I Was Raised in a Barn: Winter Wonderland

Going back and forth from Greenwich Village to the Barn each week was guaranteed to create a sense of contrast: in New York certain amenities–heat, light, plumbing–were pretty much a given.  In Sheffield, nothing was a given.  When you’re turning a not-for-human-habitation into House Beautiful, the line between adventure and discomfort is very thin indeed.

We didn’t have Christmas at the Barn until I was eight, and the basics–plumbing and insulation and heat–were in place.  Without insulation and heat, your family becomes very cold very quickly.  When I was…six, I think? We went up to the Barn for the week after Christmas, and almost at once were snowed in.  When you live on a mountainside and the driveway slopes down to the road at a 30° angle, you don’t mess with snowed in. We were stuck.  Fortunately, we had food, and there was electricity, and it was all good, right?

A note about the state of the Barn at that point: most of the rooms had not yet been insulated; my brother’s room and mine, in the loft above the bathroom and TV room, had 2×4 studs in place, but no walls, let alone insulation. My parents’ room may have had walls at that point; I don’t recall.  I do know that the living room and hallway, which were big rooms with 40′ ceilings, didn’t have inner walls or insulation until I was in college.  The only room on the first floor that was insulated was the TV room, a little 10′ x 12′ chamber where my grandmother slept when she came to visit.

So: snowed in.  The snow was high enough that my six year old self could not see over the edge of the trough Dad shoveled from the front door to the garage.  Even with the heat cranked high, there was no hope of keeping wall-less rooms warm. The Barn became a refrigerator, and the only two places that were comfortable were right in front of the fireplace in the kitchen, and in the TV room.  So that’s were we were, all four of us, on the rickety bed, tented in blankets, huddled together. My parents read to us.  I think the TV was working (as much as the TV ever worked, as we had no antenna), but there wasn’t much to watch.  Periodically Dad would go out and throw more wood on the fire, or he or Mom would make something to eat.  We may have played games of some sort, but really, my strongest memory is one of cramped warmth and cameraderie.

The siege of cold and snow lasted maybe three days, although in memory it looms like a week.  When things finally broke–when the cold lessened and the snow plows finally made it along our road–everything went more or less back to normal.  We went outside to play in the snow; we were able to drive into town to get provisions and relieve the cabin fever.  And my parents wisely resolved that they would not attempt Christmas until our bedrooms had walls and could keep the worst of the chill at bay.  We returned to the city with a nice sense of having faced own Nature and survived, which, while totally absurd, was very satisfying to a kid from the city.

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About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books

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