 1857 finds Betsey griping that the winter in too mild! It almost seems like nothing satisfied her.
Plattsburgh Dec. 8, 1857
My beloved child,
We have an open winter. So far the weather has been like September, only an occasional cold day. Our little bay was only frozen over Thanksgiving Day. It was black with boys and girls skating, a fine sport. Next day all open and still continues open and raining today. I had rather have cold weather and snow…
We are all fixed for winter, but killing our pigs and making sausage. With the poor help I had and not being well enough, I gave up asking Rev. Coit’s family for dinner Thanksgiving, as we always had them. I told Mr. Coit so, but as the time approached, I felt so bad about it I finally concluded to have them and do the best I could. We had a room full and made out a very nice dinner and all seemed to enjoy it. Since you left many friends calling and enquiring after you.
Your own loveing g.mother, E. Swetland
In 1862, Betsey writes to tell Fannie about a major snow storm in the North Country. It makes me start to think that those stories I heard as a child may not have been so exaggerated!
Plattsburgh Feb. 27  Thursday eve
My beloved child
Oh! What a storm of wind and snow since I wrote you on Monday. It was snowing hard while writing. About 4 o’clock it Commenced blowing a perfect gale. It continued all night. I never in my long life experienced such an awful storm. I mentioned the rehearsal [for an upcoming concert] was to meet here that night. I did not think it possible any could come, but many did. We had work to keep comfortable. Had a great fire in the Hall stove and my bedroom with the door open in the parlor. Dared not keep much fire in the Front room. It seemed as if the Chimney must blow down and the fire board forced out. It smoked grandfather out of his room into mine. The Company left about ten and g.father returned to bed. Wrapt him up in hot blankets. But poor I was going from one place to another to try and keep comfortable. We found the plants must freeze in the green room, the wind north west and cold. Hatty Coit was obliged to stay all night, and she with Ellen [a servant] helped me bring all the flowers out of the green house in this room. Those trained we covered up with sheets. And thankful was I in the morning to find them saved. I sat up very late and just took off my outer dress and lay down, but I could not sleep—such a rattling and shakeing. I was fearful we should be blown down and hearing such noises I was up and down until nearly day light. It never ceased until morning. It was a curiosity to look out, such banks and piles of snow in every direction. Perfectly Blockaded, no Comeing in nor getting out of the village. No southern mail yet, but Burlington paper by stage. No cars [train] since Saturday. Our cars are perfectly dammed up. They have drifts 15 feet high to cut through. We had hoped they might get in tonight but I fear not. It is getting late and I must go in and see to Grandpa. With love to all.
Your devoted G.mother, E.S.
Well, no matter what time period, we can see that Mother Nature will do what she pleases. All we can do is deal with it. So either put on those skis/skates or snuggle up with a good book/video and in a few months it will be Spring!!