“And then what happened?” asked George.
“A horrible night.” answered Epinetus.
“That night they lay by the warming fire wrapped in their blankets. The last pieces of wood had been reduced to embers. The large meal and the previous uphill battle had put every Birdsall into a deep sleep. A few flakes of light snow drifted down, landing lightly on the standing fibers of their wool blankets. Some of the flakes melted into miniature glistening spheres of water. Most of the flakes remained in their crystal forms; some six sided, some eight sided and all with a matrix of frozen spines that joined the structured sides together.”
“My father, Horace, told me that he could feel the snow but was too tired to pay any heed to it. But soon he was awakened by a very stiff breeze. He arose and shook his blanket. Everyone was still sleeping. As he approached Grandfather he said ‘Father, it is snowing and becoming windy.’”
“Grandfather replied ‘Yes, I see, stoke the warming fire.’”
“’But father, there is no more wood’ replied my father.’”
“’See if you can find some nearby’ answered Grandfather.”
“As my father retrieved a few scraps of wood Grandfather Henry studied the snow and winds. He did not like what he perceived.”
“’Horace, forget the fire’ commanded Grandfather. ‘Do you see any low hanging pine or hemlock?’ My father responded in a positive manner. ‘Then break them off and bring them back to the wagon’ said Grandfather. ‘Stay Close so as to not get lost in the darkness.”
“The breeze turned to wind and Grandfathers directions turned to shouts. The commotion awoke the remainder of the family.”
“’What is happening Henry?’ asked grandmother Abashaby.’”
“’I am not sure but I believe a blizzard may be coming. Take the children and wrap them beneath the wagon! HENRY’ called Grandfather to my uncle. ‘Can you help Horace collect tree limbs and boughs from the pine and hemlock?’”
“Uncle Henry stated ‘yes Father, my hand does not hurt’ although every family member knew better.”
“My father, Uncle Henry and Grandfather scurried in the short visible circle around the darkened campsite. They gathered the limbs that had not been used for the warming fire. Pine and hemlock branches snapped as the men collected them from the nearby trees.”
Epinetus told the family story that had been repeated over and over when he was a child.
“The wind continued to increase in velocity as the snow increased in density. My father Horace and Uncle Henry piled dead limbs against the wagon with directions flowing from Grandfather. The pine and hemlock boughs were quickly woven into the limbs. It formed an almost impenetrable mask from the elements. Finally, when all four sides of the wagon were enclosed, the three men crawled under one of the wooden and needle curtains to join the women.”
“’Oh, Horace, Henry and you also Henry’ said Grandmother Abashaby, addressing Grandfather last, ‘Look at you!’ The dim light of the single oil lamp illuminated the three human snowmen. The women all scraped at their hair and clothes to remove the snow and ice that was imbedded on them by the severe wind.”
Epinetus took a moment to let his emotions settle down. He was caught up within the story as he told it to George.
“The whole family sat there together, each wrapped in their individual blankets. The wind, as it gained in ferocity, found its way around and through the boughs. It whipped into one side of the makeshift shelter and out the other side it taking precious body heat with it.”
“’Mother, I am cold’ cried one of the younger girls. The older ones understood hardship and shared the fears of their parents; however they remained cold but quiet. The three men shivered for hours but eventually regained some of their body heat. Uncle Henry shivered the longest but it was not from the cold. He had re-injured his hand while gathering boughs and it was throbbing again. He was near the point of shock. Only his mother, Abashaby, noticed. She took him in her blanket-wrapped arms and, almost unnoticeably, rocked him. It was soothing and he forced himself to sleep in order to avoid the pain.”
Epinetus alluded to George that each member of the family had a fear that they would die that night.
“At first-light the family finally spoke to one another. The fear of the blizzard had kept them silent through the darkest hours. The fierce winds had subsided and the sunlight reflected off the white snow.”
“Grandfather was the first to venture from their bough-cabin. The northeast side of all the trees were plastered with two inches of snow. The southwest sides were bare. An abundance of pine and hemlock boughs were now available. The wind had ripped them from the high trees and scattered them around.”
Epinetus sat back in his chair for a few minutes and shivered with the emotions of his own thoughts. Finally, he continued with his story.
“Grandfather checked each item of livestock. The chickens were in good condition because their crates were covered with a large piece of canvas. The oxen were in surprising good shape as were the horses. The piglets had huddled together and that had saved them. The sheep had suffered the most damage. Although their heavy wool kept them warm, Grandfather found that three of them had their eyes frozen and were blind.”